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Why and how to tell your life story

Aug 24, 2022 | Shorts

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Your authentic life story will ground you, drive you to make a difference, live with integrity and generate empathy. Here’s how.
Aoede has achieved much in her 25 years. A classical musician, she has performed at and arranged gigs in Europe, the UK and Africa. She has passed exams and accepted degrees. She knows where she wants to be in the long term. However, she lacks the self-worth, confidence and knowledge to promote herself. Encouragingly, she dares to ask for help.

I know this because I met Aoede last week. As always, I started by asking her to tell her life story. Aoede spoke of a slightly confused, uncertain and directionless individual. However, I saw a passionate, courageous, resilient, adaptable young woman who was highly talented and a fledgling leader, and I reflected this back to her, much to her surprise.

Why your authentic life story is important

Re-calibrating a client’s view of themselves is essential; however, it is not the only reason you should tell your life story. Your story grounds you and drives what you do to make a difference, to matter. When your words and actions are in tandem with your story, you live and work with integrity.

I saw the truth of this in my own story when, as a young adult, my conduct conflicted with my core values and story. I could feel the lack of integrity. Sometimes, this manifested itself physically with stomach and chest pains.

Your authentic life story is also important because many will see themselves reflected in you. By telling your tale free of falsehoods and self-protection, you create empathy and connection, which are vital to creating change and making a difference.

How to write your authentic life story

So, how do you go about it? From my own experience (I am currently on my eighth draft), I don’t pretend it is easy. However, this five-step process will help. Step #3, in particular, takes courage and vulnerability and echoes Brené Brown’s comment that “the middle is messy, but it is where the magic happens”.

  1. Create a timeline of events and dates, the more detailed, the better. You think you remember everything. You don’t, so refresh your memory from old diaries, certificates, letters and photo albums. Get curious about events and feel the emotions of the time.
  2. Write your shitty first draft (SFD), as Anne Lamott calls it. It is for your eyes only, so only you will see your self-protecting misrepresentations and false assumptions. As you write, you begin to think there is more to you than meets the eye. You feel emotions such as joy, happiness, pride and courage, as well as fear and shame.
  3. Redraft, again and again. You will feel vulnerable as you do, so dare to confront your self-protecting false memories until the true you emerges. Now, you think you are beginning to know yourself and have integrity.
  4. Read your story and briefly summarise the true you. By now, you feel complete, whole and without self-doubt and think you can see a meaningful future.
  5. Write how you see your story continuing from here, based on what you have learnt from your account. Set out the changes you will make in your life to live with integrity, meaning and purpose.

Now, you know who you are. Self-understanding is a valuable skill, the meta-skill of the twenty-first century, as Tasha Eurich describes it, and only a few have it. So, your next step is to flip the coin and find out what others think of you.

Attributions

Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

References

Brown, B. (2017). Rising strong : how the ability to reset transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Random House.

Eurich, T. (2018). Insight : how to succeed by seeing yourself clearly. London: Pan Books.

Lamott, A. (1994). Bird by bird: Some instructions on writing and life. New York: Anchor Books.

Related reading

Jiwa, B. (2018). Story driven : you don’t need to compete when you know who you are. Australia: Perceptive Press.

‌Jiwa’s book is written for a business audience. However, it has many valuable insights into the importance of telling our own story, supported with case studies and is highly recommended for anyone seeking meaning in their lives by making a difference.

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