Up Close with Donald Miller: Living A Better Life Story
by Jean Blackmer
Donald Miller, a popular author and speaker, is living proof of someone who made changes to his life and is now living a better story.
It all started when he was asked to make a movie about a memoir he’d written, but the producers told him his life was boring, and he needed to spice up his character. And so he was inspired to not just write great stories, but to live a good story.
For instance: he stopped watching TV and biked across America, and he found his biological father and started “The Mentoring Project” that matches fatherless boys with mentors.
His most recent book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which hit the New York Times Bestsellers List, explains how the elements of a great story can help us understand the elements of a great life.
Don talked with MOPS publishing manager, Jean Blackmer, about his life and how each of us can begin choosing to live a better story. To learn more about him, visit donmilleris.com
How do you know when you need to live a better story?
When you want to! If you watch and listen to the theatre of your mind and the story you’re watching is boring, then it’s time to make some changes.
A typical day for a mom is filled with a lot of tedious tasks. What encouragement would you offer her?
A story well-lived is lived in hindsight. I hope it would be comforting for her to know that writing a book is one of the most boring, mind-numbing experiences I’ve been through, yet it is rewarding when it’s done. In the moment it’s tough; it doesn’t feel worth it. That feeling of “I’m going to go crazy doing this,” is actually the conflict. It is what gives the story meaning when you look back and realize that all you did was worth it.
What about someone who feels like it’s too much work right now to even imagine living a better life story?
One interesting thing about great stories is that the protagonist comes to a point where they can’t go on anymore. While that feels like a huge negative, it’s these critical scenes that give a story meaning. Once you work through the hard stuff, you’ll find deeper meaning in your life.
What suggestions would you give a mom to balance her wants and dreams with her family’s needs?
Pursue your wants and dreams with your family. As a parent, you’re helping your kids find their stories, but you’re also living a story with them. You’re designing a story the whole family can live together. Sometimes you’ll have to mine new ideas or compromise with family members until you find what works. It’s like writing a screenplay. For example, if the budget doesn’t work, you try different options. But you don’t shut it down. Keep moving forward.
How did your mom impact your story?
My mom is amazing! Single mom. No money. But she found free symphonies, musicals and plays to take us to. This shaped my understanding of great art. Also, because my father was absent, she embarrassingly recruited guys to step into my life, who impacted me in huge ways.
And she also cared about kids. For example, she would use the little extra money she had to buy a bucket of bubble gum, and every Saturday she’d go to the ghettos south of Houston and give kids gum. Then, she’d tell them she’d be back on Sunday with a school bus and take them to church. Sometimes she would pick up 75 kids, drive them to Sunday school and teach them about the Bible. She did this faithfully for ten years.
How do you incorporate your unique temperament into your story?
One thing I’ve learned, and am still learning, is that there is a huge temptation to conform — to be who you are not. Here’s the thing — you’re going to shine through your uniqueness. Like an actress, the closer the part she can get to who she really is, the better she’s going to do. The closer the role you play is to who you really are, the better you’re going to do.
What’s your favorite movie?
Toy Story 3 is the best movie I’ve seen in five years. It’s such an allegorical message about God’s love for us. The characters are separated from the authority figure they were designed to enjoy life with and are trying to get back to him. And the whole time they’re questioning whether or not he loved them in the first place.
Your Better Life Story
Want to start defining your life’s wants and dreams? Here are some questions from Donald to get you started.
What do you daydream about?
What sort of movies make you cry or make you happy?
Who are your favorite people? Why?
When answering these types of questions it becomes pretty clear what’s most important to you.
What's one thing you would like to do to live a better life story? Share it at Facebook.com/momology.org