Do you ever stop to think about your life as a story? And the role you’re playing in it?
I’m currently writing a memoir so I’m being forced to take a bird’s eye view of my life and see how it sorts into acts and chapters.
I’m also being forced to take a sometimes painful look at the key choices I’ve made.
It’s been an enlightening and therapeutic process, so I wanted to share my findings with you in the hopes that you can benefit from viewing your life in a similar way.
I don’t mean writing a full blown book – unless of course you want to – but I have devised a simpler exercise at the end of this blog post if you feel like playing along.
So, what have I learned from viewing my life as a story?
The most dramatic realisation has been how certain key incidents early in my life went on to impact me for many years to come.
A writer would call these the inciting incidents – events that happen at the start of a story, upon which the entire plot turns.
An inciting incident usually presents the character with some kind of challenge or obstacle, which they then spend the rest of the story trying to overcome.
Of course, real life isn’t as neat as a fiction so what takes 90 minutes to resolve in a film, can take years to resolve in real life.
As I look back on my teens and twenties I see a character who is largely driven by fear.
‘No, don’t do it!’ I feel like yelling at her as she makes yet another choice she’ll live to regret.
I’m also able to see how those choices taught me some hugely valuable lessons.
Some of them were years in the learning, but I got there in the end.
The Arabs have a proverb that perfectly sums this up: ‘It takes many years before a raw man is ripened.’
The key lessons that have ‘ripened’ me are:
- When people hurt you it says so much more about them than you
- Seeing yourself as a victim only brings more pain
- Forgiveness sets you free
- Loving yourself is the foundation stone for happiness
- You and only you are responsible for your happiness
- The only person you can control is you
- When you make a choice from a place of fear it always leads to regret
- When you manage to overcome your fear the most magical things happen
All of the happiest and most exciting plot twists in the story of my life have come about when I faced down my fear and took a risk. Things like…
- Having my son
- Building a self-employed career while being a single mum
- Moving to brand new places where I knew no-one
- Self-publishing a book – which would go on to win a national award
- Becoming a public speaker – which would take me around the world
- Travelling solo
Now it’s over to you.
Grab something to write on and complete the following exercise.
First, break your life down into stages or chapters. These could be; Early Childhood, The High School Years, University Years, Travelling, First Job, Marriage, Divorce etc…
Then go back over each chapter and ask yourself the following questions:
What key incidents shaped this period of my life?
How did they shape me as a person?
What major choices did I make during this time?
Were they coming from a place of fear?
What did I learn from these experiences?
How did they impact future chapters in my life?
What have been the happiest chapters in your life so far?
What made them so?
Once you’ve worked through each chapter of your life, take a bird’s eye view of the story so far.
What valuable lessons has hindsight taught you?
How have your experiences so far ‘ripened’ you or made you wiser?
What kind of hero would you like to be going forward in your story?
What choices could you make in your current chapter that would have positive ramifications for chapters to come?
How could you live ‘happily ever after’?