What story is calling to you in 2015?

Happy New Year! I hope 2015 has started well for you. I've just returned from a month-long holiday in Singapore and the Philippines, where I had a great time exploring both remote islands and big cities.

John at Ku De Ta

No holiday of mine would be complete without an excessively large collection of books to read. I managed to narrow my selection for this trip down to a mere 5 books (not including 4 travel guides!)

One of these was Donald Miller's A Million Miles In A Thousand Years - which I saw in author Barbara Winter's list of "25 books I could never part with".

Barbara is one of the best storytellers I know so it was interesting to discover that Donald Miller's book is all about stories - how they work in movies and how they work in our lives. And this turned out to be a great topic to explore at the beginning of a new year.

Donald's story

After writing several books (at least one of which had been quite successful), Donald Miller found his life had gotten into a bit of a rut. One day some film-makers call him up and tell him they want to turn his bestselling autobiographical book Blue Like Jazz into a movie. After he gets over his initial shock, the film-makers come and stay with him for several months to work on the script together.

This inspires Donald to learn more about how stories work. He attends Robert McKee's famous Story Seminar for scriptwriters and realises that everything he is learning also applies to his own life. One of the most important rules of stories is that a character "is what he does". You can't tell a reader of a novel or the audience of a movie that your protagonist is heroic, they have to do heroic things. You can't say they're a good person, they must do good things.

Donald realises he has been spending too much time sitting at his computer, or on the sofa watching TV. This is not a good story for a movie – or for a life. So he sets out to live a better story and takes on some big challenges. He gets in contact with his father who he hasn't seen for decades, he hikes the Inca trail (despite being quite unfit), and he cycles across America. He learns to notice whenever he feels "a story calling to me".

A good story is not an easy story

Donald MillerDonald also makes the point that interesting stories are not meant to be easy. Think of any great movie or novel and there is hardship along the way. The same is true when we set out to make something important happen in our own lives.

His analogy is of an arduous boat trip. And to me it perfectly echoes those early stages of starting to do what you love and get paid for it:

It's like this when you live a story: The first part happens fast. You throw yourself into the narrative, and you're finally out in the water; the shore is pushing off behind you and the trees are getting smaller. The distant shore doesn't seem far, and you can feel the resolution coming, the feeling of getting out of your boat and walking the distant beach. You think the thing is going to happen fast, that you'll paddle for a bit and arrive on the other side by lunch.

But the truth is, it isn't going to be over soon...

The point of a story is never about the ending, remember. It's about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle.


I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can't see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story.

This is what I see so many people do when the going gets tough in their journey to make a living doing what they love; they go looking for another story – only to find that it too gets hard in the middle. But the rewards only come to those who keep going:

It's like this with nearly every crossing, and with nearly every story too. You paddle until you no longer believe you can go any farther. And then suddenly, well after you thought it would happen, the other shore starts to grow, and it grows fast. The trees get taller and you can make out the crags in the cliffs, and then the shore reaches out to you, to welcome you home, almost pulling your boat onto the sand.

What story is calling to you?

So in 2015, what story is calling to you to be lived? What story is important enough to you that you're willing to stick at it even when it takes longer than you hoped and has more setbacks than you would have wished? Because that story is the one that holds the real rewards - both for the life that awaits you on the other side and for who you will need to become along the way.

I'm here to help.


You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • John Chang

    Lately, I've been sharing how the same hero's journey that Joseph Campbell talks about is also what every entrepreneur or artist must face. This TED video offers a great way of telling this - http://youtu.be/Hhk4N9A0oCA

  • johnsw

    Thanks John, that's a great summary of Campbell's structure.

    I guess I'm writing about the call to adventure!

  • John Chang

    Sure thing!

    You know that thing that happens when you learn a new word and suddenly hear it everywhere?

    That's what I find myself doing now, even though I heard of the hero's journey years ago.

    Now I see heroes in day to day life that I've missed - people willing to take a risk on their ideas.. entrepreneurs!

  • johnsw

    They ought to teach it at school!

  • Heather Savill

    I think my story is how my partner who is in colombia and i are going to make things work this year to be together. We are starting a new business but need to be able to live together we have been apart for 2 years mostly now.

  • johnsw

    Wow, I really hope you can work it out, Heather. If you're determined I'm sure there'll be a way.

  • Sinéad

    Thank you John, this was perfect timing to read this in a down moment. I recognise I'm in the tough middle part of my story and I'm buoyed up by the knowledge that keeping going is the right thing for me. I gave up my day job Oct 2013 to give my acting career another go. I found a part time job that paid better than my full time (yay, thank you Universe) and I'm on my regular day off today to do more marketing on my product - i.e. me! 2015 is my year to get some results on the foundations built last year (website launched, made showreel, found an agent, took classes and a small bit of acting work), and to get performing and have fun!

  • Heather Savill

    Yes gotta keep going!

  • Youcanthidethespark

    Fantastic post John, and it came spookily at exactly the right time as I was pondering this very same thing last night. This line really made me sit up straight: "Donald realises he has been spending too much time sitting at his computer, or on the sofa watching TV. This is not a good story for a movie – or for a life." This echoes what I was pondering yesterday. I am a writer and that entails long periods alone in front of the computer. But is this really LIVING? It is if you can combine this with adventure away from the screen, but I seem to have fallen into the trap of having most of my adventures sitting in front of a damn computer!

    I love how you ended the post. You asked what story is calling you to be lived in 2015. My story is to finish writing my children's novel, to start working on my next non-fiction book AND to have some adventures... with real people... in real life! (This may entail starting dance classes, going to a local 'meet up' event, and accepting an offer to speak about writing at a local writer's group.) Thanks for giving me the nudge I needed...

  • Joeplu

    Wow John, that has got to be your best post yet........Happy new year to you to. You have woken me up from a long deep sleep with these words, many thanks. Life is for living.

  • Ellen

    I've been going through a lot for the past ten years. I stayed home to take care of my elderly and very sick parents, giving up friends, most of my career, relative financial security. I don't regret one minute of the time I spent with them even though I became sick myself. What I didn't realize was how hard it would be after they were gone, both emotionally and financially. I'm a bit of a mess and getting up there in years. But I still have my dreams and although it's quite challenging I'm fighting every day to get through this to the "distant shore" or closer so I can see the trees. I think you might be right that it's meant to be challenging and ongoing. I don't like it, but I'm working to become better on keeping my eye on the ball and doing the things that will bring me happiness and a bit of money. I'm so glad I saw Barbara Winter's mention of you.

  • Elena Elenoise Cervi

    it's funny how i get your post per email today... a very special day to me. i've made my decision, after 6 years standing at home as unemployed, divorced mother, i've started something new. what i'd say will change my life and my kid's one.
    nothing comes without a reason... i'm getting ready to start my own enterprise. and you're here to help.
    john, i'll never end to think you're great!!! thank you for writing all the inspiring thing you write. have a great day.


    core I was an amazing external sales engineer but then got well bored and stressed.
    I totally agree with the 'middle' I am in a totally stressless job but feel i need to do more. Bit like the honey bee syndrome.
    So i am working on a business slowly but shorely trying not to get distracted on other things to do at night.
    Not there yet but further than I was.
    Just want to be able to do what I want to do.
    Able to look outside and think nice day lets go cycling or walking or to volunteer because I want too.

  • johnsw

    It is a lovely point to reach when you have freedom over where and when to work!
    Important thing is to cut to the chase and go try helping people with your business idea as soon as you can. Be willing to adapt to make it work too.

  • johnsw

    Fantastic! Congratulations Elena. Get out there and go for it.

  • johnsw

    That sounds hard, Ellen. You'll want to surround yourself with good people who will support you along the way. It's too hard to try and motivate yourself.

  • johnsw


  • Elena Elenoise Cervi

    sure i will (and sorry for my english...too many time left!)

  • johnsw

    Yes perhaps we should take those writes who lived big lives as the model? Hemingway?
    Good luck with the new books and congrats once again on your publication last year 🙂

  • johnsw

    Great news about the part-time work. Sounds like you're really putting a lot of energy into the acting. Hope it goes well.

  • Mattyplu

    My father sent me and my sister this link, It was just the other night when he said "What do you think is the hardest part of a person's life?". I'm 20, my sister soon to be 22 and we both replied "now". Specifically, we don't know where we are heading with life, where we are going to end up, or how to get there. We have reached the point after education where we are dropped onto our feet and told "No more help, make your life what you want it". I loved your analogy for the shore is distant and we don't know if our paddling is getting us closer to it.

    My adventure this year, my resolution:
    1. Head up to London, Roam the big city and make a name for myself with all the games companies I can find. My dream job is at the other end of that road.
    2. Complete my book, I made a start after so many years of considering it and by the end of the year I want it finished, if not close.

    You write inspiring words Mr John. Happy New Years and I hope you have fun getting through more books on your travels. Maybe even mine one day.

  • johnsw

    I like the sound of the plan! Re books, if it's non-fiction I usually recommend blogging it out as you go.
    I look forward to reading it!

  • John Chang

    OMG - reading "Change" by the Heath brothers, I finally connected the dots this morning!

    Why Luke faces Vader in the tunnel and ends realizing he fought himself.

    All of us struggle with mastering the Rider and the Elephant talked about in "Change" - they are the Hero and the Dragon of classic myths.

    We've always known that the greatest journey is the one within.

    Hopefully, this doesn't sound like the ramblings of mad man. This is HUGE!

    As they say, "when the student is ready, the teacher appears.." Your writing definitely helped to spark this revelation!

  • danielle grunberg

    hallo John

  • Racing Kate

    Living life as a story, exploring myself through characters appeals to me as I am a writer. It's a great way of approaching things.
    For me, it's finding my voice. I'm so inclined to say and do what I think people expect. I don't want to be like that, just am a bit of a 'pleaser'. And for years now I've had a this low-level throat pain, like a tight knot stuck there. Last year's F**kIt retreat helped me become aware of this. It's getting worse, the pain in my throat. I've recently been able to express myself through my writing. But at the moment I need to speak out. So in the past few weeks I have - challenged my mother on her behaviour towards me, driven the local campaign to prevent a housing development on conservation land using the skills I've picked up in my racing blog, attended meetings and spoken up to councillors. And today I spoke to my boss about redundancy, because my job is going nowhere and the longer I sit there waiting for the axe to fall, the less likely I am to get a decent payout. If this comes together, I will have the time and funds to build my horse racing blog and spend time in the industry exploring opportunities.
    I am Kate, here me roar ;0

  • Here's what's calling to me, though I realise it's NOT actually about long perseverance against all the odds which we're talking about here. I've realised (or admitted to myself!) that I want to create something I could try to sell at comic art festivals, a mini graphic novel or collection of quirky autobiographical-type stories. I'm approaching it with a sort of 30-day Challenge attitude, moving in that direction and seeing what happens. But I am having to quash the voice that says "who are you to imagine you can do this?"

  • Lauren

    Just wanted to say that I loved this post! I'm already a fan of Donald Miller and his faith background resonates with me as a Christian. I found this email quite meaningful and challenging. Thanks for sharing John! 🙂

  • johnsw

    Fantastic, Kate!

  • johnsw

    Having seen your illustrations I think it sounds like a brilliant idea, Michi!

  • johnsw

    Thanks Lauren

  • daniellegrunberg

    Hallo John great to hear from you.
    First of all my storiy for last year was one of hubble,bubble struggle ending with the " grand finale' of the paypal button on my blog going on strike...in the run up to Christmas!!!
    The 2015 story will be another tale alltogether., dancing a merry jig between mother Rita-blog going tablet-mobile++.Please dont ask how?
    The resurrection of a wee booklet for young people,that I wrote in my Life Coaching days( The Amazing Power of You. Designing the life you want( as an ebook?Kindle. And lastly myself in 'poisson' as a www=wild and wolly woman storyteller-in conjunction withanaudience.
    Nuff said
    Thanks for sharing Barbara Winter.Must read again and Donals Miller

  • Lindsey Dawson

    That building on which you are glamorously perched - amazing architecture! You're going to spend more time in Singapore? Good - you can host one of your events at Marina Bay. 🙂

    Re the Donald Miller book - you recommended it before Christmas so I ordered it from Amazon. Yes, what a good writer he is - I must find his jazz book too.

    Made me think a lot about whether I've done enough in my life. Am thinking now about launching a legacy kind of writing project along with the other courses I'm working on. Fortunately, at my late-in-life stage, I don't have to be so focused on financial return.

    Am thinking of running free flash memoir courses at libraries and bookshops all over the country, maybe 50 of them in 2015 – one-hour fun events where people can gather round to dash down their tales in quick intense bursts. I do this in workshops, it works really well.

    People could post their stories on a website, and/or I could gather the best ones together in a book. Haven't quite got my head around logistics yet. Am musing on names... National Storyhouse, or Our Stories, or The Lives We Live, or Living Story.

    The point: a) create community b) draw out great stories that might otherwise never be told c) build my database to expand online activity d) hit the road, get out there, meet good people in small towns as well as cities. d) sell some books e) have some fun.

    Just a germ of an idea at this point, but working on it.

    Of course, once I've cracked my own country, why stop there? 🙂

  • Ben "Interplanetary"

    I agree with what Donald says about the trees on the far shore always seeming small - I'm in that place now. However, having loads more ideas for some story concepts I thought up years ago. Lots to do!

  • Hamish Harrington

    hey John
    I've been swimming for 3 months now and having got a bit knackered have today sat down to kick on. Having just read your post I sit here and the sun is shining brightly through my window and I know that if I can just keep swimming the next stage will become apparent. Change is upon me and its bringing ups and downs almost daily. Until this venture I had always been one of the guys who gave up when things got overwhelming but something is different, something has shifted. Funny signals and signs are filling me with belief and energy when I really need them. On Thursday night I was knackered and after a great mens group session watched a guy on facebook dancing in his pants, banging a drum and running through American clothes shops singing " stop buying stuff, love is the answer" I laughed to tears and felt so alive and full of beans.
    I feel my curent work becoming harder and harder as I swin away from it. Where to? What to? Feels good.

  • Youcanthidethespark

    Cheers John! Quick update: I was so inspired by your post and the idea of living a 'big life' that I have since signed up for a salsa class! I've written about it on my blog and blamed it all on you 🙂

  • Hi John, great blog post! Good to see your getaway recharged you. It has struck me recently that I spend a lot of time in one room drawing portraits. That was fine last year when I was just grateful to have that space (I still am grateful) and wanted to be in it all the time. But recently I've felt a bit stagnant. It's my own fault because I feel guilty when I'm not in the studio 9-5 Mon-Fri, which is a ridiculous hangover from my years working in offices and classrooms, or doing extra at home in the evenings. If I'm going to grow as a person and as a business, I need to get out 'n' about in 2015 and experience new things and meet new people. Thanks, and I wish you all the best this year.

  • johnsw

    Thanks Richard. Good idea! You don't need to measure your work on doing 40 hours a week anymore, you can measure it on what you produce and how satisfied you feel 🙂

  • johnsw

    Sounds like an interesting point to get to - these are scary moments but can lead to the next phase of your working life

  • johnsw

    I love the flash memoir idea! Writing a memoir sounds like such a big project so it's great to be able to show people that you can get stories down quite quickly.

    Perhaps you could run something really interesting on your website that is free as long as you're on the mailing list - purely as a list-building exercise.

  • johnsw

    Sounds like an interesting year, Danielle! Best wishes for 2015...

  • Amanda Harrison

    Hi John, looking forward to our chat tomorrow to move the money forward.
    Confession, I have been working on the Australia trip for 15 years from thinking of doing it till know, life raft needed!
    people ask me "what if I dont do it this year"
    What if I do?
    Good tip for starting put a post it note on your remote with 20mins on it. see John's website. Then do your 20 mins.
    Although if I get the TV company filming me then you are allowed to watch that one.
    Peer group and mentors are helping vastly this time!
    Blue skie
    Amanda Harrison
    The Only Female Commercial Tiger Moth Pilot

  • johnsw

    So is this flying across Australia, Amanda?

  • Amanda Harrison

    Yep the big ulitimate dream adventure.

  • johnsw

    Nice! Let's see if we can make it happen. Speak tomorrow...

  • Catherine

    The story concept is an interesting one. I actually tried writing my life story, so far, as a fairy tale so I could step outside my life a bit and appreciate how far I'd come.

  • johnsw

    Nice idea! There is a good book on writing your autobiography like a novel - Writing the new autobiography

  • Luke

    I love this article, I'm thing of 'in pursuit of happiness'& 'life of pi'. In 2015 my story is about creating my playful, flexible and inspiraing job/career. Playing as a freelance teacher and consultant hair designer. i'll need a map (plan) and dedication to keep rowing (going). But I'll be flying the flag for adventure, discovery and a fulfilling life, so the Pirates out there...., you can go jump! Keep up the good work everyone.

  • Funnily enough, it was the end of someone's story that got me going; the sudden passing in early February of a fellow called Monty Oum who was the main animator at web series makers Rooster Teeth. The guy got to create his own cartoon series and make two seasons of it, with the third in production when he died; his mantra was, "Keep Moving Forward."

    So I'm trying to do the same; worry less about a Goal or End of the Story and just keep doing what comes next.

  • johnsw

    That can sometimes work much better, Rob