Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Dirty, Messy Part of a Writer’s Life

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I had a real job once. Before becoming a writer, I worked for a nonprofit where we all learned that the best work is the kind that costs you something. And I’m still learning that lesson today.

Slum Shadow

For me, this job of being a writer is not just about the writing. It’s about the difference-making.

I believe in words, in the power and potential they possess, that what we say is significant and it’s up to us to share our stories. But I also believe there comes a time when you can’t just write about life. You have to live it. Even when it scares you half to death.

That’s what today was about.

The lives we live become the stories we tell

A good writer is more than a scribe. She doesn’t just catalogue people’s stories; she endeavors to live one herself.

Shaun taking pictures

And the good news is we all have a story to tell. The challenge isn’t learning to tell it; it’s embracing the conflict necessary to make the story happen in the first place. Because what’s a story without conflict?

What I’m trying to say is this: The times that scare us the most are the ones we should be looking for. 

Like the time two dozen kids mobbed me in Africa, nearly trampling each other in the process…

Slum kids with Jeff

Or when my friends and I were greeted by a private parade in the worst slum in Uganda…

Slum parade

Or the time I saw despair in the eyes of an HIV-positive mother worried about paying her rent.

Slum house

Oh yeah… that was all today.

Some days are like that, more than you can handle or process on your own. From time to time, we all experience things that leave us speechless, threatening to stop us in our tracks.

You don’t have to hop a plane to Africa to feel overwhelmed or occasionally want to to check out. That’s just part of being human.

Life can be hard and sometimes scary. When you’re staring pain or discomfort in the face, it’s easy to retreat. To hold back emotionally, make quiet rationalizations, and numb yourself to the pain.

But that’s exactly what we must not do.

Everything I’ve ever learned about writing (wasn’t about writing)

Some people think this blog is about writing. It’s not.

This is a blog about being a writer, the struggles a person faces when chasing the craft and how to overcome them. And every time I think I’m learning something new about writing, it ends up being a lesson about life.

lamott writing

A few that came to mind today, as I walked through the streets of Kampala wondering what to make of everything:

  1. When you start to feel afraid, press in. The good stuff happens when we least expect it.
  2. No matter what, be present. The tricky part of life (and the secret to art) is paying attention — embracing the everyday, imperfect right-now, and then making something of it.
  3. Get dirty often. Every first draft is ugly, all good writing is rewriting, and a great life comes from making mistakes. The point is to get on with it.

So what do I do as a crowd of children rushes towards me, shouting, “Muzungu, muzungu!”? Or when my arms give out from swinging these little ones around and round as they scream for more? Or when I start to shut down from sensory overload and my own sense of inadequacy?

Do I retreat, look for the door, daydream about dinner?

Sometimes I do all of that. But I also try to remember that this was what I signed up for. When I set out to make art, I didn’t want clean and safe and comfortable. I wanted something real. Raw and gritty and true.

Slum baby

As I finish my day, the dirt I scrub off the palms that shook a hundred hands reminds me I did my job today. I showed up, got dirty, and did some things that scared me.

What we avoid is what makes us grow

For all of us, there are moments we’d rather avoid. Maybe it’s the baby waking up the third time in a row before sunrise or the intimidation of a blank page, but we all get scared sometimes.

And that’s okay, as long as we don’t get stuck.

When discomfort comes, we’re tempted to rush through, thinking tomorrow will be better. But this moment is not an inconvenience or a setback. It’s the best stuff life has to over.

Slum Sewer

Somewhere in the mud of life, whether it’s cleaning baby puke off your shoulder or trying not to freeze up in the slums of Africa, there’s something both to savor and struggle with.

Long before the resolution, we learn an important virtue: don’t quit.

Jump into the mess

Shaun said something to me today after we finished meeting the mom with HIV, and it’s still turning around in my head. Despite everything Compassion has done for her and all the measures they’ve taken to help her, it just isn’t working.

Slum family

In a moment of honesty, he admitted:

This compassion stuff is messy. It’ll rip your heart out.

What do we do when words are not enough, when plan falls apart and you’re wondering whether this was something you were called to? Maybe that’s the wrong question to ask.

Anybody can do nothing. It’s normal to give in to paralysis and resign yourself to inaction. But that’s not what makes for a great story.

What great writers do, and maybe great people, is step into the mess. They do the difficult job of caring, not just about what they do but who they do it for. And that’s rare but courageous choice.

Slum kids

Which is why I don’t hesitate to encourage you to sponsor one of these children and why I feel comfortable sharing these thoughts with you on a blog supposedly about writing.

Because writing, as much as I love it, isn’t enough.

What good is art without a life to support it? And what good is a life without a story to guide it? [Tweet that]

Slum parade

So whether you make art or not, whether you pen words or paint pictures, you are making a life. And an important question, perhaps the question to ask, is what is it costing you? What uncomfortable thing are you doing today?

How are you pressing into fear, being present, and getting your hands dirty in the process? Answer that, and you’ve got a story to tell your grandchildren.

A good place to start, one that I have seen visible, tangible evidence of would be to sponsor a child through Compassion.

Slum children

Despite how small $38/month may seem, it makes a tremendous difference in the life of a child. I saw the evidence today in the lives of slum children who now have school uniforms and books and a hope that defies circumstances.

I have been changed by it, and I hope you are, too. (If you do, shoot me an email — I want to personally thank and congratulate you. I also have a small gift for you.)

Note: I’m in Africa this week on a trip with a group of bloggers. You can read other updates by Emily, The Nester, Joy, Shaun, and Bri.

What does stepping into the mess of life look like for you? Share in the comments.

Photos by Mike Varel.

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About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. To get updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • http://www.asoftgentlevoice.blogspot.ca/ Rebekah

    I’m reading the brave words of you and your fellow travellers. The words that allow us to enter into other’s stories and lives. How you have stepped into the mess, getting scared, but not getting stuck. Thinking today of our own compassion children and the beautiful feet of those who bring Good News to these children.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks for following along, Rebekah!

  • http://www.jamesprescott.co.uk/ James Prescott

    Jeff, you summed up precisely what I’ve always thought about writing – it’s a metaphor for life. I look at my own journey and I look at my writing journey and they are always intertwined, in so many ways. And I’m writing to try and help people on their own journey.

    I give to a project with Tearfund, another major charity doing similar work to Compassion, and have a page on my blog with a link for others too. I need to post more about that, because I want to make a difference with my writing, and get involved more with the mess. Great post Jeff.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Awesome, James. I love your heart!

      • http://www.jamesprescott.co.uk/ James Prescott

        Thanks Jeff – you encourage me so much, so often. It means a lot.

  • thenester

    “Everything I’ve ever learned about writing (wasn’t about writing)”

    This. yes.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      :)

  • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

    Good, good words, Jeff.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Wow, Ann. I can’t imagine a higher compliment. Thank you!

  • http://www.tammyhelfrich.com/ Tammy Helfrich

    “Because writing, as much as I love it, isn’t enough” Great post!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Tammy!

  • Tonia Hurst

    Jeff, this is a wonderful piece, wonderful that you and your group put yourselves out there in such a meaningful and human way. I took your challenge and am sponsoring Ladiven Agoba, a three year old boy with a big giant grin. Happy to think such a small amount of money will make a difference and thank you for reminding us writers and would be writers to get out into the world and make a difference.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Wow, Tonia! Thank you!

  • http://www.minivansarehot.com/ Kelli

    This is a great post for everyone, Jeff. I share your love for the written word, and I’ve found that the days/weeks/months that I am really living the dirty, messy parts of life, are the times when I long to craft my words in a way that impact.

    Compassion set me on a path in writing that I never expected. It led me into a messy time of life that I didn’t really want or ask for, but in the end those moments have set in motion art that I never intended.

    Thank you for sharing your words with all of us, and for challenging us not to be content to just be.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I love that, Kelli. Way to make your life, and your words, matter!

  • Inkydripper!

    Wow! Your blog is exceptional! I was referred to this by your sister Rhea, and oh my, you ARE a great writer!
    From one writer to another,
    Congratulations!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks!

  • http://storiesmadepowerful.com/ Arlen Miller

    Wow. That is some heavy hitter material. Usually we talk about golden nuggets. This story is gold all the way through. This is one to turn back to again. “What we avoid is what makes us grow” Yikes. Wham X3. Thanks for writing as you travel and experience Uganda, Jeff. Thanks for speaking truth, yet giving hope.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thank you for reading, Arlen.

  • http://michelletessendorf.com Michelle Tessendorf

    I’ve today returned to the U.S. from my beloved Africa. While I was traveling, I have been following your trip updates. I am so thankful for what you have written. You have painted the beauty of the hope I see in Africa. Thank you for helping others see it too. My continent is not hopeless, as many think. It is full of hope and found it the most unexpected places. Thank you for showing this Jeff.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Michelle, for reading. Not hopeless at all. Certainly not easy all the time, but hope-filled.

  • http://redemptionsbeauty.com/ Shelly Miller

    You hit your sweet spot with this one Jeff. I’m praying for you. So inspired and yes, I’m living a life of faith and writing about it. It’s glorious.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Shelly. That means a lot.

  • Jeralyn

    Their beautiful dark eyes tell stories. Thank you for the photos of these precious faces. I have been sponsoring a little boy from Kenya for a couple of years. After following all of your posts this week….I couldn’t hold myself back! My husband and I are sponsoring another child in Uganda. Her name is Deborah……what a joy to give hope.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Wow, Jeralyn! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

      And I can’t wait for Deborah to hear the news. Imagine her face when she learns that someone halfway around the world loves her. You are doing something amazing.

  • Beth Coulton

    I’m in tears, looking at those pictures, those big brown eyes of those amazing children, their bright smiles amid the slum conditions. They are happy, they are shining, they are bright. Nothing has stolen their joy! I’m off to blog about what you wrote-it has moved me, heart and soul. Thank you for being there and sharing it with us back home – I long to visit Africa one day and see these sights for myself and love on those kids!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      It’s incredible, Beth. They really have something amazing here.

  • sashelle

    This was AWESOME and heart felt. I’ve personalized SO much of what I just read and it became all the more real to me. I’m learning to live DESPITE the fears that circumstances brings knocking at my front door in efforts to discourage me from chasing my dreams. This post has helped shift my mindset from seeking escape, to living live and embracing everything that comes with it. Again, great post!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks!

  • Sandra Stiles

    This was wonderful. I want to share this with my students. I would also like permission to post on my wall in my classroom ” Anybody can do nothing. It’s normal to give in to paralysis and resign yourself to inaction. But that’s not what makes for a great story.” As an IB school we work at making our students think about what they can do to serve others. My favorite unit all year was my unit on Africa. It breaks my heart to see some of these pictures. The tattered clothes, etc. yet they almost all have smiles on their faces. Maybe you can answer a question for me. My students have been making simple sundresses to be sent to Africa as part of our unit. It there an connection there that we could send them to? If you would rather answer this to me personally you may email me at skstiles612[at]yahoo[dot]com

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Please do, Sandra!

  • Clara Hinton

    Jeff, Thanks so much for this messy mess of life you’re sharing with us. I stepped into a mess two years ago when I set foot in Haiti and I’ve been living messy ever since. Along with messy living has come a whole lot of thankfulness.
    I believe we can change hearts and circumstances by our words and that’s a large part of why I love being a writer. Every day it’s my prayer that God will help me to encourage someone somewhere and that as I step into the day’s mess, I will be humbled as a servant just a little bit more.
    Blessings to you as you create change for the good of so many!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Wow, Haiti. I still haven’t been but hear wonderful things. Thanks for sharing, Clara!

  • cheryl

    Yes!!! The words are so much more powerful when they come from an artist who is LIVING life!!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Cheryl. I’m trying to not just observe, but also engage.

  • http://www.eileenknowles.com Eileen

    “every time I think I’m learning something new about writing, it ends up being a lesson about life.” Love that, Jeff. I think this is what makes that desire to write so strong. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I think so, too, Eileen.

  • http://www.annepeterson.com/ Anne Peterson

    Looks like you got unstuck. Beautiful post Jeff. I’m sure it touched many hearts. Loved the parallel you make between writing and life. Hope to one day be in a position to help. That’s a prayer of mine.

    • Kandace

      Anne, I am quite certain you have helped many. Maybe in different ways but you’ve definitely been an encouragement to me!

      • http://www.annepeterson.com/ Anne Peterson

        Kandace,
        Thank you for your response. That really touched me.

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          I agree with Kandace. Thanks for helping me get unstuck, Anne.

          • http://www.annepeterson.com/ Anne Peterson

            You’re welcome.

  • http://writehorse.net/ Sarah Hood

    A very timely post for me… I always think I handle conflict well until I’m actually in the midst of it!
    I recently started my first “real job”… as an EMT. And let me tell you, sometimes it would be so much easier not to let myself feel anything, to just be numb to all the pain and suffering and gruesomeness. On the other hand, if I let myself feel too much, I’d spend the rest of my life depressed, if not completely despaired. It’s a fine line between callousness and hopelessness. And I think the key to surviving this line of work–and life in general–is finding the balance. Living the chaos, the conflict, the messiness–but looking for the glimpses of beauty in it all. The tiny flickers of hope in the tragedy. That contrast is what makes life worth living… and the best stories worth reading.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      “I always think I handle conflict well until I’m actually in the midst of it.” Hah! That makes two of us, Sarah.

  • Kandace

    Beautiful and powerful post! Love changes lives and is never wasted even if we do not see immediate results. Keep planting and sharing, Jeff!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Never wasted. You’re absolutely right. Thanks, friend.

  • http://altarofheaven.wordpress.com/ arcelia

    Oh my, oh my! I had to read this post to my husband which was hard to do because my throat was clenching and eyes watering….especially when I read:

    “A good writer is more than a scribe. She doesn’t just catalogue people’s stories; she endeavors to live one herself.”

    You were talking about me! I wrote something yesterday and prayed about ‘pressing publish’ because it was titled: Paralysis of Prayer…how I’ve waited long enough not to use my voice and writing to share about the hurt in the world. I pressed publish, sat down and read your post and almost fainted! God used another blogger Michele-Lyn to open my eyes and He’s using you to encourage me! This is online church: stirring one another to love and good deeds! Oh bless you!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Wow! Thanks, Arcelia. Have a great time in Guatemala. It’s a beautiful place.

  • Laura Robb

    Powerful words, Jeff. I can relate in so many ways. You’re right, we try to avoid certain moments or go in survival mode until life feels “better” and less overwhelming. But I don’t want to get stuck. I want to keep learning to live WELL. Thank you for inspiring all of us to jump in the mess and tell better stories.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Me too, Laura. And for what it’s worth, knowing you, I think you are living a pretty amazing story. I’m proud to know you.

      • Laura Robb

        Um, thank you. :) It means a lot. And I am thankful to know you. Keep writing!!

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          Will do. ;)

  • http://www.thomasabeesh.com/ Abeesh Thomas

    Thank you for sharing the website. Glad to sponsor a child.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Excellent, Abeesh!

  • Jill Foley

    I love this post. I’m a long time Compassion sponsor and it’s hard to put into words what the ministry of child sponsorship means to me. Thank you for going to Uganda and for sharing your experience with your readers….for using your voice to speak for the children.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      It’s my pleasure and honor, Jill. Thanks for sponsoring.

  • Melissa

    Jeff, beautiful. Just incredibly beautiful.

    Five years ago I travelled to Ethiopia to spend a week at AHOPE, a care center for HIV+ kids who were grieving the loss of their birth parents. That trip was a major zag in the relative zig that was my protected and rather naïve existence. Ten months after that trip, I returned to Addis with my husband and our six-year old daughter, and we adopted our son, Tigabu. We’ve had a blissfully messy four years together as a family. Our house is busy, loud, dusty and profoundly happy. I am blessed beyond measure, and five years out, I’m still peeling back and uncovering the lessons learned in Ethiopia.

    It sounds like you are having a similarly cathartic experience in Uganda. How lucky are we?

    Safe travels. And thank you.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      How lucky? Very. :)

  • http://www.beautifulmisbehaviour.com/ Stephanie Arsoska

    I think this is one if your best posts. I want to thank you for including images of motherhood in there.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Stephanie!

  • Jamie Beckett

    Wonderful post. The lesson it took the longest to learn (for me at least) was to be myself. Learning how to write in my voice, not the voice I thought I was supposed to be writing in, made all the difference. It required a fair amount of struggle and several years of doing mediocre work, frankly. But I eventually learned to throw out all the rules and retain them as mere suggestions. That made a difference both in the quality of my work and the sense of satisfaction I derived from the finished product. Embracing that change allowed me to see the world a bit differently, too. Not the way Jeff might, or anyone else for that matter, but as I do. It’s the unique perspective we each have to offer that really makes the story we have to tell a compelling one.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      That took the longest for me to learn, too.

    • Georgia C Pointer

      Jamie, Thank you for this reminder. I find that the joy gets sucked out if writing when I try to be anything other than myself.

  • Alyssa Santos

    There can never be enough of us writers, scribes, live-ers loving and doing the heart-wrenching work of Christ. At one time I was afraid to add to the huge and growing pile of words, of books. But I realize and I am utterly convinced that we are to live and tell and live and tell the stories of redemption because we are reaching out, speaking to world of lost and dying folks. Real people who need the redeeming love of Jesus. It often seems it’s not working, but we are to keep on and not grow weary. We have a big God who is actively working in Africa and across this world, but he wants us to be the hands that touch and the arms that embrace and the hearts that break….and the writers that write.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Great points, Alyssa. We need to live a redemptive story, not just a great one. Well put.

  • Sarah Gill

    Stepping into the mess of life and choosing to engage… It’s daily for me right now. This post hits so close to home for a million reasons, but I am so thankful for the reminder to not retreat. Thank you for this!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      You’re welcome, Sarah! Thanks for the comment.

  • Keely Scott

    Thank you for these powerful words and the reminder to “jump into the mess”.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks for going before me to set the example, Keely.

  • http://www.yvonnereynolds.com/ Yvonne Reynolds

    “This Compassion stuff is messy. It’ll rip your heart out.” Couldn’t agree with that more! Earlier this month, I was on a Compassion trip in Mexico when I learned more about our sponsored child and the situation he is living through at home, which is very similar to what I lived through as a child. Learning this could have paralyzed me, but since I had prepared myself to do whatever it took to be closer to God during that trip, I pressed on. God knew what He was doing when He allowed us to sponsor the child we did. I don’t know what the future holds for our little guy and his family, but I can trust that God has the perfect plan for his life.

    I pray you continue to experience amazing things on your trip! And have many more little hands to hold and kids to swing around :)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Yvonne. I think your prayers was answered. ;)

  • Kulandai Swami

    According to Nietzsche, if I am not wrong, pity, compassion and the like are all slave virtues that make our lives messy and more messy. Maybe harsh words, but that is the reality. Even according to the Bible, Jesus said: The poor you have always with you and you can …And so, allow her to anoint my feet (with the costly perfume the woman has come with). That is life and life’s meaning. To get emotional with pity and compassion makes one’s life more and more miserable (messy, to use your expression). There are millions and millions of kids deserving care or sponsorship, how are we individuals going to solve the problem?
    The children who get sponsorship are the lucky ones and are/can be only a few while the rest of them are …? And, then, you can care for a child or two or more, you can give them everything in life, all your wealth, but how about giving them health in case of disabilities and serious diseases? Governments and institutions alone can help them in a bigger way, not individuals in their private capacity!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      They are messy, maybe even slave virtues. But I’d rather have the virtues of a slave than no virtues at all.

      And the operative part of that bible verse isn’t that there will always be the poor, but that they will always be “with you.”

      The idea of sponsorship is not to set up lucky ones and unlucky ones. It’s to change a community by changing an individual. We’ve met kids who have grown up as sponsored children only to return to the slums as adults. Why? Because they have a heart to help those that are like they were.

      Peace to you, my friend.

      • http://handycrowd.com/ Ian Anderson

        Sponsorship leads to education and that my friend is the true way forward for Africa. With an educated population Africa can sort out it’s own future. History has shown us repeatedly that one person can make difference.

      • Kulandai Swami

        Ideas and idealism are admirable. But they work only in a limited way. The stories of sponsored kids are not mostly the way you selectively describe them to be! You select a kid or two according to your whims and chance while other kids who deserve it more are left out! Mother nature does not work that way. She either saves or destroys, selects or rejects with equal force, never sponsoring the weak or the strong with partiality! That is why Marxism, despite its golden idea of “from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs”, fails! Instead of adopting/sponsoring selective kids and making them heirs to wealth, to the envy and even hatred of their less fortunate, but more deserving, brethren/ friends/neighbours/kith and kin, it is more meaningful and fair to make regular donations to charitable agencies and institutions of known reputation.

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          Kulandai, I think you’re right in that sponsoring a few could lead to a certain sort of elitism or new form of colonialism — in some extreme cases. But I take issue with your last sentence about “making regular donations to charitable agencies” as a means of distributing the wealth to more people — how do you get it to everyone? Won’t some still be blessed and others not? There are not enough agencies in the world to reach everyone, I believe. What must happen in the developing world, is impoverished people must see their peers rising up out of poverty. Such an example speaks volumes more than a billion American dollars. That’s what I see happening with child sponsorship through Compassion: a child gets an opportunity she might not otherwise have to make a new life for herself. And she doesn’t become arrogant or elitist about it; she inspires others and is inspired herself to reach out to others in need and continue the work. It’s a virtuous cycle and create exponential change.

  • http://www.workyouenjoy.com/ Adam Rico

    You are just bringing it Jeff! I’m loving this series of posts. I hope you can repurpose them somehow into your next book.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Adam!

  • http://365dnipisania.pl/ Małgorzata

    That is why I love reading your blog – because you don’t write ‘just’ about writing, but also about living a meaningful life.
    Loved the photo with three children walking with their arms around each other!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks. I try.

  • La McCoy

    Magnificent

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Laura. I’m glad you’ve been following along.

  • http://handycrowd.com/ Ian Anderson

    The problem with spending time in Africa is that it’s a permanent game changer. How do you go back to the comfortable life afterwards, living in comparative luxury as your children squabble about how ‘all’ their friends now have the latest iPad etc?

    For example; this week I’ve been helping out a friend replacing perfectly good pine doors and frames with $500+ Oak ones, when all the time in the back of my mind I’m thinking about my old colleague and friend who is in the Philippines with the Red Cross helping people who would be thankful for a piece of polythene to keep the rain off.

    I am forever indebted to the wonderful people of Uganda because in 2 1/2 years they taught me about real life. Now I see the wonder in the smallest of things and am mindful of the good life I am fortunate to lead, purely down to the lottery of birth.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Oh, man. I’m in trouble, aren’t I? ;)

  • nyaran

    I am writing this on the expensive trip north, to volunteer at an event, spending money I should save and time I should invest in studies and jobs. But I’ll get a story or two out of it, and more important: experience! Life is a bit messy, but wonderful! On another note: We should not separate “these childrens’ big brown eyes” and our well-being which we become aware of only in “Africa”. Their poverty is not romantic. Our life is not less real than theirs. We should be aware that whatever we leave in other peoples’ lives: We will walk away with even more.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      You’re right.

  • Tom Furlong

    Amazing. Look what God has done! Refreshing, authentic look at the realities faced by our brothers and sisters in Uganda. The photos, stories and musings have truly touched my heart – have shared the links to the bloggers with all my family & friends. Result thus far has been 2 Ugandan children sponsored thus far. My prayers for the rest of your journey. Peace to you.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thank you, Tom. For reading and sharing and caring.

  • http://www.drmarylivingonpurpose/ Mary Mkandawire

    It’s difficult isn’t it? How do we measure
    whether or not something is working when we’re not dealing with a tidy project and
    straightforward deadlines, but are getting sucked into the messy reality of people’s
    lives? I have this quote by Robert Louis Stevenson as the screen saver on my
    computer: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that
    you plant.” Just keep on planting those seeds Jeff and the Compassion team. You are making more of a
    difference than you will probably ever know this side of eternity. God bless
    you.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      It really is. Thanks for sharing, Mary.

  • http://takisathanassiou.com/ Takis Athanassiou

    Excellent post Jeff! We usually try to write from our experience, but we don’t put too much effort in order to build moments, worth mention about. It is a paradigm shifting actually. We should first should mind our moments, be present at now, in order to build valuable memories (worth to be kept in our personal “memory palace”). We should be conscious we do something of value for someone else as well (not only for our self!). Writing comes, after living (not the other way around!). Thank you Jeff for your wonderful ideas and inspiration provided.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thank you for reading, Takis. And I agree: we can’t do this out of self-interest.

      • http://takisathanassiou.com/ Takis Athanassiou

        Thank you for replying, Jeff.

  • Pamela Sylvan

    Stepping into the mess for me is turning around and honestly looking at what’s not working. I’ve avoided it for many years only to discover it requires my energy an attention. As difficult as it is to admit that part of my life is basically ‘yucky’, taking time to stop and begin the process of clearing it up is a story that will be worth telling some day. Thanks Jeff.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Excellent, Pamela!

  • jeffhirz

    I’ve been reading you for three years now, Jeff, and what you say keeps getting more and more poignant. Well said.

    I think for many people, though, “being present” is difficult. Not because we don’t understand the concept intellectually, but because it’s hard to actually live it. To realize through and through that the only moment we ever have is the transient now.

    I’d be curious as to your thoughts on a tactical approach to embracing the moment. I’ve found some of the more obvious things help: meditation, prayer, deep diaphragmatic breathing. I’m just not sure getting into messy situations, while uncomfortable, admirable, and ultimately beneficial, is enough for most of us to embrace each moment and live consciously.

  • sandi

    My husband and I already support a child in Uganda. Have been doing it for years. When I started on my adventure with writing, I believed I was asked to write from God’s heart. He also said, “Will you be willing to experience My pain too?” It is out of that pain and out of that joy that comes expression that has life.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      So good. Thank you, Sandi.

  • sandi

    Also Great post Jeff. Beyond encouragement. Writing is more than putting words down. It is is to express life.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks!

  • Jessica Moreland

    I also feel that part of our duty as writers is to

  • Moonoverhill

    If we don’t jump into the mess, there is no life. How can we just go with the same routine in our lives and stay comfortable? Jumping into the mess is living life with others and for Christ.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I like it. Amen.

  • Fabiola Berriozabal Johnson

    wow, thank you, It’s refreshing to know I’m not alone. My family sometimes don’t get why is that I chose to write for a non-profit (they were just getting used to me writing period), telling the stories of the families whose lives we touch and whose lives touch us, but also the story of my journey as I come face to face with everything that it’s raw.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      You definitely are NOT alone.

  • http://ayearinthespirituallife.blogspot.com/ Dayna Renee Hackett Bickham

    This is the best thing I think you have ever written. It is your heart laid out in words and it inspires me to live a messier life. Thanks for that. Truly. Thanks.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Dayna. That means a lot. You’ve read so much of my writing that I KNOW you’re not just blowing smoke.

  • http://www.marilynluinstra.com/ Marilyn Luinstra

    Wow Jeff. Your YES to being alive–and writing about it–pops off this post.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Marilyn!

  • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

    Amazing Jeff, you can just feel the change through your writing. Sometimes as writers we tend to hold back, to not want to get involved. When we jump, when we “get in the mess’ is when the magic happens and people start to respond. After my first book failed to sell copies, I got real in my writing and wrote on topics that I knew would help people. I wrote a post about my bankruptcy and it was grunt-wrenching to write but I got so many emails it was insane :)

  • Susanne

    Thank you for sharing your heart and your life! I am so honored to sponsor two Compassion children in Africa and pray that God is working to improve their families’ lives through that sponsorship. Thank you for representing the sponsors back home!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thank you for being one!

  • BRIANNA

    Talk about a quality post. I needed to read something like this today.

    Very few people are willing to work right in the trenches of real problems. Congrats on your accomplishments in Africa!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Brianna. In many ways, I feel like I’m just observing the great work that’s already being done here.

  • Delores Liesner

    Asante sana, Jeff for the great reminder that the greatest miracles in my life have come through times of greatest conflict and need. I too have had the privilege of sponsoring a child through Compassion and to receive those precious letters. How awesome God is to allow you to meet your child.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      karibu.

  • Sarah

    This is awesome. Reminded me of my recent service trip to Africa, that I sometimes seem to forget about in the business of this crazy life. Your blog brought tears to my eyes, and an aching joy to my heart. Your writing is genuine and it has challenged me to go out of my comfort zone, even here in America. Thank you for sharing your story and these beautiful people’s stories.. God Bless!

  • Treehugginmama

    I seriously needed to hear this today. I am on the precipice of doing similar work, and am scared to death! :) My gut says press in to the fear, as you said. Seeing it in writing, from a stranger, is like hearing an echo of my own heart. Thank you for sharing your journey :)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I’m so glad to hear that.

  • Robyn

    This was a great post – full of honesty and truth. TY. I believe to find the mess you need to step into, just look for your fear.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Amen, Robyn Amen.

  • bonnierose

    Love your blog and your writing.. I am starting a writers group in our church at the beginn of March.. I’d love to email u after your trip and talk about perhaps coming down here to speak to the group after it’s been going for a few months… you are inspiring.. I am a writer too and thanks to your recent two blog posts.. I just sponsored a girl today in Uganda! You are making a difference. Love to you today.. stay safe and give away lots of that love. xo

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks for sponsoring, Bonnie! Let me know how that writers group goes.

  • krishnakanthwords

    Undoubtedly one of the best blogs of yours, Jeff! Just loved everything you put out here, about life and humanity…

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I really appreciate that!

  • http://www.asimplehaven.com/ Jenn at a Simple Haven

    And this is why I read this blog….Just what I needed to hear today, as I am tempted to “give in to paralysis and resign myself to inaction.”

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Jenn. Thanks. That means so much.

  • http://want2discover.com/ Bastiaan Blikman

    Thanks for this Jeff!

    You just made me sponsor a child trough compassion.

    I really appreciate it that you write about this. It made me realize how fortunate I am and that I don’t do anything for somebody who is less fortunate.

    I now realize I should..

    I just discovered your blog and I absolutely love it. I will subscribe and keep following you!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Wow. Thank you, Bastiaan. That’s amazing!

  • danabrownritter

    I’ve been running from writing because my dad has been near death. I haven’t pressed in, but I’ve retreated. I needed this. Possibly your best, yet. I’m thankful for you, Jeff.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Sorry to hear that. It can’t be easy.

    • Taxpayer1234

      I’ve had the same journey when my father was dying. I am sorry for your pain, and his. You’ll find the right moment to press in.

  • carolinainmymind

    A quick note of thanks – that’s exactly what I needed to read just now. Great stuff.

  • Taxpayer1234

    What a lovely post–so open and honest. As an English prof, I’m always looking for ways to show my students that writing is as messy as life, and like life, one should not fear it. I’ll be sharing your post with them.
    While I admire your work in Africa, I also feel conflicted about it. Stories like yours seem to contain an implicit claim that an authentic “jumping into the mess” occurs when helping children in other countries. There are so many children in our own country who need help. My husband and I are guardians of a teenage girl who suffered repeated rape by her stepfather. Dealing with police, court, lawyers, therapists, and her family has been heartbreaking and stressful. Seeing her thrive is not as romantic as being feted in Africa. But it is definitely “jumping into the mess” of life.

  • Chad R. Allen

    For me it looks going to Haiti, then starting a business, then giving the money from that business back to Haiti, God willing.

  • http://ShortStoryStructure.com/ Michael M Dickson

    This could be the best post you’ve ever written.

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