Why write the story of your life?

Dear Beauty,

Your life path is fascinating! Maybe that’s why one-on-one coffee meetings are so satisfying. You get a chance to tell the story of your life as only you can tell it, with details you’d never mention in a larger group. Meeting you is a chance to know who has affected your life—for better or worse—as well as what you’ve done, what you value and how you view the world. Often, I wish I could record what’s being said because I know it would inspire others.

One fascinating person I’ve met is, Glenda. Glenda has always been interested in the stories people tell and encouraged me to lead sessions on writing life-stories for her church. Because of the success of these classes, I’ve created a workbook with an easy way for everyone to do the same.

I’ve come to see that if you and I don’t write the stories of our lives, we miss a great opportunity. The act of writing forces us to revisit the past, to reconstruct it from memory. We have the benefit of hindsight during this second time around, which reveals a pattern and brings the wisdom of perspective.

When my client, Aruna, wrote the story of her illness, divorce and life as a single mom, she admitted that the process was painful. As she wrote about her life, she felt she was living it a second time. However, she did not back away from her goal. When she was finished, she not only transferred those painful years from her body to the paper, she also gained a renewed sense of pride in her perseverance, as well as gratitude to her family who stood by her. Writing her story was a confidence builder and today her book, Butterfly: Journey from My Cocoon, inspires others.

When you write your story, you see the bigger picture—the cause and effect. Like Aruna, you find a new sense of confidence and peace. It’s usually best to divide your life into short stories, or vignettes. A great way to end your story is to give yourself and your reader a sense of the new perspective you’ve gained on the good, bad and unpleasant parts of your life. Everyone who reads it will certainly benefit.

I’m glad Betty Mae Ketelsen, a friend who passed away this fall, wrote her story. In her introduction, she admitted that she was looking forward to the process so she could enjoy the memories herself. She’d been my mentor when I lived in Iowa, and reading about her youth gave me a deeper understanding of her courage; her story made it clear to me why she was a successful entrepreneur—even  before the word was popular.

Don was grateful he helped his mom write the story of her life when he did, because shortly after they finished, she suffered from dementia. She wrote short vignettes and Don added photographs, and also softened some of the language of her more bitter memories. Her story is now a wonderful legacy for her grandchildren and their children, who would otherwise not remember her.

Don’t be shy about telling too much. Writing what comes to mind is the first step in telling your life’s story. Get it all out there without judgment—editing is the next step. When editing, you might ask someone you trust to clean-up the unnecessary details, bitterness or mud-slinging, and give suggestions on how to reword what might be overtly offense. Ideally, writing about your life is not an exercise in throwing rocks at the others in your life. It’s about sharing your grand adventure.

Some don’t know what to write about. For you, I have one word: reflection. In the workbook Glenda’s group inspired, called Character Safari: Remember and Write the Stories of Your Life, I’ve shared many helpful ways to remember where you’ve been and what you’ve been learning. It’s great fun to explore your ‘treasure chest’ of experiences.

Young or mature, your life matters! The events, people and lessons that make up your life are rich examples of what it means to be human; how learning and growth don’t always form a straight path. Don’t let the celebrities have all the fun. Begin to write your story today!

May your self-trust build confidence,


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