The Amazing Realization That Turns Amateurs into Professionals

Become who you are. It happens once in a lifetime.
–Switchfoot

Cole Bradburn is a chiropractor who longs to be a poet. Most days, he works in an office, helping people improve their health. Secretly, though, he longs to make a difference with his words. “Some day…” he hopes. But some day may not come.

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Photo Credit: Paul Watson via Compfight cc

It’s not that Cole hates his job. He likes it, which is the whole problem. There’s another life he longs to live, a parallel one that feels at odds with his day job.

The world, it seems, is full of these people: Closet artists and aspiring authors — people longing to do meaningful, inspiring work. There’s just one problem. They’re not doing it.

The longing that lasts

Many of us worry about our lives, that we won’t make an impact. In the late hours or early mornings, we wonder what we’ll be remembered for, what our legacy will be. While some are trying to make it through another week, others find themselves succeeding at the wrong things.

Make no mistake, though. All of us, at some point, wonder if what we’re doing matters. But for some of us, maybe for you, this question sticks. It haunts you, whispering from afar. It keeps you wondering and waiting.

All the while, deep inside your heart, something dangerous stirs, something you’re afraid to admit — something I was afraid to admit.

The secret fear we all face

Years ago, I was in Spain. As part of a college study abroad program, I was spending the fall semester of my junior year in Seville: a beautiful, historic city full of art and wonder.

On a very ordinary day, my friend Martha and I took a trip to La Giralda, the impressive tower adorning the world’s third-largest cathedral and the place where Columbus was allegedly entombed.

After ascending the massive spiral staircase, we gazed out over the city. We looked down, watching thousands of souls pass by. As we descended the stairs and entered the cathedral Martha posed a thought I’ll never forget:

I wonder what kind of legacy I’ll leave.

It hung in the air for all to hear (as if anyone else were listening). We stopped and stood in front of the altar. There we were, surrounded by centuries of art, and Martha wanted to know which of her creations would endure. What would still be standing in another thousand years?

I had to wonder the same.

How to put a dent in the universe

We are all hoping something we do in this world matters. We want our creations to stay with people forever. As Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers, once said, we all long to “put a dent in the universe.”

It’s true. We’d all like to leave some kind of impact on this ball of dirt. But most of us, tragically, won’t. We’re afraid of the cost, worried we don’t have what it takes, anxious about the road ahead of us.

Terrified we’ll fail to live up to our own expectations, we play it safe and abide by the rules. Before we even start, we sabotage our work and subvert our hidden genius.

And how, pray tell, do we do this?

With words. Subtle but serious words that kill our passion before we can pursue it. Words like “aspiring” and “wannabe.” Phrases like “I wish” and “someday.”

There is a solution to this. A simple way of facing your fears and living the dream: Become who you are.

An adventure in identity

At a time in my life not so long ago, I was wrestling with this longing I wanted my life to matter, wanted to know I had a personal legacy. One day, my friend Paul asked what my dream was, and I told him I didn’t have one. Which was exactly the wrong thing to say.

“That’s too bad,” he said. “Because I would’ve said it was to be a writer. I guess I was wrong,” he shrugged.

I began to steam. Swallowing hard and working up the courage to speak, I finally uttered, “Well, I guess it is. I mean, I suppose I hope to maybe be a writer… someday.”

My friend looked at me without blinking and said these words that would forever change my life: “Jeff, you don’t have to want to be a writer. You are a writer. You just need to write.”

The next day, I started writing. Without excuse or exception (and without being very good), I began. And you know what? My friend was right.

The results come… eventually

Pretty soon, I became a writer, almost without realizing it.

It began with a few hundred words before sunrise, every day. Sure, those words stayed on my hard drive at first, but with practice and discipline, I got better. I was publishing articles and producing work on a regular basis that started to surprise me.

Slowly, I shared those words, and over time an audience grew. It was gradual at first and then seemed to happen all of a sudden. But the important part wasn’t so much how slowly or quickly it occurred. What mattered for me was I was finally becoming myself.

I found my dream not by searching for it, but by submitting to what I had always hoped was true. I was, in fact, a writer. All I had to do was write.

Anyone can do this. All it requires is a simple, but sometimes scary, solution. Claim you already are what you want to be, and then start acting like it. Soon, you will start to actually believe it. And so will others.

What would that look like for you? Share in the comments.

This story first appeared in my book, You Are a Writer, which became an Amazon best-seller and has only ever been available as a digital book — until today. If you’ve longed to be a writer or know someone who has, this is the book to read. It’s on sale this week, and if you get the updated paperback version (with 3000 words of new content!), you’ll also get the Kindle version for free. Check it out.

93 thoughts on “The Amazing Realization That Turns Amateurs into Professionals

  1. I am a multi-denominational breed that lived through great parts of church history. By that I do not mean that I am really, really old, no. A little bit more than ⅓ of Abraham’s lifespan, that is all. I mean that I was born into the Swiss reformed church that stems right from Zwingli, the reformer that made the first German translation of the bible, two years before Luther. I then went to a house church by Jesus people when I was 7, a evangelical church with 13, a catholic boarding home when 14, lived with quakers, lutherans, and reformed Jews before giving my life to Christ finally with 21 in a charismatic church and now co-pastor a church in an apostolic network.

    Why do I tell you this? It fits well with Jeff’s story.

    When I was a boy, I knew that I played a part in the future biblical stories. Terribly enough, I thought that I was the beast in Revelations. I knew that something lacked in my Christian life – later I learned that I needed Jesus. But can you imagine all the fear stemming from that identification? I wondered when evil would manifest and I would turn bad.

    But shortly after I gave my life to Christ, he showed me that I would serve him as a full-time leader in his church. At that time that could only mean to be either a pastor or a missionary – there were no other recognized ministries in the church.

    That was the time of missionary books, telling the stories of young converts in Africa that – after a year – would have their own church a few miles into the bush from the missionary station they were taught at. And here I was – a Christian for a year, and still not in ministry.

    Oh, I played the bass guitar in church, but I was not pastoring. I still believed in Plato’s world view that was adopted by the church shortly after Christ: a special caste of people – priest, pastor, you name them – that knew the perfect – heaven, not Plato’s state – and led normal people to get a glimpse of truth. Normal people, bad from the beginning, not allowed to breath or sleep without one of the elect telling them to.

    You probably get the drift why I was no pastor at that time right away. I didn’t.

    After a few years of fighting for position, I gave up. Still playing the guitar, writing the church newspaper, teaching teenagers’ sunday class, I dove into my job, started a university education as mathematician and computer scientist. It did not help. I loved it, yet it did not fulfill me.

    It took several bankruptcies to wake me up. In the meantime I got to know people that believed in me. I learned about the fivefold ministry. And I found my calling: I was a teacher to the body of Christ. It took me another few years to call myself a teacher, and yet another few for people to acknowledge me as such, but I had been a teacher all along.

    Again, I started big mouthed and unwise. I told everybody, whether they wanted to hear or not. And I taught everybody. Look, a writer is a writer as soon as he sees himself as one and writes. Even if nobody buys his books. A leader is no leader without a following – he is just taking a walk. And a teacher without student is just filling the air with noise. Maybe precious noise, but noise after all.

    It took me a while of building relationships that believed in me, furthered me, invested into me, that frankly saw more in me than I myself – even considering all of my overreaching ego. It took even longer for people in my church to trust and listen. It took a lot of character work. I had to break out my introverted shell that manifested in control. Lecturing was my way to keep people at arm’s length, thus gave me control of any situation. And I even had a verse for it: a teacher teaches in time and out of time.

    Today, I am a respected teacher because I walk the talk and have genuine relationships. It’s is not about me being a teacher any longer. It is about working together as a team, each having part of the puzzle, each having his or her own unique gifting, mine being to teach them the ways of God. To help lead them into maturity.

    For a few years I write a blog now. I have not developed a standing with this blog yet. Only few read it. Interestingly enough, I have a personal relationship with most of my readers. What had been a key for my off-line ministry seems to be important online as well.

    On my blog, the tagline is: teacher | writer | son of God.

    With all three it is the same. I am all three of them, yet I manifest them only as much as I believe that I already am. And all three are not about me. All three become precious as others see it in me and profit from it. I want to use all three of them to set others free. How about you?

    1. Why can’t the man at the beginning of your post be both a chiropractor and a poet? Chiropractors do incredibly meaningful work. They help other people to become healthier and relieve their pain. Art is not the only way to make your mark on the world, and it shouldn’t be an either/or decision.

      The man in your example doesn’t have to choose: he can help people improve their health, AND make a difference with his words in work that he does outside of his usual job. To pretend that art is the most noble and fully expressive thing that a person can do devalues the work of millions. Not everyone can be a writer, Jeff. And not everyone wants to.

          1. I agree that more passion in the world is great. And as for dreams, I have many. And this is the thing…not everyone dreams of being a writer or an artist. Or an engineer. Or a world-traveller, or whatever the case may be.

            I have dreams that relate to my health, my family, where I would like to live, various things I would like to do…work is only a small facet of that. Equating your dream with the thing that you do to make a living can too often be a recipe for heartbreak, because very few people will get to fully live their dream. Like I said to Jeff above, I think it’s all about compromise and doing the best you can with the situation you find yourself in.

            1. I agree, Gwen. Would you believe me if I told you this was basically the thesis of my next book? Your calling isn’t some carefully-crafted plan; instead, it’s the thing that happens when you respond to what life throws at you.

      1. Great point Gwen. You’re absolutely right. I agree that everyone can’t and shouldn’t be a writer. The problem I’m trying to address here is this: when you want to be one thing but feel stuck in something else what do you do? How would you answer that question Gwen?

        1. I think there are ways to compromise – and that “compromise” shouldn’t be a dirty word. You can make time to pursue things that you really enjoy outside of what you are stuck in, whether that’s work or another situation. You can find ways to enjoy and appreciate the work that you currently do, or change the way that you do it. You can try to make a slow transition from one to the other, by gradually carving out time and building up something new until you have the confidence and the foundation to move entirely. But really, I don’t see why someone’s job and their art should be mutually exclusive.

  2. I had a very similar conversation yesterday at a printmaking workshop. One of the other attendees (who has made some beautiful prints) sighed and said ‘I would so like to be a printmaker’. I replied ‘You have made prints, therefore you are a printmaker!’. ‘So I am!’ she said, with a grin. As for me, I’m using a major life change to be what I want to be – I’m a printmaker, an artist and a writer.

  3. I finished reading the last line of “You Are a Writer” and said the following words aloud for the FIRST time: “I am a writer” . I also remember penciling these words onto a piece of paper every day for a whole month 😉

    Thank you, Jeff, for urging me to voice (out loud) what my heart has been whispering all my life. Thank you for connecting me to my calling. #HUGS

    Much love
    Kit

  4. Spot on Jeff! Fear and doubt are the enemies of being who we are. Eventually they will strangle the life out of our creative potential and leave us forever longing for something more. It doesn’t have to be that way! If you are a writer, start writing. If you are an artist, start drawing. If you are a musician, start playing. Be brave and be who you ARE!

  5. I feel like you were speaking to me this morning, because the fears and second thoughts, crept up on me almost overnight. The last time I read this post, I went to my blog and wrote this https://wp.me/p3LOJZ-57.(Hope I’m not breaking your rules here) But then the same thing happened once more, and I lost all my motivation again. Last week was like a windfall week with my blog. I started WordPress Blogging 101 and found a community that I never knew existed. We looked at each other’s work, and the support was enough to get me writing and believing again. My meagre page views doubled on each of the blogs that I have. Pumped up with excitement, I started drafts of blogs I would post this week.Then, for some reason, the fears started nawing at me again like, “Who cares?’ ‘What is your claim to fame that you would want to write an advice blog for newbie bloggers?” It’s enough to make me want to delete those drafts and put me on pause as it did for so long. But, thanks for your inspiration. I will keep this post up on my screen to affirm myself that “I am a writer. I just have to write.” Thank you for speaking to me this morning.

  6. such a beautiful post! This is exactly the process I am going through as I transition my business – becoming “who I am” and running my business as I envision it to be. thanks!

  7. Hey Jeff, I know it’s been awhile… for whatever reason, this resonated with me today. If I never told you, I am grateful for everything you have taught me. You are making a dent in this universe, and I applaud you. Thank you for all you do in inspiring so many of us to pursue our dreams and working toward making them a reality.

  8. So true, Jeff! There are so many fears associated with doing our most important work. There’s something that just shifts internally when we make the decision to be who we are and do the work we’re called to do. The fears never go away but we can move forward through them easier, just knowing this.

  9. I just bought YOU ARE A WRITER and am looking forward to it. I also spent sometime in Seville (not a WHOLE semester – jealous!), so I know how magical the city is. You’re right, Jeff – it’s not a matter of FINDING your dream. It’s a matter of HONORING your dream. It’s already buried deep inside of it. We just have to muster the courage to take a step toward it — one small step at a time.

  10. Amazing post! Exactly where I currently reside. My life isn’t normal. Hasn’t been since I married my pilot husband 30 years ago. And then I home schooled, led a group of homeschooling families, jumped into women’s ministry, facilitating and leading Bible studies, mentoring young pregnant women (my newest calling) and now praying about mentoring at our local UGM. And where is my writing in all of this? Peeping through at times. Pushing up through my “normal” life. Wanting and demanding more air time.

    “I found my dream not by searching for it, but by submitting to what I had always hoped was true. I was, in fact, a writer. All I had to do was write.” And as I love this statement, I have to add, I need to be me. As I am discovering my own writing process, my schedule and juggling it with world traveling husband and two teenage boys still at home, I still need to be me.

    Last week I finally did something I never felt confident enough to do. I dug up an old article I had written, sent it online and pressed “send.” I’n not even sure it matters if the piece gets accepted. I finally pushed “send.” I am doing what I need to do….and sometimes it means I have to sacrifice my 3 hour slot dedicated to writing and my husband needs me to meet the architect. Or my son picks that time to finally have the heart to heart talk. In my life, struggling to be a writer, I know I am a writer. But it’s in the way God has called me. And I’m learning to be okay with that.

    Thanks for you inspiration and writing what’s on your heart. Thanks for your calling and urging us to stay on course for our own calling. Blessings!!

    1. Diane- this is one of the most relatable things I have ever read, and describes where I am right now, today – “In my life, struggling to be a writer, I know I am a writer. But it’s in the way God has called me. And I’m learning to be okay with that.”
      All of our writing lives look different. Mine has been on hiatus for over a year now, as I have been peacefully wondering what I’m supposed to do with this gift God gave me and being more than ok with not using it currently. I have had moderate “success” with writing, and enjoyed it, and then felt I needed to put it on a shelf for a while. I took a break from scheduled, the-pressure’s-on-me writing time where I felt that “the world” and my small band of readers was waiting for me to produce something for them to read. That took all the joy out of it for me, feeling that I needed to write because others were expecting it.
      So I wait. And I’m happy waiting. I have great, exciting memories to look back on with joy of writing thrills that I had always hoped for. But as you so wisely say, this gift must be used in the way God has shaped and designed me, and in the way God is calling me to use it. And His call of not using it right now speaks to me just as loudly!

      1. Awww, that’s great Beth! I love how all of our journeys are unique as long as we continually pursue Him. I know I get off kilter when I make it more about myself and less of God. I write what inspires me and so far so good. My current post, which I am working on completing is how to overcome those obstacles that do get in the way and the biggest obstacle is Me. Blessings to you in this new path God has you on. I know what that looks like. I stepped away from a leadership position in women’s ministry and man…it didn’t feel good for a very long time. Two years later, I’m more comfortable in my skin and the directions God is taking me, but it was more difficult than I realized. Thanks for sharing!

  11. For some of us, it’s hard to simplify. I’m a writer, cartoonist, painter and police chief. What I’ve learned about having a platform is that it gets confusing if your blog is about everything you are. Your unique voice may carry the day but you don’t want to confuse people. I’m in the middle of simplifying my website’s tagline to “Cartoonist.” The site will contain my writing, artwork and some “cop wisdom” but the tagline “Cartoonist” best reflects what I am and the direction I’m headed! Thanks Jeff.

  12. This is a truth so many of us fight against, often our whole lives. We have what we think we should be and what we think others think we should be, yet those just don’t satisfy that inner urge within us. My mom told me something when I was in my 20s that not only stuck with me but that helped me find the right focus much like your friend did. She said, “Just be who you are, and people can’t help but like you.” Since then, I’ve been on a journey to discover who I am. And mom was right, by the way.

  13. This is so timely. I am a writer in the process of becoming a person as well. I have lived my life based on what I think others want of me. And I learned early that the best way to stay out of trouble was to be invisible. I became very good at being invisible. And if I couldn’t be invisible, I learned to present the aspect of a child. Now I’m 80 years old and finally blossoming as a person with talents, abilities, and being.

    Oh, and the book I’m writing? I finished it then met a writing coach. Now I’m rewriting the whole thing and enjoying it. I like what I’m coming up with and I’m proud of my progress. My dreams (two of them anyway) are coming to fruition. Hear me roar! I am butterfly in process of becoming!

    1. This is so beautiful, Judi! I love the way you have taken Jeffs challenge to become and added sucks beautiful illustration of the butterfly.

      Where are you blogging?? Are you publishing your writing anywhere yet? I’d love to see it!

      Blessings as you become!

  14. Thanks Jeff for letting us realized. One way or another we would all start from the beginning. We may stumble along the way in reaching what we want in life, but we should always remember to hold our passion with all our heart, act on it like we’ve never done before and believe that we can do it no matter what!

  15. I am an instant Jeff Goins Fan! You are an excellent writer and I’m glad your friend was able to get you so motivated that you started sharing your work.

    This is the first article or yours I’ve read and I am now hooked.

    Thanks, Jeff, for being so eloquent with your words.

      1. Melanie from “Dear Debt Blog” tweeted about wanting to sign up for your newsletter after FinCon and I wanted to check it out. Came to your site, and am loving the content. 🙂

  16. Jeff, it doesn’t matter how many times I hear this story it is a fantastic reminder to me that I am a leader, a writer, capable of achieving my dream because I am a dream realizer.

    What I love even more is that I know that everyone who reads this is capable of greatness. I have a sincere hope that this article will inspire others to take the step and realize their dreams because without them realizing their dreams we miss out big time!!

    Thanks for being so steadfast Jeff!

  17. I remember reading your story for the first time a year or maybe two ago. I like rereading it every once in a while to remind me that I’m headed in the right direction. The idea is so simple, but it needs to be said and repeated.

  18. I love this post – it even had me tearing up a bit. You see, I am a story teller. I remember as a kid, we always went outside for recess – no matter how cold – and I figured out that if I told a good story, everyone would stay clustered around me and I’d stay warm. I still have the notebooks full of the truly awful stories I wrote as a kid – hundreds of pages of metaphors like “bristling like a pine cone.” Yet, I kept pushing that part of me down because it wasn’t very practical and everyone told me I could never make a living writing books. I mean, who makes money writing fiction (well, besides Stephen King)? And I had bills to pay, and of course, the secret fear that my stories would be like the ones in those old notebooks – awful.

    So, I still wrote stories but they were other people’s as I churned out newspaper articles weekly. I was still writing so it was good, and I learned a lot about meeting deadline and writing when I didn’t feel inspired.Then, last year, I wrote a kids’ book by accident. I was just playing around and what started out as a short story based on a whimsical idea, turned into an actual story. I was still doubtful because after all, who would publish it? I read your book You Are a Writer and I have been inspired by your success. I also just listened to your webinar about how to build a writing habit. I’m working on a schedule that I can be consistent with using some of those tips – so thanks! 🙂 I love reading your stuff because at the end of the day, you help people realize their dreams and that’s a great legacy to have. 🙂

  19. I feel like I’m on two paths–caring for people when they are at their worst and writing. I cared for my mom until she passed away from cancer and I have never felt such purpose. I am now working towards my certification as a Nurse’s Aid (partly because I need an income) AND I’m about to self-publish my second book (a children’s book) while working on a second chapbook. I feel like I’m on two different paths. I hope I don’t get split in two.

  20. Such an amazing post Jeff. It literally gave me the real purpose to write, which I had but I had forgotten it. It reminded me of the fact that I used to write poetry as well. It’s an amazing self-discovery & rediscovery. Thanks

  21. Hey, Jeff. You make such a key point in this article. Have you ever read Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz? If not, I highly recommend it. Maltz, a former plastic surgeon turned personal development writer, offered that the biggest issue that holds people back from achieving their dreams is their self image. His argument basically says that we only take the actions that support who we see ourselves as. So, if we want to write, we have to see ourselves as writers (or any other profession or role). Such a key lesson and so glad you made it.

  22. I think what really turns the aspiring into the perspiring is when you realise that there is work that only YOU can do. That there’s a unique message only YOU can share. And by not ding that your making yourself much more unhappy than if you did do it. So you say to yourself ‘Shit I better stop fucking around and do this or it’s gonna eat away at me for the rest of my life!’

  23. For as long as I could remember I was convinced that I was put here to change the world. Do something significant. Something extraordinary. I eventually realized that it was happening all around me. I was just missing it because I was looking ahead trying to find what was right there in front of my face. I may not have created the next great iPhone or cured world hunger but I finally realized that the world is a little bit better because I was here. At least for a bunch of people that I wake up to each and every day.

  24. Thanks for this inspirational post, Jeff. I have recently begun calling myself a writer since I have been blogging for three-plus years. I finally realized I didn’t need to earn money or gain permission to call myself a writer. I write. Therefore I am a writer.

  25. Jeff…my friend…most of us 7 billion will leave little or zero impact whatsoever. A legacy is a conceit we human beings, in our infinite self-importance, conceived of because we can’t grasp what happens after death.

    If you want to be an artist, be an artist. Put your stuff up there with the people who are rocking their art 24-7-365 and see if you’re good enough. If you are, the universe will support you. If not, back you go to the chiropractor’s office, and Goddess bless you.

    Try this:

    Take the date of your death and add 25 years. Then 100. Then 1,000. Then 10,000. Then 100,000. You are but a speck and your life is a blink. While the eye is open, dance, sing, shout, screw, sit, eat, sleep, shit, shower. Or work in an office. Or do nothing.

    he universe does not care if you squander your life or drink it up like mother’s milk.

  26. Jeff,

    Fantastic article. I recently stumbled across your blog, only a few weeks after committing myself to writing daily (before sunrise as you did). I’m still in the honeymoon phase, so to speak, and I know it will only get harder. I’m hoping (and praying) I find the will to push on.

    Anyways, you inspired me. Thank you Jeff. I might even set my alarm for tomorrow to even earlier than I have been…

  27. “Become who you are” – simple yet strong and inspirational words. Thank you for this wonderful post.

  28. Thank you so much for this inspiring article. Your incredible words keep inspiring me.
    In fact, I’ve recently opened up a blog! And all thanks to your article.
    Please visit there – I’d like – no, I’d love – to hear your professional review.
    eddiepaley.wordpress.com

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