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Is Your Journal A Liability?

Do you keep a journal? Ever have someone pick it up while you were across the room, and they start paging through it saying “Hey, whatcha writing about?” Did you feel hopeful, like your writing might inspire them or lead to a fun discussion? Or did you leap, in slow motion, yelling ’Noooooooo’ as you arced across the room to snatch it out of their hands. Or maybe you did the cool-dude approach and acted totally bored, hoping your bad handwriting and disdainful demeanor would save you, and they’d decide it wasn’t worth the effort and put it down.

This is no way to live, man. In my mind, a journal should be a body of work that can be shared. Maybe not publicly, maybe not with everyone, but certainly family & friends should be able to take a peek without feeling uncomfortable. Make your journal an asset instead of a liability.

What? How can that be? We’re supposed to bleed on the page and all that. Spew our emotions for further reflection. That’s where the real growth is.

I respectfully call bullshit. Spewing doesn’t make for good reflection. Spewing makes for a liability. A literary boobytrap waiting to go off in the hands of the unexpected reader.

Spewing is necessary sometimes but it’s best done on something disposable, that is quickly disposed of.

Instead make something you’re content, perhaps not happy or proud, but content to show others. Include thoughtful reflection on the things in your life. Just do it in a way that results in sharable work not a liability.

How is this accomplished? By following just a few rules:

Don’t make your journal a liability

Don’t write anything you’d be embarassed to show to literally anyone. Ok, I do write some things that, when fresh, might be a little rough to show the person I mentioned but that’s ok. Years later the roughness is gone.

What I’m writing about here is the afore mentioned spewing/stream of conciousness stuff. Stuff that starts conversations that don’t end well when read by the wrong person. Sensitive stuff is unavoidable, but secret stuff should be left out.

The difference between sensitive and secret

Sensitive is something that for a moment is not for public consumption. Secret implies life-long celibacy.

Let’s say I’m thinking about making a big change at home. I’m going to ask my wife to buy a cat. I know she hates cats, and I’m working on my arguments in my journal. That is sensitive – I don’t want her to read the work in progress, because it’s a work in progress, but once the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, it doesn’t matter.

You’ll always have a few things that are sensitive – potential life changes, things that haven’t been all the way thought out, etc. – but there’s going to come a time when they’re no longer sensistive.

Secrets? They tend to have real staying power. They’re usually things the keeper does not want revealed to anyone. Why do they need to be written down in a journal?

Ok, if you had something in your past that was potentially embarrasing and still raising issues for you, and you were writing about it to work it out, then yes, perhaps that should stay secret. It should also probably stay in it’s own notebook.

Write like a man.

Take responsibility for your emotions and the resulting words, and use the English language. No pissy blaming and name calling.
So, when writing that your boss, Mr. Blemish, has angered you by refusing to authorize your new budget, instead of this:

“Mr. B was a total asshole again today, wouldn’t approve my budget, because he’s being an idiot as usual.”

You write what a professional would write:

“Very disappointed today that Mr. Blemish refused to approve my budget. I disagree with his point of view, I don’t think he’s looking at the situation clearly, but I often struggle to get him to do so.”

So at first you might seem the second bit is not very genuine. Well, perhaps when it was written maybe not, but it conveys the same feeling and it does so in a way that doesn’t paint you in a bad light. It also puts the blame where it belongs – on the failure to communicate and persuade. Sometimes peope are genuinely intractible people, but most of the time we’re just lazy in dealing with others and fail to deliver the goods. Writing like a man means we state things as they are, and take responsibility for what we need to do.

You might also notice a small shift of responsibility – in the first paragraph Mr. Blemish seems to be incapable of doing what we need. In the second, the focus is more on my lack of ability to persuade. This isn’t to say Mr. Blemish doesn’t have issues, but they’re issues I can’t change directly. I can’t change his behavior except by changing my own. The second paragraph promotes a much better mindset for solving problems.

Besides, years later, when you read the second example’s words, you’ll remember how you felt at the time. Reading a bunch of victim spew isn’t going to be much fun anyway.

Lastly, when I read statements like the first it reminds me of my weakness. When I read the second, I remember the problem.
Another way to think of this is Write like the person you wish you were. Think of someone you respect and look up to – how would they describe it?

Facts first, reflection second

Stick to the facts when reporting life’s punches, disappointments and challenges. First report the facts, then record how you feel and what you want to do. Reporting on the facts helps promote objectivity. Focusing on the facts leaves out the assumptions that tend to blind us to opportunities.

Yes, spew if you must, but elsewhere

Buy some Field Notes notebooks. They’re small, easily hidden, inexpensive, and most importantly, burn well. Spew in those. If you have to keep deep dark secret writings, do it in something that is easy to hide and easy to destroy is my advice.

Save your journal for the good stuff.

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