When Hurricane Sandy struck in October of 2012, it felled a branch in my backyard that was the size of a formidable tree. My neighbor offered me a chainsaw. I declined, and purchased an eight-pound axe. My plan was to split the tree with my very own man muscles, plus a sharp edge, and burn it over the next winter in my wood-stove.
I removed the branches with a saw and heaped those in a pile. After a couple day’s work, I had a massive, branch-less trunk, still attached to its parent tree and positioned precariously over my fence. I tied a rope high on the branch and, with the help of my cousin, split it from the tree and simultaneously pulled the rope to avoid crushing the frail wood fence.
The next day, in the crispness of November, I took out my fresh axe and beat it against that trunk until my back was sore. I had made one cut through it after an hour of work, with multiple rests. As I admired the remaining length of tree, and wagged my head at the considerable girth of it, I began to wish I’d taken the chainsaw. I had plenty of wood to make it through the winter, and the next, and the one after, so it is now January 2014 and there it sits, with one cut through it.
Once, from the time of my earliest memories until 10th grade or so, my willpower was iron. Everything I started, I saw to the end. I was a fantastic student. I finished my first novel when I was 12. It was about a medieval general who was forsaken by his country, driving him into exile where he raised a band of brigands to harass the countryside. It ran 150 pages long, typed in Microsoft Word single spaced at point 12 Times New Roman font. I wrote my next novel when I was 14 for a school project-of-your-own-choosing, and that one ran over 50 pages with cover art supplied by my brother, and told of a brutal Spanish pirate who started his life as we all do: as an innocent child. Throughout that time, I also completed a full trilogy of fantasy novels about an orphan boy who turned thief, and then hero and savior of the planet.
My grades dropped midway through high school. I quit basketball. I finished nothing I wrote. After recently booting up the 1993 Compaq laptop I used to slug away on in those days, I was surprised to find a) that it still works, but more importantly b) over 100 word documents containing stories that had met early graves.
A wonder, I thought. When did I lose my ambition and thirst for life, and my willpower? Looking back now, I see that these things were lost when my childhood innocence and wonder were frightened off by the threats of adulthood. What will you actually do with your life? You had better find a passion that actually pays, because writing isn’t it. Are you sure you want to attend that college? You’ll be in debt for decades.
All legitimate concerns, which I heeded, and in doing so lost my passion. For nearly ten years of my life, I wrote nothing of consequence that I actually completed. Four of those years, I did not write a word of fiction, or anything that I wasn’t being instructed to write, for that matter. My mind dulled. My passion was gone. And worst of all, my willpower vanished.
Around my neighborhood after the hurricane, I saw bigger trees that had fallen, pinning down power lines and uprooting sidewalks. Leaves and branches and debris littered the roads. Chainsaws roared. Pools of water, still standing in the streets and parking lots from heavy rain, were placid and shining with oil.
In two weeks, it was all gone, removed.
I dug out my old 150 page novel and laughed at the simple language. I simply hadn’t given a shit about form, style, length, or anything else when I wrote. I wrote a story that I wanted to write, and called it a day. I decided then that I wanted to be a do-er, like I had once been without even trying. It was once a part of me, as much as my flesh, hair, and eyes. I simply did not know how to not accomplish goals. The cynic in me was not yet alive then, was not there to tell my stories they would never get published, or that I had better find a real job.
I wanted then to vanquish this cynic. There were going to be a lot of bad habits, over a decade’s worth, that would need breaking. A lot of stagnancy that would need to be replaced with activity. I wanted to do something for myself that would produce tangible results.
In January of 2013, I got a YMCA gym membership and hit the weights thrice weekly, sometimes more. In 2013 I went from 170 lbs to 195 lbs. In May I started this blog and built a modest readership. This year I’ve started a novel, while improving my physical fitness and the blog.
Achieving goals sometimes seems beyond our grasp. That is because we have lost the mindset required for embarking on such endeavors. Reaching your goal is like building a road through a dense forest. You cannot simply go in with your eight-pound axe and start smacking away at the bark. You must devise a plan, and pursue it with tempered diligence.
Write a a thousand words of your novel every day. Even if you cannot write, write. Even if you are fresh out of energy and stolen of ideas, write. A path must first be cleared through the forest before the ground can be leveled, and before the road can be laid. Just get to the other side, and take a breather when you do. Then go back and pull out the roots and level the Earth, and when you are finished, take pride in your work. Then choose your cobblestones and lay them proudly, too. Make them fit as perfectly as they can.
You only have the rest of your life to carve your road. The time to plot your course came and went yesterday while you slept, and the same will be said of yesterday when tomorrow comes. The monster standing between you and your dreams is really only an ugly version of yourself. Kill it.