When someone asks you to write about yourself, a bit of panic can set in. I saw this firsthand at a recent class I was teaching on telling your own story. “What if my life isn’t very interesting?” a woman asked me quietly and timidly after the class had ended. Interestingly enough, I had been thinking the same question a whole bunch lately – is my story enough? Her question prompted the answer I had been seeking for my own life. Yes, yes, it is enough and your story is enough too – and it’s okay to write about yourself.
Just how do you write about yourself?
My colleague and I are in the business of telling people’s stories. This work is rich and wonderful, but after hearing other’s people’s fabulous life stories and adventures I can’t help but ask myself if my life is full enough? Am I doing enough to make an interesting life for my descendants to read? Am I too caught up in mundane activities?
The answer came to me all at once when prompted by this woman. I was presenting for the first time at a conference for the South Davis Genealogy Conference with my colleague, Rhonda Lauritzen, and she was speaking on the Art of Family Storytelling. One of the women had loved what she heard but was a little troubled at how to start her own life narrative. “I hear these stories of the struggles and hardships others have had and I just have not had that. I don’t know what I can write about.” As I went to speak to her I got the kind of goosebumps when you have a thought that is a real answer to your prayers. “Your story is enough,” I told her with complete clarity. “No matter what you write, your family is going to love you and love it. They want to know you. They want to know what is in your heart and in your thoughts,” I told her. Odd how in that moment, I was answering my own questions.
Everyone has a story.
As I’ve told people’s stories over the past 20 years I have discovered is that everyone has a story. Your own story isn’t boring, I promise. I wrote a blog about finding great angles in stories. Click here to read more about it. Besides, there is something to be said for the everyday moments of life. They have meaning. They have substance. As I’ve been thinking about all of this the words of a song I grew up singing at church flashed through my mind, “Choose the right! There is peace in righteous doing. Choose the right! There’s safety for the soul.”
To be honest the best moments of my life have been the simple ones. I love the days when everyone is home and we can all have dinner together and talk politics around the table. Or those moments when I catch my kids being friends and genuinely laughing and playing together. Because of the wide space of age between my kids (16 years) I have purposefully learned not to sweat the small stuff, but to enjoy it and embrace it. So, I should probably write that advice down. I wrote a little about those poignant moments recently. Click here to read more. I feel pretty confident there is no mom alive that doesn’t sweat the small stuff with their first child, but maybe my grandkids might take pause if they read my story. Snuggle more, clean less, read more books, dance in the kitchen every day and say family prayer every single morning and night. My husband and I may not be perfect about much of anything, but we are a family of prayers.
Sometimes the small, simple parts of life are the best.
Now I’m not saying that just because you are doing all the right things trials and struggles aren’t going to come knocking at the door, but there are, for some people, huge blessings of peace in obedience for a life well lived and that in itself is worth writing. And that’s what I told this woman who had beauty that sparkled from her eyes! Wouldn’t you want your descendants to know you escaped the consequences of bad choices because you made good ones?
Is it also possible that you are downplaying trials you have had in your life? Not everyone shares their challenges, and you may be a person that doesn’t like to write about them. They may be too deep and too personal. That’s okay, but I would encourage you to write about some of the difficult moments that shaped you. Click here to read more about why you should record the hard stuff. You can start by asking yourself, “When is a time I didn’t know if I would make it?” Or if you are interviewing a family member, you can ask the same question. I think we’ve all had those moments and that question jogs those moments for sure.
Write about the hard stuff.
Need a little more encouragement to write about your challenges? A friend we met recently has Tourette Syndrome and her tic is to make a loud noise, which manifests in church and other quiet settings. She wrote a book about it called Awkwardly Strong, and I love the way she has embraced it and shares her experience with others. Here’s a wonderful article she wrote called “How To Make Awkward Into an Advantage.”
I’ve had my share of trials, bad choices and hard things that have come because of those choices. Maybe that’s a jumping point for me and writing my own story. When I ask the above question to myself, my husband’s job loss immediately comes to mind. We had three little children and I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t handle it well and I wasn’t very kind to him about it. Tears come to my eyes now even thinking about that time in my life. And as weird as it sounds, we had a beautiful opportunity to experience job loss again two years ago and I had the chance to redeem myself and learn to trust in him and the Lord to overcome the trial.
Do it now and it will be enough.
I found a great article on the New York Public library website listing “20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History.” So many great ideas. The article states that first person narratives and family stories are important historical documents. Author John Bond said, “The interesting stories in your life have become familiar to you… The novelty of these stories is most apparent to someone hearing them for the first time.” I couldn’t agree more! My mom loves to cook and every Sunday afternoon my kids have cooked with her. She has shared recipes, they chat and have a good time. No big deal. A few years ago my then-high-school-aged daughter wrote an essay about it. She talked about the details of a favorite chili recipe she prepared with my mom, describing the spices, the smells and the conversation. She talked about how the recipe was her great grandmother’s and she pictured her great grandmother, who she barely knew, making the same pot of delicious chili. It was beautiful and people loved reading about it. They loved reading about it so much she won a big award and lump of cash for her efforts. She wasn’t trying to win a contest, just tell a family story that was important to her, but it touched many other lives, mine included.
Another tip in the article: “Family trees are abstract. Stories add depth.” Well of course they do. Any words talking about that dash in a life are better than no words. How many times have you looked at a date on a headstone and wondered what that life was all about? How many times have you come across an old family story and clutched it to your chest because you loved it so much? I promise your family will do that with your story no matter how silly you think it is now.
In December I had the great opportunity to interview a sweet couple who are slowly writing their life story for their children and grandchildren. There was a sweet spirit in the room each time I interviewed them and even when I was writing it in my own home. Their life is one of love, following their deep religious values and working together. It was especially gratifying to run into them at a local church event and to embrace my new friends. They both said how much their grandchildren were loving reading the first chapter of their love story. For them, whatever they have to say is more than enough those that love them most.
A Forbes article by Mark Eghrari , “When You Pass Away, Don’t Just Leave Assets to Your Heirs. Leave Memories” also suggests we get personal when we write family histories. Sharing valuables coupled wiht deep personal thoughts, we should write a story about the items we pass on to give them more meaning.
So is your story enough? It is. Now it’s time to write it. It is a great New Year’s resolution. Are your parents’ stories enough? They are. Maybe you can help her write theirs too; even short vignettes would mean so much to future generations. A great article on FamilySearch gives some tips too. Click here for details.Now is the best time to start. I promise you will be glad you did.
Rachel J. Trotter is a writer at Evalogue.Life, where we tell personal and family stories that inspire, and help you tell yours. She has worked as a writer since her college days over 20 years ago. She loves telling people’s stories. She lives in Ogden, Utah and is busy raising six children and loves working on family history alongside her husband, Mat.
Questions Everyone Should Ask
Don't have regrets. Preserve a life story now with our all-time best questions. Interview a loved one or prompt your own personal history. Do it now, and it will be enough.