Cover of a Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller - Book Review

Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Thomas Nelson, 2009)

So, what if you could edit your life — what role would you give yourself? In this book review of a A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story I share why this book is epic and unsettling. It is also one of my best reads of 2014.

When Michael Hyatt said  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story was one of his favorite books of all time, it sounded odd. Written by the same author of Blue Like Jazz, this book challenges you to look at your life and edit it. In my opinion, it is a must read.

I STARTED THINKING differently about life when I met a couple of filmmakers who wanted to make a movie about a memoir I’d written. I wrote a memoir several years ago that sold a lot of copies. I got a big head about it for a while and thought I was an amazing writer or something, but I’ve written books since that haven’t sold, so I’m insecure again and things are back to normal.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 200

It makes sense. I remember reading some research in the early days of Second Life. (wish I could find it.)  They had found that when they took troubled girls in a program in Florida into Second Life to play out what was happening to them in real life that the girls would make changes. Why? Because they were able to see themselves in third person.

Maybe we should be doing that too.

Interestingly Donald Miller, the author, author takes the elements of story — specifically the need for conflict and the need for the central character to overcome that conflict — the need for a protagonist and other story elements– and encourages us to apply these to life. The thing is – we remember the big days of our lives. Those with monumental events. Those with story.

When Your Life Has Story

Like the day last year I sat and listened to my daughter give her valedictory speech. I didn't cry because her speech was epic. I cried because of the great story her life told that got her to that moment.

If Steve was right about a good story being a condensed version of life—that is, if story is just life without the meaningless scenes—I wondered if life could be lived more like a good story in the first place. I wondered whether a person could plan a story for his life and live it intentionally.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 530

She overcame the taunts of classmates who told her not to do so well on tests as she was making them look bad. Those who tried to get answers to homework with promises of her being included in events on weekends. She overcame and succeeded.

Great story.

What Role Should You Play Today?

But A Million Miles in a Thousand Years doesn't have us focusing on our past. It centrally nails us to today. If you look at your life right now. If you look at the conflict, the characters, and the great thing(s) you want to attain. What role should you play?

For me, it is a hard role. I've gained fifty pounds in the past 2 years after coming through a very difficult situation that almost caused me to withdraw from social media. I thought about quitting teaching and living life as a hermit. I'd be happy tending a garden, fishing, and writing the next Walden. I really would.

My uncle told a good story with his life, but I think there was such a sadness at his funeral because his story wasn’t finished. If you aren’t telling a good story, nobody thinks you died too soon; they just think you died. But my uncle died too soon.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 518

But being a hermit standing on a pillar isn't my story. Every single kid should have one great teacher and I want to be at least one of them. I want to be that pivot point that helps kids find themselves and their passion. I've got down the role of teacher and want to play it as long as I can.

Every time I put my head on my desk and wonder how I'm going to make it, I feel the vibrations of tens of thousands of heads on desks of teachers just like me and I know how they feel.

My sister says that these experiences of the tough side of teaching aren't wasted if I can help others through them. So sometimes the road I travel as a teacher is dark and hard and full of slimy gooey monsters who threaten to steal my joy and life's purpose. But as I kill the monsters, I can help other teachers kill their own. I can shine a light upon the heroes among us. Teachers are epic. I love them with a deep love. Telling their story is part of telling my own.

I was watching the movie Star Wars recently and wondered what made that movie so good. Of course, there are a thousand reasons. But I also noticed that if I paused the DVD on any frame, I could point toward any major character and say exactly what that person wanted. No character had a vague ambition. It made me wonder if the reasons our lives seem so muddled is because we keep walking into scenes in which we, along with the people around us, have no clear idea what we want.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 1258

But I'm afraid now because my story includes sweat. It includes some more running if I can get my knee to cooperate. Whatever it is, it is going to include not eating the Italian Cream Cake that my son won at the Fall Festival Last night. I may have to shun the ham and mashed potato casserole the lunchroom is famous for and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead.

If I'm Going to Edit My Life

Because if I'm going to edit my life – I'm going to have to lose this weight. I'm going to have to join my son who has already lost 18 pounds as he loses another 15 or so and I am going to have to become healthy. If I'm going to edit my life.

Somehow we realize that great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we are actually in. We think God is unjust, rather than a master storyteller.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, p 100

If I'm going to edit my life, I'm going to have to not only write this blog and tweet and these other things. But I'm going to have to make time to write the books that are on my heart. I'm going to have to overcome my fears of self publishing or my self-doubt that people may not want to read it. I see where I want to go with these books but I have to go there.

Overcoming Conflict Gives You Purpose

I remember being a sixth grader who was bullied beyond belief. I cried every single day for four years – from halfway through fifth through halfway through ninth grade. It was hard. I was one of those who ran for every election and never won one I couldn't even get elected to carry the banner for the Homecoming parade.

What I'm saying is I think life is staggering and we're just used to it. We all are like spoiled children no longer impressed with the gifts we're given – it's just another sunset, just another rainstorm moving in over the mountain, just another child being born, just another funeral.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 719

I remember it was in sixth or seventh grade and Mom and I were driving in the car to Albany to shop. I had my shoes off with my argyle sock clad feet on the dashboard. I told her that I knew deep down I was called be a leader but that no one would let me lead. That I had something to say and no one would let me speak.

Was I going to have to live my whole life alone when I had these things inside me that had to come out? I felt like I was going to explode. I had stuff to share and do. Things needed to be done. And I was invisible.

Overcoming Conflict Writes a Great Story

So, Mom bought me a book. It was my Granddaddy Martin's favorite book after the Bible. How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. She  told me to read it until it made a difference.  I remember keeping the book in the bathroom and reading it while I took the long hot baths that have marked the end of my day since I was in the second grade. I read it. I read it. I reread it.

By ninth grade I understood that thinking of others first was the key. Of course, we all star at the center of our own play – as evidenced by my introspective book review here — but as you look at your goals, looking at others first will help you shape your own goals to be a more helpful person. Genuinely help others because you want to and in the end, you help yourself. You reap what you sow.

If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is a character transformation.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 821

I stopped talking about what I wanted and started looking at what others wanted.

For for my next election I asked “What do ninth graders want?”

In my generation we wanted to hang out – boys and girls. Lights off and dance. Not this dirty dancing stuff they do today but in our day our music was considered pretty raunchy too. Careless Whispers and rock stars who dressed like zombies, wore one glove and grabbed their crotch. Naughty stuff, mind you. So, I ran on a platform of more dances. That election and every election after it, I was blessed to be voted the winner. Even through college and beyond. Not because of me but because I learned to think of others.

Transformed character through overcoming conflict. Story.

Overcoming Hard Things Makes Good Stories, Good Stories Make a Great Life

And that story is pretty cool. It is one I could tell my children and they can understand. I always tell my kids —

“Don't you know we always have to start off with nothing and earn it. That is who we are.”

My Recommendation

I highly recommend this book. While there are some religious overtones, I would recommend it to anyone. There's great clarity that comes from looking at your life in this way. And that clarity, like this book, is a gift.

Part of me wonders if our stories aren't being stolen by the easy life.Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, loc 1948

Awesome book. Great read. I've already given away two copies. It is that good. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is one of my best reads of 2014.

Comments (5) | | Posted in Books
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5 thoughts on “Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

  1. Thanks Vicki! This is really inspiring and you’ve got me thinking, as well as feeling good about my continued pursuit of my own dream of writing, performing, and recording original music (in fact, I just shared a new song on my site: I even named my recently released first 5 song EP “Keeping the Dream Alive” because I think it so perfectly captures the spirit of keeping life goals in focus and alive and well. You are an absolute inspiration – keep writing those books (I’ll be glad to review them on EmergingEdTech – in fact, you’ve inspired me to go buy a copy of Reinventing Writing from!

    • Awesome, Kelly. Wow – you make music? I had no idea! I’ll go take a look. AWESOME. Thanks for the encouragement, Kelly. When people respond to encourage us towards our dreams, it means so much and you took the time out of your day to remember me. Thank you!! Keep the dream alive. Great title of a song. I’m working on grading right now but I’ll go listen. Thanks for letting me know. That is the other thing – if we don’t tell others about our own dreams, then they won’t know that we would appreciate their support! Thanks!

  2. Vicki, Thanks for the inspiration to read Donald Miller’s book and live a better story! I read “Blue Like Jazz” several years ago and after reading “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” I am once again inspired to make my family stories read better. As educators we would be well served to remember the power of story throughout our teaching practice. Thanks for a great post.

    • I haven’t read Blue Like Jazz yet – sounds like I need to. I’m so glad that you love A Million Miles in a Thousand Years like I do. When we view the story of our lives and actions it changes how we respond. I believe it gives me more hope and courage to face and ascend great heights. Thanks for coming back and sharing, Jeff, so that others know what a great, transformational read this book really is. Write your story well!

  3. I’m giving thought to purchasing this book for my children and for my sisters. Although I’m not very familiar with the book, I like what I have read about it so far, so if I purchase it, I will sign it.

    My twin sister emailed me about the book – I am a different Donald Miller and am not the author!