Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

One question to ask yourself before the New Year

In 2013 you told a story with your life. So did I. There were characters and conflict, tension and resolution. It had elements of comedy and tragedy, adventure and drama. So what story did you tell?

Today is a great day to look back over last year’s story. And I have one simple question to help you do it.

Photo by Ethan Lofton (Creative Commons)

The Question

Every good story is about change. Just look at the movies we watch. We love to see transformation unfold before our eyes.

Blake Snyder, who literally wrote the book on screenplay writing, says the protagonist must change in at least six ways for a story to be compelling. He writes:

[box]”In a sense, stories are about change. And the measuring stick that tells us who succeeds and who doesn’t is seen in the ability to change. Good guys are those who willingly accept change and see it as a positive force. Bad guys are those who refuse to change, who will curl up and die in their own juices, unable to move out of the rut their lives represent. To succeed in life is to be able to transform. That’s why it’s the basis not only of good storytelling but also the world’s best-known religions. Change is good because it represents re-birth, the promise of a fresh start.”  Blake Snyder, Save the Cat [/box]

In short, transformation keeps us engaged in the story—both in the theater and in life.

As you look back on 2013, what are six ways you changed? Take a minute and write them out.

The Answer

As you think through this question, there are at least three potential answers:

“I did not change.” Perhaps you started last year with the best of intentions, but your resolutions fizzled out. Perhaps you feel trapped on a merry-go-round of habits. Perhaps you’ve grown bored with your own story.

As hard as it is to accept this conclusion, recognition is the harder half of the battle. You can do something about this stalemate. Not through the silver-bullet of a New Year’s resolution, but the through the incremental growth of a willing and determined spirit. Maybe it’s time to welcome some healthy conflict into your story—a move, a challenge, an adventure. Take a risk and see how you change.

Read: Is Comfort Killing Your Soul?

There is a second, more discouraging, answer: “I changed for the worse.” Perhaps 2013 was a difficult year for you. Perhaps you made choices you wish you could take back. Perhaps you don’t like where your story is heading.

Every protagonist faces just such a moment. Blake Snyder calls it the “All is Lost Moment,” It is the point in the movie when you aren’t sure the good guy is going to make it out alive. It always gets worse before it gets better. The difference between the protagonist and the antagonist is he keeps moving forward. He corrects his wrongs and presses towards resolution.

Your future does not have to look like your past. Your story can change.

Read What to do when you realize you are not who you want to be

The answer we all hope to give when reviewing 2013 is “I changed for the better.” If this is your response, take a moment to rejoice. In order to change you had to face painful conflict and exhausting difficulties. But you made it through.

As you look at your list of changes, what do you learn about your story? In what direction is your life heading? Who are you becoming?

Until we look back with honesty, we cannot look forward with hope. (tweet that?)

One More Question

Imagine you are sitting here twelve months from now reviewing the year. What answer do you want to give? Who do you want to be? What change do you want to see in your life?

What are 6 ways you want to change in 2014? Take some time to write out your answers.

I would love to hear some of your answers. You can leave them in the comments below.

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About Josh

  • My main goal this coming year is to get organized. It would be very easy for me to set too many goals, so I am trying to be organized with the ones I do set. Maybe I will write a blog post about my goals.

    • Joshua Irby

      That’s a great one. I think of goals as separate from this list of six (so I don’t feel overwhelmed). You could change in numerous ways while pursuing one goal. I hope you make the steps you want this year. Happy New Year!