Write Your Story — Here’s How To Start

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Tell me a story. Tell me one of the most impactful moments of your early life.

What comes to mind when I ask that? Where does it take you?

I feel myself racing through experiences. My mind is catches glimpses of scenes. Most are fleeting, but some are more substantial. Some stories really stay with us. It’s remarkable— almost magical—the way we can sort and recall our memories.

Who you are and what you find meaningful is a product of your stories.[tweet this]

Your most meaningful work is thematically connected to your experience. It may not be a one-to-one correlation, but there will be some correlation. This is why knowing your story and stories is important.

To know who you are, you must know the stories that have shaped you.[tweet this]

As you write your story, you come to understand how each of these moments impact you. As you tell your stories, you find their meaning. As you find their meaning, you begin to understand what is meaningful to you and why.

As I work with clients or groups, people often ask, “Which stories do I tell?” That’s a completely reasonable question. I often respond by saying, “Tell the important ones.” Which prompts the follow up question: “Which ones are the important ones?” Or “How do I know which ones are important?”

The best answer to this question is: the important ones are the ones that you feel are important. Don’t doubt yourself. There’s no wrong answer. Just choose one that feels important.

If that doesn’t help, here’s an exercise that may (fair warning— it’s hard work!):

  1. Set a timer for 2 minutes.
  2. Think through important moments of your life.
  3. Try to find 5 moments.
  4. Give them each a working title and write it down.

Now, if you’ve actually done the work, by the time the timer rings, you’ll have chosen some profoundly meaningful experiences. These are some of the moments that make up your story.

And I find that to be truly amazing!

Think about it: you just sorted every moment of your life and came up with a small handful that you feel moved by in some way.

It’s incredible that out of the ocean of moments you have lived, you can pick out a few that matter deeply.

To put it another way:

  • If you are 25 years old, you have lived 13,148,725 minutes.
  • If you are 35 years old, you have lived 18,408,215 minutes.
  • If you are 45 years old, you have lived 23,667,705 minutes.
  • If you are 55 years old, you have lived 28,927,195 minutes.
  • If you are 65 years old, you have lived 34,186,685 minutes.

That’s a lot of minutes.

Yet, no matter how many millions of minutes you have lived you can sort all of them with (relative) ease and find a handful that matter.

When I talk about telling your important stories or your greatest stories of impact, pain, or goodness— this is what I mean.

No one else can decide what’s important. Only you can know. That’s why it’s your story and no one else’s.

Dan Cumberland is on a mission to push you into the places meaning, life, & work intersect. He is the author of The Meaning Manifesto. Read more about him here, and connect with him on facebook and twitter.

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