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.