3 Things I Learned in 3 Months of Writing, Reading, and Loving

I published the first article on 20 Nov 2014. Since then, 1 story has been shared every weekday, which makes 5 per week, thus in total 60, each of which is around 800 words, adding up to nearly 50,000 words – average length of a novel. I made this commitment the day , in an almost religious way.

A quarter is short when being placed the continuum of a lifetime. But for me, I feel as if I’ve lived through an eternity. Have you ever experienced moments when everything around you slow down, and distill, and clear up; and you can see even the particle of dust floating in the air; and you can smell the fragrance of no smell; and you can listen to the sound of silence; and you can feel a luminous life force emanating from your center; and you feel as if you are no you, and yet more you than ever? These are moments of infinity. I’ve had more moments like this in the last 3 months than I did in my entire life.

In these 3 months, I learned so much that choosing 3 lessons at first seemed an inconceivable task. Though, I believe Mortimer J. Adler when he wrote “The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks.” I immersed in reflection, wrote, deleted 1400 words, re-wrote, and at one point emerged with better clarity. These lessons, like everything else in Life Written, are seen through the subjective glasses. I wrote them down to claim full ownership of my personal growth; and in the hope that they might help you in your own journey.

1. Be simple and innocent enough to do.

Our society regard “following your dreams” as childlike, pretentious, selfish, and – my favorite – impractical. Dreams are for dreamers; realists thrive. However, being “realistic”, in the way this word often used, is most impractical.We call something practical when it works, don’t we? But if ignoring our dreams is practical, why does it make us suffer? Why does it make us become restless, defensive, aggressive, cruel, idle? As a result, we lay suffering on others, unconsciously or intentional, to mirror our internal suffering. That’s why the world is in so much trouble. In short, ignoring your dreams is impractical, delusional, conditioned by our faulty society.

If you are lucky enough to know what you want to do, by all means do it. If you want to write, write; if you want to cook, cook; if you want to start a company, start; if you want to sing, sing. It may sound obnoxious at first. I’m not asking you to believe in me, or in what you are not ready to believe. I’m asking you to be skeptical. Maybe for once, have a suspicion that what others always tell you may not be true. For once, find out the truth for yourself. Do, and see what happens.

We are the victims of our own fearful egos. I wanted a blog and thought about the domain name, long and hard, for 6 months until I decided to… screw it and bought milenanguyen.com. After that, I gave myself all sort of excuses not to write. One morning I said “screw it!” and sat down on my writing desk, stared at an A4 paper. I didn’t know what to write so I caught whatever first came to mind: my childhood and my dream of becoming a writer.  That is the first article of Life Written. Those “screw it!” moments changed everything. And I have been “screwing it” a lot in the last 3 months.

The line between living your dream and living another person’s dream can be as thin as spider silk. Inhale, and as you exhale, step over.

2. It’s not your job to judge your work. It’s your job to work.

I’m not asking you to produce garbage. What I’m trying to say is we, creative type or not, are sabotaged by our judgmental minds.

About 6 weeks into Life Written, a storm of self-doubt hit me with full force. There was this troll nipping my earlobe and whispering that the whole Life Written thing was pointless, that how shameless I was to even attempt to write about such an omniscient topic as the art of living, that nobody cared about the subjective lens of a 24 year-old. Fear and creativity don’t hangout. That’s why I could not write for 1 week – the most decay week of my life.

I was driving to school one afternoon in the midst of my incessant internal beating, when a question broke through: “Milena, what are you doing? Has anyone ever told you that your writing was pointless?” This startled me. Nobody ever had. Responses I received from readers and friends had been pure encouragement, gratefulness and love. It dawned on me that the first and only critic whose humiliation had crippled me was me, my self-loathing ego.

I printed out the words of Martha Graham and pinned it right in front of me: 

It is not your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

You do not even need to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.

Keep the channel open.

Whenever the negative self talks begin, remind yourself of your breaths, be mindful, observe these emotions. Don’t get upset that you are upset, otherwise the suffer will be twice as much. Our judgmental mind weakens when it is watched. If you continue patiently, it voice will slowly diminish. Open your channel, whether you are a writer, dancer, businessman or software programmer: express yourself, put forth your ideas, do what you believe is true. A sales meeting can also be a work of art if it is done with sensitivity and courage to the best of your capacity.

3. First, be selfish, and selflessness will take care of itself.

This may be the best advice I can give you. So let’ go slowly.

Some readers wanted me to share about why I created Life Written. Why I write? Honestly I created it because I wanted to write; writing brought me joy. Whoever condemns this reason was, through no fault of his own, given an education that only prepared him for a paycheck, not for a life. Again, you do something, first and foremost, because it brings you joy. If something bores you out of your skull, by all means, stay away.

Interest leads to attention. Attention leads to passion. Passion leads to mastery. Think about it. It is passion that leads to 10,000 hours of practice. Joyful people brings joy to others.

On the contrary, boredom leads to distraction, indifference, and mediocrity. There is already too much mediocrity in this world. Mediocrity doesn’t make this world any better. Nor does dull people.

So when you think about this, a seemingly selfish reason is actually the most giving.

A transformation will also happen when you allow yourself to do what you love. Happiness will grow gradually grow inside you, like a desert river once more can taste of water. And when happiness overflow you, you will want to make others happy. It will come naturally to you that you want to contribute. You no longer think “I should treat others better”, instead you think “I want to help.”

This is the truth.

I feel so happy when I write that I want to make others happy. I want to help. Deep in my heart, fears and sorrows were transformed into love. It was from a place of love that 1 month ago I re-wrote the mission of Life Written:

I tell these stories not with the hope of being right, but in the earnest struggle to understand and be understood.

The function of our education stops at preparing ourselves for a paycheck, not for a life. I hope Life Written can invite you to reflect, to expand your understanding of yourself and the world around you. And one day, tell your own stories.