Journaling: How I Learn About Myself

"Journaling allows me to see myself in the process of becoming me. I remember who I was, recognize who I am, and realize who I can become."

Journaling can be a very emotional experience for me. As I read through my writing from the past few years, I’m pulled back through time into some of my most painful and joyful moments.

I’m transported back to my anxious time in college, the stress and the uncertainty. I tried to fit in, but I desperately wanted to be different.

I remember getting a job I loved and the embarrassment of being fired, practically pushed onto the street still holding a company coffee mug.

I remember walking through the cold winter night in Boston wishing, hoping, and wondering: “Who do I want to be? I think I want to drop out, start my own business, and travel all over the world. Is that okay?”

I’m brought back to my year living in Asia, after leaving school. I stayed up until 5:30AM every night cold calling American companies. I lived on $1/day, ate white noodles out of plastic bags and begged for flavorful broth from Thai soup vendors.

One morning, a snake slithered into my room and bit me. Unable to pay the hospital bill, I nervously handed over my passport as collateral. I only had a few weeks left on my Thai visa.

On April 5th, 2015, I wrote a “Note To My Future.”

“You are working very hard and not yet seeing the results. That is okay. That is okay. Just keep pushing forward. When you look back at this note, know that you did not quit. I love you, man, and I will never give up on you.”

I remember the night I wrote that note. I’m laughing, slurping noodles out of a plastic bag, sitting alone at a small table in my small studio apartment in Northern Thailand.

These reminders help me understand how I act, why I act that way, and the effects of those actions. I see how I’ve changed and how I’ve stayed the same. Single events reveal themselves as patterns I play out again and again.

It is nearly unbearable to re-read some of my entries from Thailand. I had such strong faith that all my effort and late nights would lead to something. In the end, they didn’t.

It’s a reminder that many of the projects I’m working on today may also lead to dead ends. This helps me focus and put in my best effort. It also reminds me to untie my deeper emotions from the results. Some projects will not be successful, but I can work towards positive outcomes without fearing negative ones.

I look back at the fears that stopped me from taking action, and I remember the joy I found in facing the fears I pushed beyond. Today, I’m taking on more responsibility than ever: raising money from investors and promising to turn my positive predictions into reality. Sometimes I feel that fear, but my journal entries embolden me to push through.

I haven’t given up on myself since writing my “Note To The Future.” My focus and clarity have increased over time, and today I have faith in my persistent, continuous action. I’m comfortable taking on larger commitments because I know I’m capable of following through, even if results arrive later than expected.

Journaling helps me decide what to do and also when to do it. Two years ago, I was eating noodles out of plastic bags, and I can feel how quickly the next two years will pass. Like a driver with a GPS, I know how far I’ve driven as well as the distance to the next milestone.

Before I started journaling, events that occurred more than one year away were either a blurry distant past or an unplanned “far off future. I couldn’t perceive time accurately. By keeping track, I can make more educated predictions, take on larger responsibilities, and grow into the capable, trustworthy person I want to be.

Journaling allows me to see myself in the process of becoming me. I remember who I was, recognize who I am, and realize who I can become.


Editor’s Note: Nico has kindly offered to give away one of these beautiful Noteworthy Journals! To enter to win, leave a comment below. You can enter until midnight PST on April 3, 2017.

Update: our winner has been chosen (Katy).

Win your own free "Noteworthy Journal" by leaving a comment.

Nico Jannasch

Nico Jannasch

Nico Jannasch is a regular journal writer, blogger and creator of Noteworthy Journals, his collection of uniquely designed leather journals. He dropped out of college to start a business, travel the world, build a life on his own terms, and then help others do the same. Send him a message on his contact form at NicoJannasch.com.

26 Responses

  1. Katy says:

    I love how you were so honest in what you said about how you had such strong faith that all your effort and late nights would lead to something and in the end they didn’t. I think we always put too much focus on things working out in a certain way and leading to something big, amazing, worthwhile, etc. but sometimes, it doesn’t. And that’s OK! It’s a very freeing thought….and takes us away from being attached to a certain outcome.

    • Hi Katy, thank you!

      For me, that was one of the most difficult areas to be honest. Not just writing publicly about it, but being honest with myself. For me it’s a very scary thought to think that I can set a big goal, really work at it, and then not reach it.

      It’s much more reassuring to live in a world where everything works just like I think it will. 🙂 Coming to terms with the fact that sometimes things won’t work out, while still enthusiastically moving ahead, has been a big growing edge for me.

  2. Kayla Nicholson says:

    Hello there! I would love to win one of these journals. They are gorgeous! I would love spending hours filling one up with my thoughts, feelings and ideas. I travel a lot and I always love having a journal with me to jot down what I am feeling that exact moment so I don’t lose those small things attached to our memories. I like to reread what I was feeling and thinking. My most unique times of the day will be jotted down and usually they are so small I would forget if I didn’t. My Daughter is 5 and she has her own journal too that she loves to write stories in and draw pictures. I believe it’s important to have somewhere to express ourselves in our most raw and truest ways. Writing in a journal allows us to do that precisely. There is no judgement and there are no errors. It’s a beautiful thing. Anyways I’m obsessed with journals and I am in love with your beautiful journals. Many Blessings on your own travels!

    • Thank you Kayla! I’m glad you like the journals. 🙂 Yes, I love re-reading and remembering something that, at the time, was very important and that otherwise would have been forgotten.

      It’s so great that you’re teaching your daughter to write. She will have memories from her whole life written there!

  3. Carrie says:

    How nice to know I’m not the only one; thanks for opening up and writing about this. Journaling can be so transformative!

    • Thank You Carrie 🙂 Yes, I think so. Being able to see how you used to think, the things you used to do, and what you thought was important can open your mind to learn more about who you are today. This can change how you think and what you choose to do.

  4. Chi Phan says:

    I also love daily journalling, for the experience itself more than reflecting. It’s how I get in touch with creativity. It’s how I get in “flow”. I very rarely read what I wrote before but it must be an interesting experience which I may set some time for in the near future 🙂

  5. I’ve been journaling on and off since I was a teenager (and I won’t tell how long ago that was!). However I rarely read my own entries. It’s a little embarrassing when I do. Often I find myself making the same mistakes or coming to the same conclusion more than once. Recently I needed to recall an experience that I had decades ago. I looked through my journals only to find that of all the things that I wrote about, I hadn’t written a word about that.

  6. Don Karp Don Karp says:

    I’m glad you shared how valuable journal writing has been in your life and hope other get stimulated to start. Journal writing has so many good uses. I facilitate a workshop: “Journaling For Recovery and Thriving,” and always learn something. If interested, my site gives some ideas for organizing the journal: http://donkarp.com/workshop

  7. Patrick Higgins says:

    Very timely blog, Nico. For anyone interested in journalling but who might like a kickstart, we are just about to start a 21-day challenge over at Kindspring.org http://www.kindspring.org/my/feed/index.php?cid=1362 where with the help of our challenge host begin journalling for the next 10 months, meeting up online for 21 days out of each month. All welcome, no strings. :)))

    • Thanks for sharing Patrick. I agree, journaling is so valuable, but it can be hard to get started!

      If you’re reading this and don’t yet have the habit of regular journaling, I would certainly sign up and Join Patrick’s 21-day challenge.

  8. lei says:

    Hi, Nico. Your words that while in Thailand “I had such strong faith that all my effort and late nights would lead to something. In the end, they didn’t” felt strange for me to read. Surely they did lead to something? They have led to who you are/how you are now. You will have learned from that time. Perhaps you were measuring ‘success’ in a particular way then? Do you measure it in the same way now? Or have i misunderstood what you have written here??

    • Hi Lei,

      Yes, I’m sure they did lead to something. At the time I certainly didn’t get the result I was hoping for.

      When I wrote those words, I was certain that if I put in all the effort, that I would have a small yet thriving business at the end of 3 months. It was so hard to read that entry because I was so sure I would beat my deadline, and it’s painful to see that I was mistaken.

      Looking back, all of that work has given me perspective and yes, I think it’s incredibly valuable. In addition to the skills I was able to work on, I think I will have a lot more empathy for young people who are trying (struggling in the dark) to get started in business. I’ll never forget what it was like for me to be in their shoes.

  9. Kat Gal says:

    “Journaling allows me to see myself in the process of becoming me. I remember who I was, recognize who I am, and realize who I can become.” Profound. I love journaling too, it helps me in so many ways. But I am also trying not to be attached to my journals, my toughts/emotions/ideas I’ve put on paper. Recently I was given a hard lesson on this. I was attacked and robbed and including some other things my journal was stolen – with all my thoughts, emotions, personal processes from the 6 weeks prior I’ve wrote while traveling in SE-Asia. I was furious. I am still pissed at some level but it is teaching me who I am without the proof of myself in a written form. Writing itself is healing whether I have the proof or not.

    • lei says:

      Sorry to hear what happened to you, Kat. I keep my journals digitally in the cloud. And while i agree with you saying that we can become attached to our words, i also agree with Nico that it is by looking back upon journal entries that one most immediately recalls the intensity of that time.

      • Kat says:

        Thanks Lei. Yes, the cloud is much safer. I love writing with hand though – it feels much more healing and there is some beauty in it. Of course, I have a TON of stuff on my laptop and in the cloud, and even more unwritten words I just imagine writing down while running, walking or just being. I just write a lot haha.

    • That is beyond awful, Kat. I feel your pain. My mom found my journals when I was a teenager and burned them. That loss struck me like a death. When I moved out of my ex’s place, he threw out a box of my old writing too. So, I lost my whole writing life twice. I have a box now of everything since then. One box. If there is a flood or a fire, it’ll be gone. I recently transcribed some of my favourite poems onto the computer to help with this, but I think it’s about more than the ideas. It’s the chicken-scratch when you’re crying and the doodles in the margins. It really is a big loss.

      • Kat Gal says:

        I have actually burned many of my old journals last year. But it was my choice as a way of letting go of the past. And I have torn the more meaningful pages and transcribed my more meaningful ideas before. Losing it without your choice is awful – It is so sad that your mom burned your journals! So disrespectful. 🙁 Your ex too. Writing with hand is so much more powerful though even if saving it in the cloud is ‘safer’. And yes, it exactly is the chicken-scratch, the doodle, the free-flow of ideas…

        • I burned my “Vent Journal” as kindling while camping. It was something I had during a phase of my life with a lot of anger. I’m glad I did that. Though, I have another one that I had while traveling and going through some deep relationship healing. I can’t seem to get rid of that one. I feel like I burned the first one more out of shame, not letting go. Maybe keeping it is my sign of saying anger can be healthy. It’s so beautiful how we all have different experiences with this!

    • Kat, I am so sorry you lost your journal. I remember the terrible fear when I thought I had lost one of my first paper journals.

      All of those memories gone forever… I was distraught!

      • Kat says:

        Not fully gone – it’s in my heart. But yes, no evidence to look back on or ponder upon again. But at least my memories are in my heart and the emotional processes are something I went through. It is an odd feeling to think that my journal was tossed somewhere in a garbage bin because I am sure that the guy who attacked and robbed me didn’t need it…

  10. Your “Note to My Future” made me cry. You’re very brave to share your experiences so openly, Nico! And your journals are beautiful.

    • Thank you Vironika!

      I forgot I had written that Note until I looked through the journal writing this post, and I cried as well when I saw it. I’m so grateful that I have been able to live up to my past-self’s hopes of ‘not giving up’.

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