How Awesomely Awesome We Are

now whatJoin me now as we travel back in time to our high school graduations. There we all stand in our caps and gowns, waiting for our names to be called. The future stands before us, and all the world lies at our feet. So many possibilities…so much uncertainty…so much fear. Whether you graduated back in the day (like I did – back before the advent of the phrase “back in the day”) or just last year, the feeling remains the same: Gulp…now what?

Suddenly, a tiny traveler from your own future materializes before you and gives you a comprehensive list of everything you’ve done from high school graduation until today. Some items on this list don’t surprise you much. (Which ones?) Others astound you. (Again, which ones?) On my list it says that I went on to graduate from college and bum around Europe for a summer. Given who I was in that time and that place, these things were to be expected. On the other hand, I also learn that in 1990 I’m going to win a world gold medal in the sport of Ultimate Frisbee. That would certainly have surprised me on graduation day. After all, I was voted in high school least likely to complete the fifty-yard dash. I became a gold-medal athlete? In a sport I’d never heard of? How did that happen?

Even more astounding, I turned out to be a writer. What? No way? I’d never be that brave. I could never take that risk. Sure, I’d fooled around with creative writing in high school, and yeah people thought I was pretty funny and clever, but making a living with words was about a million miles away from my thinking back then. I thought I’d end up as a lawyer or some other sort of white-collar professional. That’s what my script seemed to call for, and I hadn’t yet lived long enough to know how far from the script I could – or would – eventually veer. If I had seen on this list, “You will write seven novels,” or even “You will write one novel,” I would have dismissed the idea as a beguiling fantasy. I mean, it sounds good, but seriously, no way.

What was beyond the realm of your comprehension that you’ve since gone on to achieve? You don’t have to guess: The evidence is right there on your list. Maybe it’s something as quotidian (yet critical) as having a family or finding love. Maybe it’s getting your first agent or publishing your first short story. A cursory examination of this magical list will reveal a whole host of life experiences that would have seemed not just unlikely but literally inconceivable to your high school self. Here’s one from my list that would have flabbergasted young me: that I’d end up running the writing staff of the Russian version of an American situation comedy.Impossible, I would have said. I didn’t know the first thing about situation comedy. And weren’t we at (cold) war with Russia? Yet it happened. It happened more than once.

What’s one from your list that would have flabbergasted high school you? What’s another?

Caught up in the day-to-day struggle to be the writers we want to be, we tend to lose sight of the fact that we already are these writers

There are a couple of reasons for pursing this little thought-experiment. One is just to help us see how awesomely awesome we already are in our lives, our experiences, our evolution, our careers. Caught up in the day-to-day struggle to be the writers we want to be, we tend to lose sight of the fact that we already are these writers – with numerous tangible achievements that would have dumbfounded, yet deeply pleased, our younger selves. The other is to demonstrate how much raw opportunity yet lies ahead. Frustrated by your lack of readership and recognition? Hey, me, too. But guess what? Life is long. As long as we’re still breathing in and breathing out, we have ample opportunity to accomplish wondrous things. Myself, I’m 58 years old, 40 years out of high school. My record of achievement includes two dozen books, countless (okay, countable) television and film scripts, and the privilege of having taught writers in 30 countries on five continents. I still have another ten, 20, 30, 40 years go to, plenty of time to write more, teach more, and deepen my understanding of what I call “the isness of it all.” Plenty of time, in other words, to continue my ongoing graduation from the person I am into the person I will become. Surely something of what I experience between now and the end of the line will come as a jaw-dropper to 58-year-old me. Or let’s put it this way: I’d be disappointed if it turned out otherwise.

Back in high school, I could never have imagined these things. It’s not that my imagination was that impoverished; rather, it’s that fear censored my desire. I could never dare to dream so grandly as to publish even one book. How could such a monumental thing be done by little me? Of course I didn’t stay “little me.” I grew, the way every writer grows, every person grows, step by step and day by day. I mastered sentences, paragraphs, chapters, outlines, drafts, notes, revisions, and all the other tasks that go into writing a book. I mastered them one at a time, and I didn’t master any of them all at once. But that’s the part that my high school self wouldn’t understand: Nothing happens all at once. It all happens in pieces, over time. I became a writer like we all do, a word at a time, learning and growing in my craft as I served my years-long apprenticeship.

If you’re a tyro writer serving your apprenticeship now, know that wondrous things lie ahead. You don’t have to take this on faith; you can see it in the wondrous things you’ve already done – things that would certainly have seemed incredible to that younger version of yourself. If you’re a well-tempered writer like me, who has enjoyed some success but not superstardom, take great heart in the successes you have had. Your life, and mine, are already richer than our teenage imagination could ever have conceived. What comes next is really just gravy.

(A tip of the cap to Steve Jacobson for the genesis of this thought-experiment. Okay, share with me, campers. What’s on your list of future passed that would have made your high school self say, “No frickin’ way”? Isn’t it amazing that it already has come true?


About John Vorhaus

John Vorhaus has written seven novels, including Lucy in the Sky, The California Roll, The Albuquerque Turkey and The Texas Twist, plus the Killer Poker series and (with Annie Duke) Decide to Play Great Poker. His books on writing include The Comic Toolbox, How to Write Good and Creativity Rules!


  1. says

    What I could not have imagined at high school graduation, the big things:

    Living in London.
    Sailing the Atlantic.
    Building a life around literature.
    Founding a company to serve authors.
    Twenty books (so far).
    Standing ovations.
    Friends of 40+ years.
    My tax bracket.

    And the important stuff:

    Adopting a little boy in Africa.
    Persisting through tough times.
    Savoring loft living, coffee and rye.
    Crying over a cat.
    Reconciling with my father.
    Neices and nephews.
    Having a tuxedo, wearing suits, but still living in jeans.
    Solving computer problems on my own.
    Folding pocket aces.
    Forgiving my exes.
    Finding good friends (some still unmet!)
    Facing myself honestly.
    Coming out okay.
    Loving and, astonishingly, being loved.

    How amazing to think of what still lies ahead. Love this post, John, many thanks.

  2. says

    What a great question and also a way that we can all update ourselves with what we have achieved. I never dreamt that I would leave England and move 12,000 miles away from home and live over 30 years in Australia. It was never on my ‘agenda’ to write a book, never mind have it published and now write another one!
    Travelling to remote places was a great surprise to me. Ending up with 4 Degrees, when I always thought I was an average student!
    I guess I could go on, but what I realize is if we are open to the unknown in us and find a way to truly follow ourselves and not live a life that we or others have planned for ourselves, we can all follow our ‘path with heart’. This brings joy, friendships, caring and authenticity and most of all, love

  3. says

    Writing four novels (first two sucked, but hey, I completed ’em both).
    Winning awards my short stories & copy-writing.
    Being a paid freelance writer.
    Being in a weekly critique with NYT Best Selling authors who come to ME for advice.
    Starting my own online web community for other writers.
    Making writing a priority in my life.
    Sticking to that priority for over thirteen years now.

    The younger me totally sees the AWESOMENESS of me today. Thanks, John.

  4. says

    I have never, ever read a WU post twice until now! I want to thank you from the deepest recesses of my being for this post, John. It gives me superb comfort to know that you and many others, I’m sure, feel that writing “should” be a feather in our caps. Being in this writing community is awesome yet, because of it, I feel that writing a book is no big thing. All of you are doing it, so what’s the big deal, right? Well, if I stand outside of this community and look at my life, I could never dream I’d write five books. One? no way. Two? are you kidding me. You get my drift. Am I disappointed in the sales of my first e-book. You betcha. But, having just gotten an agent, I’m hoping my future is right now changing for the better. It’s the need to pat ourselves on the back and believe in the words, “Good job!” that I’m lacking. However, your words have inspired me to look at all I have done since high school (you and I are about the same age) and feel good about what I’ve accomplished. And the way you look at the future, with such high hopes and spirit, is exactly how I try to feel, though at times it’s tough with all the “gloomsayers” our age who feel they’re on the downslide. I don’t cultivate that type of attitude and obviously neither do you. Thank you, John.

  5. says

    Thanks for posting that! Sure makes me think. I didn’t have too many expectations in the 60s, just a vague idea of some day “growing up”. Didn’t happen quite like that. Never thought I’d:

    Surprised that I’m NOT:
    Still playing guitar and singing folk songs
    Living in a downtown garret smoking cigarettes, drinking red wine and writing poetry

    Surprised that I DID:
    Spend most of my life working in the transportation industry
    Outlive 3 husbands and still be able to love again
    End up living with a French Canadian cowboy on a ranch
    Get my first horse when I was almost 50

    And I am truly proud of being able to persevere with my writing and have people all over the world read and enjoy my novels.

    Life is Awesome!

  6. says

    Great post!

    My list:

    *Drop out of university after enduring a couple of years of frustration and boredom
    *Perform Irish dance on theatre stage with two members of Irish band Clannad
    *Return to uni and get a teaching degree
    *Become an o.k. primary teacher
    *Take up rock climbing
    *Move to Spain to be with the love of my life, who is English.
    *Have a loving partner who accepts me as I am, who makes me feel beautiful, and who encourages and supports me in my ambitions.
    *Decide not to have kids.
    *Recognize that those high school teachers were completely wrong when they crushed my writing ambitions. I can write. I am creative.
    *Try to run away from the writing path, but it will haunt me until I start taking it seriously.
    *Discover I don’t hate literary fiction. I love it.
    *Life starts at 30, so relax.

    • says

      Oh, how could I forget? Ruth’s mention of her guitar reminded me…

      *Learn to play the baroque violin at 25 (ignoring the negative people who claim I’m too old – yes, really, at 25 – to learn) and join a baroque ensemble.
      *Perform with ensemble and Renaissance dance group in a Dutch medieval castle.

  7. says

    Thanks to everyone who shared their lists. It seems that I struck a chord with this one. For more of same (not to pimp too hard), check out my new book, HOW 2 LIVE LIFE (’cause it’s about time I started explaining this shit). -jv