This week’s guest post is from Donna Duffy, author of Embracing Autumn, about journaling through good times and bad.

I began journaling when I was a junior Eastern College, now University, sitting under a tree on Doane Hill.

It’s been almost 38 years since I wrote my first journal entry at the urging of my friend, Rena. I’m still going strong and will ever be grateful to her for pushing me off the shoreline of my insecurities by encouraging me to start journaling.

My journals are a chronicle of my life from October 1982 to the present. Since those college days, I’ve lived in the Middle East, learned two foreign languages, experienced war, married, raised 3 children, lived through a painful of divorce, lost my home, started my own businesses and almost lost them, and now live on my own in downtown Wilmington.

Plain Mundane or Pandemic, Good Times and Bad

Whether the years were the plain mundane of raising children, the new challenge of starting a school from Arab American kids, the wonderful opportunity of living in an Arabic community in Nazareth, Israel and the heartbreak of saying goodbye, the struggle of re-entry into my own culture after almost 20 years overseas, raising teenagers, seeing them grow up and move on, the joys and sorrows of life, the problems, and pain, the good times and bad, have been captured and chronicled in my journals.

It’s in this space of stream of consciousness, extemporaneous, no judgment, no editing, that my pen flows freely as the words tumble out onto fresh pages. It’s in the time of writing and reflecting, prayerfulness and contemplation, that I work out what I’m experiencing—and so much more in times of crisis when the world seems to has lost its moorings and I search for a safe harbor and solid ground.

This year I turn 60 and what a celebration to know that I’ve been penning my thoughts and scribbling my sentiments in a journal for almost 4 decades.

I’ve come of age through my journals. A thinker like me needs plenty of space to process and ponder, to bang out my ideas, to refute or defend them, try, and test them and sometimes, many times, just let them go.

And I have no intentions of stopping since it has faithfully given me a place and platform to think and reflect and to get clear and centered as I move forward in my life and work.

Here are 5 ways you can chronicle your days through journaling:

1. Don’t journal every day (unless you absolutely want to)

If I knew I HAD to journal every day, I would not have lasted a week. Knowing my journal is there to receive my thoughts and musings when I want it to, means it is never hanging over my head, like an undone task or open loop.

Instead, it is a welcome space, a respite from the world, and sanctuary that helps me find my place in it. The kindness and joy of journaling is a gift you give to yourself.

2. Be honest. It helps bring clarity.

As scary as it may seem, putting your real, unedited thoughts and feelings on paper helps you sort things through. As you write down and re-read where you are at this moment, you can get perspective on your situation.

When I look back and see where I have been and how I have grown, I am encouraged by the changes that have taken place in my life.

No matter what’s happening in the world, my candid, real-time reflections allow me to process through to the other side.

And I have no worries about whether someone else will read it. I have put it safely somewhere and I’ve also had it in plain view. No matter. My journals will be left to my kids, who if they take the time to read them, will learn about me and get to know me in ways they will never have had the chance to when I was alive.

3. Find out who you are. Being self-aware is cathartic.

You learn why and how you think and do things, what you may have inherited from the past and what you may be passing onto the future. As you record your ambitions and aspirations, your disappointments, and setbacks, you learn how you handle adversity and see the lessons and gifts they bring.

I wanted to move the Middle East and I did. I wanted to start my own businesses and I did. I wanted to move to the city and did. What began as a hope, an idea, a someday, writing them down in my journal, they became more than just a dream, but a prayer, a goal and eventually my reality.

That journey, for each of those life events and milestones, is recorded in my journals.  I can see the patterns in my life as I approach challenges, adversity, uncertain times and embrace even more dreams.

4. Create your own journal writing ritual

To my fellow journalers and chroniclers, you know well the joy this brings and the deep satisfaction of having penned your way through the chapters and seasons of your life.

For those who think it may be too late, I say nonsense. Today is the perfect day to start. You are right on time.

Go and buy a journal that brings you joy, the pages, the way it feels when you hold it. This is the beginning of a beautiful sojourn together, so choose something you will enjoy.

Your pen. Well, I’m a snob, so it has to be a gel pen and has to feel right in my hand. Ink is always black. Every entry starts with the date and the place and ends in a certain way.

And then of course there’s coffee. Again, a snob. Mine is Starbucks French Roast, black, no sugar and drink a pot as I scribble away. The whole thing is even more delicious on the weekends.

There you have it. You can create your own journaling ritual—all it takes is a journal and pen, beverage of your choice, time of day of your choice, place of your choice. Your journal is for you. Remember, this is a gift you give yourself—for now.

5. Leave a legacy.

I have been journaling since my early twenties, so my kids will have the journey of my life from a young adult. They will be able to follow my story from college, early career, my move overseas, life in the Middle East and back again. They will see how I prayed through my fears, worked through my decisions, and discovered the person that I am and the reason I am here.

That circuitous path of self-discovery, of working through pain, struggle, and loss, of celebrating triumphs and accomplishments becomes a beautiful, timeless compilation of a life wholeheartedly lived.

So, if you want to write down a family story, a journey through a tough time, your goals, hopes and dreams? A journal is a place to do it and then, it will tell your story, long after you’re gone.

Every journey begins with a single step. And every journal begins with a single word, and then another and another, until you look back and find, you have chronicled the journey of your life.

Donna Duffy journaling

Donna Duffy is the CEO/Founder of 3E Marketing Solutions and the Creator of Sage Success Studio, an online community for midlife women entrepreneurs. She is the author of Embracing Autumn: A Motivational Field Guide for Midlife Women Entrepreneurs.

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