You Only Have One Story to Tell

But you’re going to tell it dozens, even hundreds of times over. That’s the beauty of it. That’s how you’re going to make it stick in our minds. That’s how you’re going to teach us the lesson you must teach.

You will need to tell a few dozen stories before you even get to this story. You almost certainly won’t recognize this story for what it is the first time you tell it. You may or may not feel inspired while writing it.

In fact, there’s a good chance that the first time this story shows up, it will be one of those awful, painful, demoralizing affairs where every word you put to the page feels like pushing a three-ton boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down.

Let that be your first lesson about this story: it’s not merely for you.

The reason why you’ll need to tell it over and over again is because we won’t hear it at first. Almost none of us will hear it the first time. Some of us will start to hear it around the tenth time. Keeping retelling it, and you will have a small, ever-expanding pool of us who get it. We’ll love your story so much that eagerly seek out each new retelling, even though most of won’t know they are retellings. We, like you, will think it’s a new story every time.

By this story, you will be remembered. Through this story, you will find a greater fulfillment than anything else in your life can give you. Someday, you will look back over all that you’ve written and finally see it, or one of those precious few readers who knows how to spot it will say something to you.

You will see it as a shimmering trail, weaving through all the places you’ve walked, and you’ll see it tracing a long aurora through the sky. You’ll see others walking along with its guidance, unaware that they are even guided.

And this is the price you must pay: your comfort.

You must write when you don’t feel like writing.

You must write to meet deadlines.

You must send your work out when it isn’t perfect.

You must read far beyond what is familiar to you.

You must talk to actual people, in person whenever possible, who have a different lived experience than you.

You must spend time improving your craft, vastly more time than you think it will take.

You must spend money to improve your craft, because you’re here on the Internet reading this and yes you do have money to spare for your purpose.

You must find new resources, mentors, and role models when the old resources, mentors, and role models start to hold you back. 99% of them won’t make it with you for the whole journey. That’s okay. It means you’re outgrowing them.

You must give up the charming illusion that your best work emerges out of you naturally and effortlessly, like rain falling out of a cloud. I hinted at this before, but let me make this even more clear for you: you have absolutely no control over when your best work will appear. You’ll never know if it's your best work until afterwards. What you can control is whether you do more work, do it sincerely, and give your best work more opportunities to emerge.

You must learn to see your craft as a machine, built by human hands, which can be disassembled and reassembled in an unlimited number of ways. At first, this will feel like losing the magic, because for you the magic used to mean, “I don’t know how this works but something splendid has happened.”

You must keep going, even when your illusions are gone, even when you feel lost, even you feel like giving up and wasting your life daydreaming about “the good old days.” You must keep going because there’s a new magic waiting for you. It’s yours to claim, and it will show up if you show up. It won’t necessarily come with fame or riches, but it will give you a surplus of something greater.

You must fall out of love with fame and fortune, and then you must fall out of hate with fame and fortune. They are only tools. They can be extremely useful if you choose to apply them to your purpose, but they are neither required nor guaranteed.

But what is that new magic?

That new magic is what happens after you tell your one story. Because out of all the people who follow the shimmering trail of your one story, there will be a few who start to tell their own stories. As they follow you, they will pick up the tools you left behind and use them to keep building their own stories, until they peel off your path and start tracing their own.

Because the new magic is the opportunity for all of us to walk in an illuminated world, a world so strewn with shimmering paths that we can help but look at all of it and understand the deep, sweet loveliness of it.