A long, long time from now, in a galaxy that looks a lot like this one, you might find
yourself looking through your old journals and being really glad you kept them.
You may celebrate that you took the time to write down your life experiences. And that
you kept details of of what was going on in the world around you. There are a few circumstances when it could be particularly helpful.
Sugar-coated memories. Time has a way of making some of the circumstances of our lives seem like they weren’t that bad. One summer I convinced my sister to ride a bus with me from Burlington, VT to Tallahassee, FL. I persuaded her with talk of adventure.
My memory has tricked me into believing that this experience was a wonderful time that I spent with my sister. But my journal holds the truth. Hardly any food or sleep, stops in places our dad would have forbidden us to go when we were younger, and 36-hours in a bus seat.
Why is this important? Why not just remember the sugar-coated version?
Because life isn’t actually sugar-coated. And having a way to remember life as it really happened is a beautiful gift.
We’ve all endured circumstances that were less than ideal – and we all have our own definition of what is less than ideal. We all have likes, dislikes, best times, and worst times.
The whole package makes a person and the story there is to tell of our growth is one worth writing down.
Memories are made of more than just fact. The way we feel about an experience can be just as important, maybe even more so, than the details of what happened. The best books are the ones where we not only get to know the facts about a character, but we get a glimpse into how they feel and what they think, right?
A sugar-coated memory may serve to help us feel sentimental about some of the life experiences we’ve chosen, and that is a-okay. It’s nice to have in your journal too that “life is full of these trials” (thank you Ms. Austen), and that we are better because of it.
Future relationships. Someday your kids will be all grown-up. So will mine. And when they are, there is a good chance they will bring someone home they really care about. That person will care about them in return and want to hear all about what our kids were like when they were little. And we will be able to deliver because we’ve written down all the good stuff.
The funny comments they made. The first day of school. Christmases. Learning to ride a bike. Standing up for themselves for the first time.
Odds are good that we’ll have journal entries to accompany photos and home videos too. Fun trips down memory lane are in the future!
Choosing to remember. When I was in college I remember talking with a classmate about a project we were working on. We agreed on a plan and took off to complete our assigned tasks. When we met again, my partner had not held up his end of the deal. In a rather heated discussion, he said to me, “thats not how I choose to remember our conversation.”
Thus began my first lesson that people will remember what they want to remember. This can be innocent enough. Two or more people talk, they part ways, and each person ends up remembering the conversation differently. We’re all human, so this makes sense.
It could also be intentional. Two people talk. One person hears something he or she doesn’t like. And bam! When they talk again, one person “chooses not to remember” the way it happened.
I started writing down a task list for each of us when I met with my partner for the rest of that project and I have carried that skill with me into the workplace.
You don’t need the help of others to be victim of the “choosing to remember” syndrome. My sister (the other one, not the bus ride one), swears that when we were kids she rode an elephant. She says that I was there too and she insists this really happened.
I have absolutely no memory of this.
Not too surprising. When I was a child I was afraid of all animals. We lived on a farm too. Baby chicks terrified me. The cows gave me nightmares. I would shriek and run from dogs. So odds are good that if we were brought to see an elephant, I would have completely blocked it out.
If only my mom had written about it in a journal…
But the point is, sometimes our brains are working to choose memories for us. As a defense or protective mechanism, a part of our brain will block out memories that cause us stress or pain. We choose not to remember them.
The choice might not necessarily be a conscious choice, but some part of our being made it.
Amnesia – the serious kind. This point speaks for itself. If you or I ever suffer from amnesia, it will be awesome if we have kept a journal recording our life experiences. Every time you pick up the pen, you preserve a part of yourself. And you are worth preserving.
Leaving a legacy. Someday off in the future, in that galaxy far, far away, someone you love will have access to your journals. Your journals may become a legacy for your family. Or perhaps someday they will be donated to a library, to a research effort, or for historical preservation.
You get the benefit of writing in your journal now. And someday your journal may be used to celebrate your life, remember the awesome person you are, and share a little history with the world.
All for the cost of pen and paper (or a computer) and the effort it takes to write.
Like this article? Please feel free to use it on your own blog or newsletter. I simply ask that you please include this blurb:
Sara Marchessault is a coach, writer, teacher, and mom who helps busy women use journaling to create more space in their life for being productive without feeling overwhelmed. To learn more about Sara and her work in the world, please visit joyfulbydesign.com or saramarchessault.com.