Unlike Christmas – when people generally focus on others – New Year’s tends to cause people to focus on themselves, particularly how they can improve their lives. Almost everyone, at some point, has attempted to accomplish at least one resolution: Lose weight. Stop smoking. Spend more time with family. The list is endless.
The finality of a year ending also tends to make people introspective. Year in and year out we reflect on our successes and accomplishments as well as our losses and failures, yet often we do not take cumulative stock of those experiences. This is the crux of personal history – the ability to dig below the surface of events in order to provide treasured insight. It’s an incredibly poignant way to ensure that your life lessons, belief systems, and values are passed on to future generations. All too frequently people say to me, “My life hasn’t been very interesting; there’s nothing to tell” or “I’m too young to write about my life” or “I’m not famous; no one would be interested in reading my story.” Nothing could be farther from the truth! “There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside the dullest exterior, there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.” Mark Twain Regardless of how old you are, how mundane your life may seem, or whether or not you feel worthy of such an endeavor, future generations will treasure your life story. Think back to your own ancestors. Wouldn’t you love to know what great-great-grandpa was thinking during his ocean voyage to Ellis Island? The secrets to your grandparents’ fifty-year marriage? The emotional, social and financial struggles your mom overcame as a single parent? What compelled your dad to adhere to his work ethic? The same types of questions will be asked about you by your future descendants unless you become proactive and document your experiences for them. So how do you start a personal history?
- Determine the method that suits you best. Do you prefer to write in journals? Type your thoughts in a word-processing software program? Record yourself speaking?
- Select a topic. Even if your goal is to create an all-encompassing life story, you have to narrow your focus in order to start. Is there a life-changing experience you can share? A historically significant event in which you participated? Values you wish to impart?
- Designate time. Carve out a block of time (whether it’s fifteen minutes, a half hour or two hours) and a frequency (once a day, twice a week, etc.). Actually add it to your calendar and try to stick to the schedule.
- Choose a location. Do you think better in a noisy, crowded place like a coffee shop? Or do you prefer to work in quiet isolation at home?
- Write or record. Take a deep breath and begin. Don’t worry about spelling and run-on sentences at this point; the important thing is to simply start writing (or typing or recording) about the topic you selected.
Want to learn more? Sign up to follow my blog for additional personal history tips, resources, and discussions of life experiences. I welcome your comments, and if there’s a particular aspect of personal history that you would like me to address, let me know!