Have you ever thought about giving your family a special gift – one that you can’t buy for them or that they can’t buy for themselves? Here’s a great idea: your life story.
My wife spent a lot more time with our children than I did while they were growing up. She told them many stories about her youth and the significant events in her life. My son recently reminded me of that fact and that there was so much they didn’t know about my younger days, and I got to thinking about that. I decided to write about my life and present it to my children as a Christmas gift.
My aim was to share the details I could remember about the things that were a part of my life that helped me become the person I am: about my childhood, college, military service, hobbies, interests, work and play. I covered more than my youth – I included descriptions of events that my children remember too, but I’ve given them a different perspective on those events.
After completing my original document, I presented it to my children at Christmas, and their response was very enthusiastic – so much so that I have continued to add additional chapters as I’ve remembered other activities and events that I thought would interest them. Sometimes their questions about certain activities spurred additional memories, which gave me even more to write about.
My children really appreciate the fact that I have added my own chapters to the family history and to their understanding of me and other members of the family. I hope my children have come to know me a little better as a result.
Developing my life story in a way that would make for interesting reading was a challenge – but the writing has been very satisfying. My life story may not be of interest to anyone outside my family and friends, but I did not write it for anyone else and it is filling the need that I believe existed. If you are accustomed to keeping a diary, you’re already on your way. That’s a great place to start. If not, here are some suggestions to get you started thinking about your life and putting it into words:
- Your objective is to share with your family and friends what you have done and how those events all came about. What goals or desires did you have when you were young? Were they met or not?
- What are the earliest events that you can remember – and what impact did they have on you?
- What were your expectations for marriage, career, recreation and other areas that were (and are) important to you? You might want to cover how your expectations changed as you had more life experiences.
- Make a list of all of the significant events that you can remember. The order is not important at this stage. You may decide not to include every event in your final document, but even information you choose to delete might remind you of other memories that you want to include.
- Decide how you want to present the story. Choose a method of organization. Perhaps you want to present everything in chronological order. Or perhaps you want to write individual “chapters” about a particular experience or time of your life, such as your high school or college days, military service, etc. You may want to write individual “character sketches” about your parents or others important in your life. Find a sequence that makes sense to you – it’s your story to tell as you see fit.
- Including both good and bad experiences can be beneficial, because you learned from both.
- Writing at the computer can be very helpful, especially for editing or inserting additional topics anywhere in the document. Remember to save your work regularly.
- Don’t simply describe the events. Comment about them. How did you feel? Your commentary will help your family understand where you were coming from at that particular time and add to the overall interest.
- There is no right or wrong way to tell your story. Your goal is not necessarily to create a literary masterpiece but to write a story for your family to enjoy.
- Illustrate your story with photos if you can. You can attach the pictures directly to a hard copy, or insert digital photos into a computer document.
- If you don’t like to write, consider talking about the subject with someone else who can write it for you, and then jointly edit the results. Or, consider making a tape or digital recording with your children – let them interview you about your life, and record the dialogue. (A recording is a great companion piece to the written document as well.)
- Your story makes a great gift! Print it out and place it in a folder or three-ring binder or photo album.
I think you will be surprised at how interesting it can be to reflect on your life, and about the level of interest your life story will generate among your family and friends. You’re making a lasting contribution to your family’s history for your children and succeeding generations to appreciate.
Get started. No one can tell your story better than you, but your memory is not likely to get better with the passage of time. The only wrong thing you can do is not start at all.
Even though it may still seem too early to think about, giving your family or friends your personal life story from your own perspective is a heartfelt Christmas present they will cherish for years to come.
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