My friend Amy recently posted this photo of her great-grandmother, Florence, in the late 1920s at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. I absolutely fell in love with the black-and-white image of this gregarious young lady front and center with the huge dimple and warm smile. You can just tell that she loves life and intends to live it to the fullest.Read More
Writing your life story doesn’t have to be dull drudgery – something you have to force yourself to do. I think many people are intimidated by the sheer volume of what they want to write about and are also harboring inner doubts about their qualifications and abilities to write their legacy.Read More
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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In answer to the title question: absolutely nothing.
The problem, however, lies in how you document them. Yes, photos provide visuals of where we were, who was with us and what it (and we) looked like. They’re incredibly important snapshots of our past – we treasure them and become devastated when natural disasters destroy them. But while it may be true that a picture is worth a thousand words, it doesn’t tell the whole story. And although a video records actions and sounds – most importantly our voices – it overlooks critical back story information.
That’s why I believe we should create telling experiences.
Telling, by definition, is effective and expressive. When you tell someone about finally getting that elusive hole-in-one on the golf course, your voice becomes excited and louder than normal, you use animated facial expressions and you might even incorporate arm gestures or reenact your swing in order to get your point across. In so doing, you generate anticipation and appreciation for your story that just might result in congratulatory slaps on the shoulder and high-fives from your friends. Alternatively, you will probably speak quietly, stand closer to the person with whom you’re talking, and use minimal hand gestures when sharing more sobering news such as the serious illness of a mutual friend.
Regardless of whether the story being told is happy or sad, you create an experience for your listener.
The same should hold true when you’re writing your life story. The goal is to hook the reader and get them involved in what you’re sharing. It doesn’t matter if you’re relating a family vacation, your climb to the top of the career ladder or the birth of your child – it should become a telling experience.
5 Tips to Achieve a Telling Experience
- Identify the challenge (e.g., agreeing on a vacation destination, statistical chances of attaining a hole-in-one, illness, etc.)
- Provide details (don’t go crazy, but do include enough information to set the scene and answer the basic who, what, when, where, why and how)
- Incorporate emotion – enable your readers to experience emotions by recreating your own through varied sentence structure, repetition, and/or strong word choice (avoid simply using an exclamation point to convey excitement).
- Share why overcoming the challenge was important to you
- Record what you learned from the experience
Once you have completed the above steps, put it aside for a few hours or even overnight. Then read it aloud – how does it sound? If you falter at any point while speaking it, then you know where you need to tweak it.
Ultimately, you must take the first step and start writing. Your legacy is waiting.
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!
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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.