January 31, 2019

Tracking a Life Through Journals

Before I began blogging I kept journals. There was never any systematic approach. I'd feel the urge to keep a record of a vacation, or the start of a new year would prompt me to start daily entries and I would begin writing my thoughts into a small notebook. Most lasted only three or four months before I stopped.

Every once in awhile I look back at my notes from ten, 15 or even 25 years ago. It is amazing how consistent my feelings, reactions, fears, and goals have been over that period of time. The same things that bothers or please me today bothered and pleased me in 1992, a full nine years before retirement. I stopped journaling in 2009, and one year later began Satisfying Retirement.

There are some entries from various years and events that I thought worth sharing. They give an insight into my motivations and thought process before I stopped working, and then into the first several years of retirement.

In 1998 I wrote the following to myself after a verbal blow up at a business meeting:

*I must slow down and proceed cautiously when change is involved.
*I must not rush to do something but take the time to assess the situation completely
*I must realize that I threaten the comfort zone of some older guys, so I must proceed with caution and sensitivity.
*I don't have all the answers and have a lot to learn 

A few months later I noted:
I seem to be standing on the sidelines of my life at a time when there is absolutely no reason why I shouldn't be in there swinging. Possible reasons?
  • fear of failure
  • laziness
  • lack of passion or motivation
  • lack of focus
  • lack of knowledge
  • lack of coherent plan

Many of these same concerns and analysis reappearing in the journals entries of February of 2000, January 2001, and while on a vacation in Italy in 2006.

Since we just started a new year, I wanted to see what I thought at about the same point in my past. An entry in January 2000 gave me a stark reminder of how far off the path to a satisfying retirement I was 18 years ago:
2000 - a year I'd just as soon forget. The business (my radio consulting business) finally wound down to virtually nothing, we were forced to get ready to move to a smaller home, Betty had to take a job she disliked at JC Penney's because we need the money, I ended up working as a glorified waiter for a local focus group research company, one daughter wants to move away from the family to San Diego, the other is so overworked she is not happy.
On the positive side Betty had one of her better years, health wise, the rest of us avoided any major illnesses, Mom and Dad stayed relatively healthy, I became much more involved in church, I became trained as a Stephen Minister leader, after some rough patches our marriage seemed to stabilize. 

Then, a turning point. I began to notice a real difference starting in 2004. While I still had the normal rants about my failures and shortcomings in certain areas, the overall attitude was much better.

After three years of retirement I guess I had begun to figure it out. I was looking more at gaps in my life as opportunities instead of failures. The pressures of watching my business die were gone, and a realization that time could be a friend and not an enemy was apparent in my entries. This one from 2005 seems to be a good place to close:
Make and cultivate a few close friends, stay in touch with people, give of myself, read widely, exercise regularly, turn off the TV, fight the rut of routine. leave time for leisure, have more fun, take up a hobby or pastime that gets me outdoors. Eat less, laugh more, quit fussing, encourage at least one person per day. Plant a garden, put real plants in the house, Trust God for something that seems impossible, Loosen up on the intensity. Stop taking myself so seriously.
Start today.

Guess what, that list works just as well today as it did over 14 years ago. Retirement and living well is a process. I am glad you and I are taking the trip together. 

By the way, if journaling, goal-setting, and to-do lists interest you, check out a new Internet favorite: Bullet Journals. Be the first on your block to have one!


  1. There must have been something in the universe in 2000 that caused a lot of soul searching. Dave and I came very close to splitting after 32 years. Then he got lymphoma and it changed everything. His recovery was more than physical and here we are after 50 years of marriage.
    Hope you are having a blast with the family!

    1. The trip to Disney World with the whole family was fantastic. We made memories that will last the rest of our lives.

      The very best to you and Dave. Betty I will will make it 43 years together in June.

  2. What a surprise that you mentioned the bullet journal. When I looked on-line to order a planner for this year, that’s the first time I had heard of it. It’s interesting that in the digital world we’re living in, the analog version of planning is more popular than ever. I love the inventor, Ryder Carroll’s story and I enjoy watching You Tubers show their version of the journal and how they set it up to make it work for them. Looking forward to another year of your blog posts.

    1. Thanks, Diane.

      I had never heard of a Bullet Journal until I ran across its existence as I was writing this post. I remember when everyone was carrying one of those huge Day Planners to keep goals and to-do lists organized. The Bullet JOurnal seems simpler and less of a problem to carry around.

  3. Hi Bob! I've been journalling for MANY years..ever since I first read Julia Cameron's book "The Artist's Way" back in the early 90s. It has made me into the writer and blogger I am today. But I still journal 5 days a week. I find that I can actually put out a lot more personal thoughts in my journal than I would on my blog. I tend to stay on "brand" with my blog and with my journal I just let loose to have good days and whatever comes along. Other than writing 3 pages long hand, (as per Julia Cameron) I have no particular method and just use a binder and lined paper--nothing fancy. Journalling has become both my therapy and a meditation. I can't imagine not doing it. On my blog, once a week is more than enough. Have fun on your vacation! ~Kathy

    1. I am giving serious thought to re-starting my journaling habit, for reasons that will become obvious in another post coming soon. It seems to be a tremendous tool for creativity development.

  4. Like you, Bob, I kept journals intermittently for many years. I first started in my late twenties when I was undergoing major life changes. I had gone back to school to pursue a PhD and was on the cusp of deciding to leave an unhappy marriage. I like the way a journal forces me to slow down to reflect on what I'm doing and to savor life's small daily pleasures. I kept a journal at least part of the year for more than thirty years; but by the late 2000s, they had almost nothing in them but reflections on my garden and I gave up writing private journals in favor of a garden blog. Last year, I committed myself to keeping a journal for one year, focused on my experiences of aging alone. Recently, I've been re-reading that journal as I edit and revise and decide what (if anything) to do with it. I find it difficult to write blogs and keep a journal simultaneously; I don't seem to have enough writing energy to do both, but I do miss the kind of daily reflection that a journal provides.

    1. AS I noted in my answer to Kathy's comment above, journals may make their way back into my daily life in the near future. It is too time consuming to do both a twice a week blog and keep a journal, but what is in a journal might prove great fodder for blog posts.

  5. I found bullet journaling a few years ago. I have tried many variations of it, from artistic to plain. I have always enjoyed the freedom of the not-pre-printed planner to make it fit my needs. This year, I'm using it as more of a "brain dump" which I find I need more and more. (I do use a digital calendar). I find writing down my thoughts for various projects to be freeing. I even have a page for "Gifts 2019" listed in my Index which reminds me where I stored them!! LOL!
    I hope you are enjoying your family vacation in Orlando!
    Charlene H

    1. We returned from Orlando just before midnight last night. The time with the grandkids, our two daughters, and son-in-law were so worth the time, money, and effort. Now, Betty must download and organize a few thousand photos.

      I added the link to the Bullet Journal concept to the post, but didn't really spend much time exploring what it is all about. That will change.

  6. Like Kathy, journalling has been a meditation and therapy. I've always liked words. There's something about getting those thoughts out of my head and on to paper using long hand or on a computer page. There's a saying about grief that can be applied to any (troubling) thoughts - it's like garbage; if you don't put it out, it starts to stink. I like Charlene's reference to brain dump. Besides intermittent journalling, there's a notebook that I write quotes in, reflections on lines in books or something I've heard on the radio or tv. I keep a travel journal when away from home. It serves as a record for later when I'm trying to recall something I thought I would never forget. I wonder about disposing of these journals myself or leaving them for those left behind. Somehow I think they'll be more things to throw out when I'm gone.

    1. An inspiration journal with quotes or random thoughts appeals to me. Sometimes I kick myself when I forget something that really catches my eye but didn't write it down for later use.

  7. I have kept a personal journal since I was about 13. I only write in it sporadically, and mostly when I am trying to process difficult emotions, or when I have a hard decision to make. What I write in a journal is not for other eyes, and tends to be raw and unedited. In comparison, on my blog, I share thoughts and experiences that might be personal but take the time to compose each piece to be more like an article in structure most of the time. I have also kept other types of journals at various times: a research journal (ideas and plans for research projects), a travel journal (which each family member contributed to), a journal of interesting quotations or lines of poems, a visual journal of images and sketches, and I have tried the free writing suggested by Cameron in The Artist’s Way. And, of course, I have kept innumerable types of to-do lists and daily calendars. However in terms of journalling, at present I am only contributing to my blog and my personal journal.