7 Reasons Why Sharing Your Story MattersJun 06, 2023
Are you sitting on a story you’ve longed to tell? I am, and I know that I’m not alone.
I wonder, for instance, if the stories my father told me about how his grandfather Max was chased out of Russia by the Cossacks was true. I would have liked to have asked my great grandfather more about this wild story as well as what it was like for him to come through Ellis Island and inherit a new identity…not just as an American citizen, but an entirely new last name. Legend has it that when the immigration officer said, “next case,” Max said yes. Max. Max Case.” And supposedly that’s how we got the family name Case and why I named my son Casey. Had Max, or someone close to him, thought to capture this legacy story it would have been an enduring gift for generations to come.
In general, there are 7 reasons why sharing our stories matters.
- We learn about those who came before us.
- We fill gaps in our family history.
- We affirm who we really are along with our core beliefs and values.
- We gain greater self-awareness and self-mastery.
- We become more optimistic and resilient when faced with life’s challenges.
- We build community with others through our words and shared stories.
- We connect the generations over time.
The Life Letter Is One of the Simplest Ways to Share Your Story
Think of the Life Letter as a placeholder for sharing your most important history, lessons learned, values, and deepest wishes. It isn’t a memoir or an autobiography, but rather a distilled version of what’s most essential to convey. It’s what you wish you could hold in your hand when you think of a family member whose story you longed to know more about.
Life Letters can be as short as 400 words or as lengthy as eight or so pages.
You don’t have to be a professional writer to craft a Life Letter. This misses the point since the Life Letter ought to reflect the style and voice of the person writing so that it can be as authentic as possible.
Because the words we choose, our style, and voices are unique, following a template is a little like doing Mad Libs. Don’t get me wrong! I love Mad Libs! But not as a treasured keepsake for loved ones and your community.
Here’s the bottom line. If you have ever written a letter, you have what it takes to write a Life Letter.
Ignite Your Creativity!
“A creative life is an amplified life,” says Elizabeth Gilbert. “It's a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.” I couldn’t agree more, which is why the Life Letter is the perfect backdrop for people to express themselves through their own passions and interests. Like dancing. Dogs. Or poetry.
Sometimes, there’s a single theme that serves as the narrative thread and ties everything together. Maybe a book or a movie that made a profound impact. Or a turning point moment in your life.
This needn’t be anything momentous like a birth or death, a marriage or divorce, or even a geographic move. My daughter Rebecca and I recently visited Casey, her twin brother, in Austin, TX and the weekend was so much fun that it made me realize just how important it is to carve out time to laugh and play. I laughed more in 48 hours than I had in the past year. Sharing some of the details about how I sat on a hammock and fell flat on my tush, and how Rebecca tried to eat the foam off her espresso martini evoke memories of family togetherness and fun, both of which I value a lot.
What about any quirky passions? Like extreme ironing or tree shaping?
Anything is possible, which is why it’s such a privilege to help people ignite their creativity when crafting a Life Letter.
Excerpts From Real Life Letters
Steve Poleski, an ophthalmologist from Ottawa, Canada, had a big family story that he wanted to capture for his children and future grandchildren, but he had no idea where to begin, how much, or how little to say. I worked with him to identify and select telling moments, to make a timeline that allowed him to reflect on lessons learned from his family story, including his own spiritual views, and ultimately to help him determine the best way to organize his Life Letter. Not surprisingly, this physician loves science. So, when he began to talk about the wonders of the Webb Telescope, a vision for his Life Letter became clear. Steve has given me permission to share a brief excerpt with you here. He writes:
I am 66 years old and looking at my life with the kind of nuanced perspective that age and life experience bring. I am healthy, still practicing ophthalmology, and enjoy life every day. As I embark on the exercise of writing this Life Letter, a distilled expression of what I most want to share with you, the lens that feels most apt through which to do this is the Webb Telescope. This is the newest high-powered telescope launched into space that allows humankind to see further into the universe than ever before. I am at my core a scientist. And yet the telescope kindles my spiritual self by reminding me of the vastness of the universe. It truly is limitless. When I look at the spectacular images of stars and galaxies through the images of the Webb Telescope, I am amazed by the limitlessness of the universe.
Steve’s parents were Holocaust survivors. In fact, his father was among the fortunate Jews rescued by Oskar Schindler. He continues:
I am a firm believer that we need to learn from history without being crippled by it. I grew up with many people who remained stuck in the horrors of the past, including my parents. This intergenerational trauma was naturally transmitted to my brother and me. And in some ways, I have also unwittingly passed this on to my children. There is no escaping the tragedy of my family’s history. But in order to live, I have had to alter my lens by recognizing the events of the past, integrating the lessons, and doing my part to ensure that it never happens again.
Everybody has stories that ought to be told. Maybe it’s the memory of a slice of chocolate cake and cup of milk that has shaped your views about living a meaningful life. Read this short excerpt from R’becca Groff, another student.
One afternoon long, long ago, I returned home to find my little neighbor friend Deby sitting at our kitchen table. She’d been crying and was making those sniffing, shuddering sounds like you do when you’ve had a hard cry.
In front of her on the table was a piece of Mom’s chocolate cake and a glass of milk. Neither had been touched yet.
Mom was sitting at the table with her, but silent.
My mother’s eyes were somber and gentle. “Deby’s dog died today, and she’s feeling sad,” she explained to me.
Deby then told me what happened. Her little dog Toby had been running around playing with a large stick on their yard. Somehow that stick became positioned such that it jabbed into Toby’s throat. Her dad drove the dog to the vet, but serious injury to Toby had occurred and he had to be put down. Deby had been outside with the dog when the incident happened.
Deby’s dog died, and it was our house she came to.
It’s been nearly 65 years ago, and as I look back, I know that even as a child I knew the importance of that piece of chocolate cake, the glass of milk and my own mother’s tender eyes.
Let’s not sit on the stories that have shaped who we are, stories that in so many ways are touchstones for the choices we make and how we live. I can’t help but think that humanity might benefit if we all write Life Letters and offer them as an enduring gift to ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities.