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.