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How Can A Year-Long Project Change Your Life?

How Can A Year-Long Project Change Your Life

Some people read a book and claim that it changed their life.

That it brought them encouragement or peace in a time of desperation. That it completely changed their mindset about how they should live. That it taught them the skills necessary to achieve their goals. That it uncovered an entirely new set of interests, which turned into a lifelong pursuit.

I don't know what this experience is like. Reading a book has never changed my life. But reading 52 books has.

I'm still amazed at the number of people who paid attention to this part of my story. It always catches me off guard when someone new brings up my 52 books in 52 weeks project. I'm left dumbfounded for the rest of the conversation!

The process taught me a lot, as did the books themselves. Almost a year later, I can honestly say that my year-long project to read a book a week has changed my life. Not in some melodramatic, ultra spiritual way of looking at the world and myself, but in a habit-forming, disciplinary kind of way.

Time management and putting in that extra bit of work were things I did well, but I was terrible at things that didn't come quickly.

Instant gratification has always been one of my larger struggles, which has led to frustration, disparity, and generally having a poor attitude when things don't go my way quickly. Call it a sign of the times if you want, but I think this is fairly common across generations.

When we implicitly base our worth on what we can do quickly, we'll always fail. We'll never be good enough. Quickly just isn't how things work! It's certainly not how a person grows and develops their maturity, let alone their career.

When your life has previously been divided into semesters, mid-terms, and breaks, doing something for a solid twelve months is quite the commitment. Making that firm commitment to a long-term goal changed everything.

Despite enumerable summer reading lists, book reports, and even bribes from my parents, reading was something that I adamantly refused to do (until college forced me).

I was not good at this. Reading a book a week was not easy for me. If you're going to grow and develop through a personal project, it will not be easy. What would be the point?

If you run the numbers (which I did for the project write-up, linked above), it should take an average reader forty-five minutes or less per day to read 52 books in a year. It took me over two hours a day.

Most of this was done right after waking up and just before falling asleep, when my brain was arguably at its lowest functional level, but still. It was a commitment that took a significant chunk of time from each day. And that made all the difference.

It seems that an outrageous number of people are afraid of doing anything remotely similar to a year-long project. Maybe it stems from a lack of patience. Maybe it's a fear of: What happens if I do this for a whole year, and it doesn't get me anywhere?

We're very protective of ourselves. Instinctively, we want to guard ourselves from potential pain. This leads to fewer commitments and less growth - and an unfulfilled life. It's a fear of possibly not being good enough after we've tried our hardest.

But what's even more painful to watch is the droves of people who refuse to commit to trying for a full year because they think whether a person is good at something is decided by birth, or by upbringing, or by any situation or circumstance other than what they can physically do.

That's so painful to watch because it's insane!

Kenneth Burke Writer Year-Long Project Experience

You are capable. You don't have to possess all the best skills before you can grow. But before you can get better at all, you have to be willing to commit.

You have to be willing to learn discipline. Doing a year-long project doesn't magically make you glamorous. Doing a year-long project forces you to develop the discipline necessary to improve wherever you want to improve.

A year-long project enables you to grow - and to watch yourself grow! It teaches you that yes, you can in fact do great things! You don't have to be born with some ridiculous predisposition! 

A year-long project changes your life, because it internalizes that you can.