The Path

Last year I read Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson, and one of his recommendations was to write out a list of life goals. In the book he shared his own personal list, and I used it to help me write my own. One of his life goals was to publish 25 books. When I read that number, 25, I knew it was my goal, too.

Writing has been one of my goals for a long time. I have been publishing this weekly journal since 1998, writing for newsletters since the 1980s, and dreaming of publishing a book for even longer. But as soon as I embraced the goal to publish 25 books, it changed everything. Even as I typed it into my list I could feel my vision of myself changing. That simple goal put me on an entirely different path of life. I moved away from my previous path of “I hope I can be published someday” to a new path of “I have to make it happen right now.” After all, since I am 53 years old, publishing 25 books means I cannot wait to see how #1 sells before starting #2.

Not only did my new goal put me on a path of urgency, it also removed some of the pressure of success. I don’t expect all 25 books to be successful. In fact, if only one is successful I will be very happy. But I can’t know which book might be my best ahead of time, so I’ll just have to keep writing and hoping.

But now it’s a year later and another bit of wisdom has entered the equation. I am teaching a book by Andy Stanley titled Principle of the Path, and reading it has made me a little nervous. I wonder if I’m on the right path.

What’s the difference between following the call of God on a wild adventure with the Holy Spirit (such as publishing 25 books) and risking sending my family to the poorhouse while chasing a lame dream (such as selling none of those books)? That is the question I asked myself one morning while in the shower. Am I living by faith, or living in fantasy.

A few years back I described my passion to friends Wes and Paul and they invited me to join them in investments that have made it possible for me to spend more time writing. Another friend, Brent, gave me a place to sit, an office, a home space, which helped make it seem more real. But passion alone does not equal success. What makes me think I might have a future as a writer? I don’t know.

I can’t ignore the basic truth of book publishing. In America, 79% of books sell fewer than 100 copies, while only 2% sell more than 5,000 copies. The average book in America sells only about 500 copies. I have to ask myself, is this a good path to be on? I don’t know, and that’s what makes me nervous.

But the desire to write and to be read by others is a burning in my heart that I don’t want to ignore. While I know that pursuing a career in oil and gas is a respectable life and most of my closest friends have chosen that path, it isn’t what makes me come alive. I want to change the world around me. I want to leave a wide wake of changed lives, of people living closer to God, of couples loving each other more, and like that.

Not only is writing in my heart, on more than one occasion I’ve heard specific words from God about my calling to be a leader and teacher and writer; they have been clear and unmistakable. As Captain Bart Mancuso said, “My orders are specific, Mr. Ryan,” my call from God has been specific. Still, I understand fully that the call to write is not a promise of success.

Just after Christmas, Cyndi and I attended a funeral for a friend’s husband who was killed suddenly in a head-on auto collision while driving home from Lubbock. Funerals always cause me to evaluate my life and my motives, especially when the death was as sudden as a car wreck. As I sat beside Cyndi, holding her hand, I scribbled in the margin of my program, using my left hand: “Earning a living is a worthy goal and a noble motivation, but my heart needs more. I want to change the world around me. My circle of influence is bigger as a teacher, and even bigger as a writer, that as an engineer.”

So maybe my first book won’t be the one that sells. Maybe my second book, or third, or fourth won’t sell either. Maybe none of them will ever sell 500 copies. Am I OK with that? Is that enough to satisfy my heart? Am I on the right path with my life?

Don’t get me wrong. I am very excited to be working on books, and I have big dreams for the future. But I still wonder if I am putting my energy into the best thing. At least for now, I will keep moving forward. My moment of opportunity is open now, and I feel I have to walk out this particular path to see where it goes.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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