The Book of Your Life
by Earl Vickers

How to Write the Book of Your Life

Now I don’t know but I been told
It’s hard to run with the weight of gold
Other hand I heard it said,
It’s just as hard with a weight of lead.
— Robert Hunter

The Book of Your Life is not a blank book, a tabula rasa. Nor is it already completed, filled with someone else’s words, leaving nothing but narrow margins in which to scribble. Instead, the book, like the proverbial glass, is half empty and half full; the achievements of others are interleaved with those of your own.

The Book of Your Life is shorter than you might think, and longer. You can read it in a day, but it will take a lifetime to write. There are an infinite number of phantom pages before the first page and after the last, pages on which you will never write a single word. You must color between the lines labeled ‘birth’ and ‘death.’

This book is intended to allow you to chronicle your achievements over an entire lifetime, giving you a broader perspective than you would get from a day-to-day diary. It also puts your achievements into context by juxtaposing them against those of the great and not-so-great figures of history, lining up everyone at the same starting gate. The book can be used as a yardstick by which to measure your performance in life, or as a series of signposts pointing out the paths other people have taken.

Life is not a foot race, but looking over your left shoulder at the competition can give you that extra push towards excellence. The examples of those who met untimely ends remind us that the finish line can be anywhere. There is no deadline quite like death, so you may as well go ahead and become who you really are, while you still can.

This book can be used for setting goals and monitoring your progress. Simply skip ahead to future years and pencil in things you wish to achieve. Then sit back and watch as milestones are met, setbacks are encountered, and goals are reached or abandoned.

If you find these accomplishment examples disheartening, keep in mind that each of these people lived in a different time or place, with different sets of resources and challenges. If you had been them, in every detail, you would have done exactly what they did. Since you're not, you just have to do exactly what you're going to do. You don't have to be best at everything; just be the best in the world at being you. If that sounds too hard, just strive to be a slightly better version of you. Or even just accept yourself exactly as you are. You don't have to be perfect, because no one is. Good enough is, by definition, good enough.

Einstein may have published five groundbreaking physics papers at age 26, but he was a total failure at inventing the saxophone, becoming the first woman to travel in space, spreading apple seeds across North America, studying the lives of chimps, memorizing 15,000 telephone numbers, conquering Italy, or riding a bike with lit fireworks strapped to it into a pool while wearing a banana costume. Fortunately, since those things have already been done, you don't need to do any of them.

Comparing yourself to the greatest people in history can be demoralizing, but we don't always see the whole picture. Sometimes people with a single-minded focus on one subject can be terrible in other areas of life. Steve Jobs was a mediocre electrical engineer and apparently a world-class jerk in many ways (though probably a sweet guy in others), but he profoundly changed the world. Van Gogh was one of the most influential artists of all time, but he was also severely depressed. Whether or not you would want to be Steve Jobs, or Van Gogh, you never will, and neither will anyone else. And neither man ever succeeded in climbing the highest mountains on all seven continents, or flying 193 miles in a lawn chair attached to helium balloons.

Instead of being intimidated by all the great things other people have done, be inspired by their progress. Stand on the shoulders of giants; build on their achievements as if they were your own. One of the best shortcuts to success is to learn from the successes and failures of others.

If you find yourself depressed by seeing that some of the greatest achievements in history were made by people your own age, keep in mind that these people are the rare exceptions. Thus, I've also included a number of lame, silly, cute, normal, ridiculous, or commonplace user-submitted achievements. It can be reassuring to "compare down" and think, "well, duh, I could've done that!" (Note: this doesn't mean it's somehow ennobling to sit on the couch all day watching human garbage like "Jerry Springer".)

If you're an underachiever, use this book as a reminder to get moving. If there's something you'd like to accomplish before you die, now — while you're still alive — might be a real good time to do it.

If you're a late bloomer, take comfort from the many examples of accomplishment later in life.

And if you're a pompous and conceited person, use this book as a lesson in humility. Simply compare your pathetic, meaningless accomplishments with those of the famous people on the opposite page and realize that, compared to them, you’re nothing. You’ll never amount to squat.

The human drama has a seemingly infinite number of twists and turns, plots and subplots, but some common themes recur throughout the book. Virtue is rewarded, or punished, or ignored. Some dreams are realized; others are dashed on the rocks of reality. Some people seem to be born knowing what they want to do with their lives; others have to make it up as they go. Prodigies die young, accomplish little, or achieve greatness. Problems elude years of determined effort, only to be solved by an accidental blunder. Great artists die penniless, leaving works that later sell for millions. Success is attained despite overwhelming odds; failure is snatched from the jaws of victory. And some people’s lives are useful mainly as examples of how not to live.

Whatever the pattern of your life turns out to be, honor your achievements, whether or not they fit the (traditionally male) discovery/invention/exploration categories that predominate in this book. This is an exciting time, with new fields of endeavor opening up to women as well as men. But don’t be ashamed of the softer types of achievement, the small personal victories of everyday life. The future success of the human race may depend as much upon the type of creativity and dedication needed in raising or teaching a child as it does upon the achievements that bring home prizes and glory.

Many words of advice have been written for those embarking upon life’s journey: know thyself, seek moderation in all things, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, to thine own self be true, follow your bliss, get a life, be... all that you can be. Whatever path you choose, be aware that a life of achievement may take you right off the edge of the map.

While there is no such thing as the typical road to success, it typically looks like this: set a goal, try something, fail, try something else, fail, and repeat over and over until you find something that works. Once you find a successful method, keep using it until it doesn’t work any more, or until everyone else starts doing it, or until it's not fun any more. Then try something new. If you get stuck, hang in there and give random chance a chance to send you that unexpected left turn.

Ultimately, all you need to do is figure out who you really are and just be the hell out of that person. Don’t waste time making yourself into a pale imitation of the person others expect you to be. Why live someone else’s stupid miserable life when you can go live your own stupid miserable life! Be yourself or die trying!

Your life is an open book, and this is it. Start writing.


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