Ever since the introduction of the automobile, Americans have been busily traversing our country’s roadways for work and play. It has broadened our horizons and led us to new destinations, creating innumerable memories in the process. Yet to get from point A to point B, our vehicles require more than a key in the ignition.Read More
If there’s ever a time of reflection and sense of community, Christmas is it – it’s when people gather together, memories flow and traditions are created or upheld. Yet despite the true meaning of the season and the romanticism of traditions, our preparations leading up to Christmas Day can be a lot of work and the results aren’t always what we envision, especially when it comes to the Christmas tree. Interestingly, the same can be said about writing life story.
Lesson #1: Don’t Compare
The first box of Christmas decorations that I open contains our artificial tree. We acquired the nine-foot-tall tree from my mother-in-law who had twelve-foot-high ceilings. It always looked so regal in the sitting room of her Victorian home, framed by the bay windows that mirrored the white lights on the tree.
Fast forward a few years and it now stands in our modest living room. Despite the treetop scraping our ceiling (thereby eliminating the opportunity to place a star or angel on its peak) and the removal of several rear branches so it can be backed up against the wall to allow pedestrian traffic, it nevertheless proudly serves as the focal point of our living room.
It is similar to the proverbial elephant in the room. You cannot avoid staring at it not only due to its immense proportions, but also because it is garishly decorated by two creative young kids.
The first year that it stood in our home I remember being disappointed. It looked nothing at all like the grand, beautiful tree that my mother-in-law decorated with color-coordinating ornaments. But since then I have come to love that tree, understanding that it’s not about perfection or even replicating others’ work; instead, it’s all about making it our own and serving a meaningful purpose.
It recently struck me that decorating our tree parallels with writing life story. All too often people think that their experiences – their stories – pale in comparison to those of others. Such thoughts can prevent them from writing, making them feel that their experiences are insignificant.
Yet look at the tree example. Even though the current location isn’t optimal for our fake spruce, it still serves a pivotal role in our Christmas celebrations. Similarly, your unique stories – no matter how seemingly mundane – serve an important role in your family’s history.
Lesson #2: Don’t Give Up
Decorating our tree is an all-day affair. The lights are a critical component of the overall desired effect and because the tree was manufactured before the advent of the pre-lit varieties, I spend a couple of hours painstakingly wrapping the light strands in and among each branch so that the cords don’t show. Part of it is a perfectionist streak in me and part of it is to carry on my mother-in-law’s tradition of how the tree should be decorated.
The time and frustration I undertake when hanging the lights can easily equate to writing life story. I anxiously stare at the tree as I flip the extension cord’s power switch, waiting to see if any loose light bulbs refuse to work now that they are intertwined in branches. There is nothing more tedious and time consuming than attempting to locate and replace recalcitrant bulbs.
Similarly, writing life story is not always a simple task and we may feel like giving up halfway through the job. But when we persevere, the end result is something beautiful to behold.
Lesson #3: Don’t Hold Back
As my children and I drape the ribbons and hang the ornaments, I share the memories associated with each decoration and of my childhood Christmases in general. They typically grunt or distractedly say, “Uh-huh” as I reminisce, but at least they let me happily prattle on as Christmas music plays in the background.
Even though my children don’t currently place great emphasis on my annual trip down memory lane, I believe that one day they will appreciate the stories. And even if they never do, the simple act of telling family stories brings me satisfaction and joy.
The same holds true for your life story. Even if you don’t think anyone will be interested in what you have to say, you should write your life story because it’s important to you and brings you joy. As added benefits, you will also document history and create an enduring legacy.
So don’t hold back. Tell your story and allow the meaningful glow of your words to emanate to others for generations to come.
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When it comes to staying healthy, we’ve all heard it before. You know: eat a sensible diet, exercise regularly, and get 8 hours of sleep every night. But did you know that reminiscing about the positive events in your life may actually improve your overall health?
When I recently stumbled across a back issue of Reader’s Digest, the article, “How Nostalgic, Happy Thoughts Make You Healthier: Boost your mood, ward off loneliness, and strengthen family bonds—all by thinking about your favorite memories” by Lauren Gelman (August 2013) immediately caught my attention.
The article stated that “Loyola University researchers discovered that thinking of good memories for just 20 minutes a day can make people more cheerful than they felt the week before.” I’m not a medical expert, but it sounds plausible to me. Why wouldn’t I feel happier after thinking about good memories?
This claim might help explain why people love to tell their stories. My clients often tell me how much they look forward to our next session. I had previously assumed it was because each of our meetings meant that they are moving one step closer to completing their goals, but perhaps part of it is also because our sessions revisit some of their favorite events and make them happier. (Disclaimer: I also encourage my clients to relate difficult moments of their lives so they can share critical life lessons to their readers, but I always strive to strike a balance between their positive and negative experiences. And generally, something good eventually comes from a bad experience as well).
The part of the article that I disagree with, however, is its advice to not write down those memories. It states: “‘There’s a magic and mystery in positive events,’ study author and psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, told the magazine. ‘Analyzing the details—by writing them down—may remove some of that wonder.’”
Again, I’m not an expert nor do I have statistical data to back me up, but I believe that writing a memory allows you to extend your reminiscence, which in turn extends the duration of your happiness. While details might remove some of the wonder, I believe it’s much more important to document your experiences not only for your own temporary happiness and well-being, but also to ensure that a part of you – your memories and what’s most important to you – is preserved for future generations.
Thus, when you write your memories, you can reap physical and emotional rewards, and educate others in the process.
What do you think? Weigh in on the debate in the comments section!
First, let me define personal history. Whereas the term “family history” is almost universally synonymous with genealogy, personal history (also known as life story) is, well, more personal. In a nutshell, it documents your own life experiences and beliefs rather than those of your ancestors. This can be accomplished through a variety of ways: books, letters, journals, scrapbooks, video, blogs, audio recordings, or any combination of these methods.
I’m a bibliophile, so I focus on the written forms of personal history. So much can be learned from others, and written materials enable that wisdom to be preserved and provide readers with a glimpse of the authors’ personalities. When people write correspondence, you can almost hear their voice dictating what you’re reading. In journals, people often write about what’s most important to them at that point in time. If they’re farmers, the weather might be cited often because it’s vital to their crops or if they’re parents, entries might consist of children’s antics. Decades later, these reflections might seem insignificant to a casual observer, but to a descendent, it’s a literal piece of his or her past.
Consider how powerful it would be to read a book that was written by your grandfather; one in which he reflected on all of his most impressive memories – both celebrations and heartaches – and discussed what he learned from them and how they helped shape his beliefs. What a family treasure that would be!
That is exactly what you can provide to your descendents through your own personal history.
Of course, it’s not just descendents who can benefit from your life story; it can become a valuable research document for your local area as well. You don’t live your life in a bubble; you interact with others and live in a community. Your reflections can therefore serve as an important representation of what life was like in your area during a particular time period. Future historians will be grateful for your insightful commentary.
Writing a life story isn’t difficult, but it does require time, organization, and techniques to ensure accuracy, readability, and overall quality. You can write it yourself or you can hire a professional, but the key is to begin now. Although stories live forever, the opportunity to document them is limited.
Have you already started your life story? Leave a comment and let me know how it’s going!
Recognizing and utilizing a company’s history is often a key factor in its long-term success. I was reminded of this recently during my children’s 4-H meeting at our local Chick-fil-A restaurant. As you may be aware, this fast-food chain does a great job making its history known to the public (and they highly encourage customers to share their own stories).
Following our brief meeting, the 4-Hers were invited to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the kitchen and service areas. Throughout the tour we learned all kinds of interesting facts, including how the company has creatively solved problems to achieve its current success. The end result of the tour? The kids were thrilled with the free ice-cream cone, and it solidified in the adults’ minds that it is a place worthy of our repeat patronage.
Now, this is not to say that you have to offer tours of your facilities to net increased customer loyalty. What it is suggesting, however, is that telling your company’s history is important. Consider the additional areas within your company that benefit from a company history:
- Empowers Leadership – When problems arise, it’s sometimes difficult to know which direction to take. By reviewing how your company overcame challenges in the past – what core values and techniques they employed – you can often duplicate or modify those ideas to successfully solve the current situation.
- Promotes Company Culture – What better way to unify your employees than by showcasing that they are part of something bigger than themselves? Demonstrate how their employment has helped to make a difference in the world on a local, national and/or global scale. It also offers them a vision of where the company is going.
- Encourages Partnerships – Making your company history available to others promotes transparency and fosters key business partnerships. By honoring your company’s past, it shows your commitment to its future.
- Improves Public Relations – Companies are always looking for positive publicity. The release of a company history can help garner new clients, increase loyalty, and make you the talk of the town (or Facebook or Twitter… you get the idea).
Whether you create a full-color hardcopy book or eBook and/or incorporate a timeline onto your public website, company histories are a fantastic way to achieve brand definition, increase visibility, and celebrate successes (particularly milestone anniversaries).
Has your company or organization ever promoted its history? Do you have additional ideas about this concept? Please share them in the comments section.
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!
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Dalene Bickel is an author, book coach and speaker who helps aspiring authors successfully write, develop and self-publish their books.
What My Clients Say:
I want to thank you for the smooth process you provided in the publishing of my father’s memoirs. Your patience and prompt responses with my questions were invaluable. Having had no experience, I felt I could trust and rely on your expertise, and we were thrilled with the final product!