Have you joined the exclusive group of those included in my journal?
“What are you talking about? I don’t even know you,” or something like that is what you are probably thinking, or perhaps even said out loud. And I wouldn’t blame you.
With all the crazy things going down today like fraud, misery index, financial crisis, identity theft, and stalking (or whatever the latest jargon is), it’s no wonder you are confused by the question. Today’s world is filled with panic, meltdowns, failure, depression, and fear… And the list goes on.
But if you knew more details about my journal, I believe you would see things differently… Or at least, I hope you would. I am not one of those people that have devotedly kept a diary all through my life—not even close. I wish I was that faithful and dedicated. Documentation of my history began in earnest, oh, probably just four or five years ago. But considering the volume of pieces I have composed even since then, I am convinced that my wife and children will probably never read it all. Most of my family doesn’t even know that it exists.
We all want to make a difference and influence our acquaintances in a good and wholesome way. But admittedly, it is not always the easy thing to do. Whether you are not doing the talking or others just aren’t listening, both parties must engage in some way for influence to have a positive effect.
So if you and I try to leave our posterity and humanity something good, whether it is a legacy or not, there ought to be a few principles to help guide us in this pursuit. There are.
Do It Now
Aristotle is quoted regularly for his wisdom. He said, “These virtues are formed in a man by his doing the actions,” or, as Will Durant interpreted it, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” The point is that we can all use some help.
The most important part of leaving your mark is to start now — and I’ll explain why.
1. Benefits Come to You Personally
Though it seems obvious now, this concept totally took me by surprise. I always thought our primary purpose for capturing our histories and personal memories was to help others and leave a legacy for our posterity. Indeed, those are good reasons, but what really amazes me is the fact that the greatest benefit is received by those leaving the record.
I can just hear the wheels spinning in your head. You’re saying, “What did he just say?” I know. It took me totally by surprise as well. But that is just the beginning. The benefits to you as the author are immense. Leaving a journal for others helps you recognize your blessings as you articulate them. That means you will experience increased gratitude and heightened appreciation.
It is easy to take for granted the thing you fail to recognize and appreciate. Say, for instance, your elbow. Yeah, that’s right! When you said your prayers today, did you thank God for your elbow? Maybe not (I didn’t either), but if you stop and think about it, living life without our elbows would make things a lot harder. Think how difficult it would be to type on the computer or scratch your nose or eat your lunch.
You’re still unimpressed? Alright. I have something I want you to try for five minutes: extend both arms straight out and go about your normal daily activities. This is just the beginning of life without elbows. As I typed these words, I thought, “If I am going to ask others to try this I have to do it myself,” so here goes…
Okay, I’m back. Despite the fact that I had to stop what I was doing (typing), I thought, “That’s okay. I can do this!” I stood up with my arms extended—no problem there. I walked to the kitchen. Hmmm. I opened the fridge, and everything was going swimmingly. I thought about how well I was doing. Then my nose started to itch. Uh-oh. Undeterred, I stood next to the cupboard and rubbed my nose on the corner. No one was home at the time, so I felt this was okay. I awkwardly looked (without bending my elbow) at the watch on my wrist. It was 9:03, so it had been one minute. What shall I do next? I wondered.
I began walking around the kitchen with my arms extended, looking for something I could do. I saw the piano out in the living room and decided against that. I kept walking and realized that walking is pretty much all I was doing. It was awkward, but I got the back door open—too cold. I clumsily closed it and walked toward the fridge once more. Realizing I could not eat anything without using my elbow, I decided to not bother trying to open it again. But then I saw a tomato on the counter and grabbed a knife from the drawer. Slicing it wasn’t the problem, although I did have to move my body rather animatedly back and forth to cut the fruit; eating the delicacy was impossible without bending my elbow.
At 9:06, I came back into my office. Okay, I didn’t really last five minutes. I returned a bit early, but that makes my point: we all take many things for granted. It is easy to do.
Could there be blessings too numerous that there is not room enough to hold them all? I think that is exactly what is meant by the scriptural injunction, “I will . . . pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” ( Malachi 3:10).
2. Significant Advantages Bless Your Posterity
By starting to share our history now, we can start helping our families immediately. I began to realize this important factor after my father passed away and his written words, stories, personal history, and pictures became a favorite resource and significant part of my life. Lack of proximity always kept my father further from me and my family than I would have liked. Interestingly, because of his personal history and positive influence for good in my life and that of my family’s, proximity is no longer an issue at all.
3. The Task Is Not As Hard As You Might Think!
It is already happening on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email accounts, reports, government documents, papers, recordings, and a host of other media of which you may not even be aware. Don’t believe it? Do a Google search for your name, for those you know and have influenced, and the times and parts of your life. That’s just the beginning, and whatever is out there today, there will be more tomorrow since dozens of pages, images, and recordings are added every day. Though you will probably be surprised how much information is already available, digital replications are only a fragment of the influence and record you and others are making for yourselves.
So my journal doesn’t just focus on me—it highlights lots of people, places, and experiences that make me who I am today.
Make It Last
You would never begin to inscribe your history on a chalkboard or write it in the sand. Papers, cards, letters, books… A personal history comes in many forms, but it all eventually ends up on the Internet. Here’s a few ways we can think out of the box when it comes to writing our personal history:
- Use email to create backup copies automatically.
- Try the internet, e.g., blogs, websites, social media, and web histories like https://history.org.
- Don’t limit your personal history to just one medium.
Music, scrapbooks, photo albums, journals, and the digital reproductions are great methods. Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, class albums and newspapers, government records, and Google work well too. These are all great media. Family history libraries can help you digitize and post this information for free.
I wrote a column on the internet a few years back and developed some websites in my career, but those are long gone now. This information no longer exists… Or does it?
Do you know about the wayback machine? Well, according to Wikipedia, “The Wayback Machine is a digital archive of the World Wide Web and other information on the Internet. It was launched in 2001.”
What that means is that for nearly 20 years, digital archives have been collected of everything out on the web. I know that firewalls and updates and technology problems and sheer volume may prevent every byte from being replicated, but my point is that this is just the beginning and devices of all forms find their way to replication, backups, failover, and duplication. If you don’t know what that all means, go ask your kids.
Make It Easy, Meaningful, and Interesting
I was in the middle of writing this article when my cell phone buzzed, indicating a text came through. That is neither unusual nor infrequent, but what caught my attention was that the text was from my eye doctor. I had been meaning to contact him for a pair of sunglasses. This reminded me to do so, and since it included the phone number, it made things super easy. In less than five minutes, I made the call, placed the order, and in a week and a half or so, they will be ready.
The whole thing went down because it was super easy.
How does this apply to journal writing and genealogy? What years ago was time consuming and difficult is easy and almost automatic today. Resources at our disposal increase every day—literally.
Lead With your Heart
I want to leave you with a final thought. I know what you are thinking: “I can’t do this. I have nothing to write about. Nobody cares to read about me.”
To those sentiments, I would say that I know what you mean. We all feel that way at one time or another, but the important point is that many others feel that way as well. That’s okay.
In fact, I read an anecdote recently that thoroughly captures this feeling. What caught my attention in this story was the fact that it suddenly relieved me of the guilt I felt for not measuring up and failing to deliver despite sincere efforts.
John Quincy Adams was well known for his fortitude. He is the only United States president that ran and won a session in Congress following his presidency. Why? He was adamant about abolishing slavery. When asked to explain why he refused to give up, he simply said, “Duty is mine, results are God’s.” I love that sentiment.
Perhaps you served a mission but didn’t baptize all the investigators you had hoped, or maybe you started a business that was met with less than desirable success, or maybe you taught your children good principles that they have now turned their backs on. Whatever you have tried that didn’t materialize the way that you had hoped, remember the results are God’s. He expects us to try—to give it our best effort—but the results are His. God does not require that we succeed. He requires that we try. And when we fail, we have a Savior who will redeem us from our hardship, troubles, pain, and suffering.
He will give our efforts wings and actualization.
We can turn the results of our efforts over to God. He will forever make them His and they will find success in His time according to His will.
The works of God are never frustrated. And when our goals coincide with His, neither are ours.
I never realized journal writing has such an impact.
In 1989, Walter Penning formed a consultancy based in Salt Lake City and empowered his clients by streamlining processes and building a loyal, lifetime customer base with great customer service. His true passion is found in his family. He says the best decision he ever made was to marry his sweetheart and have children. The wonderful family she has given him and her constant love, support, and patience amid life's challenges is his panacea.