Purposes & Benefits
As ever-evolving and goal-seeking beings, we are each on our unique developmental path. The guided life story process is an important component of a holistic approach to self-discovery that can serve as a catalyst for growth. Through autobiography we come to see both what has happened and then, through a process of analysis and reflection, what it all uniquely means to you. As author Carlos Gebler has noted, “The story was in two acts: act one, what happened, act two, what I understood.” We come to know more about our self-identity and the characters that comprise a multi-faceted and multi-storied self. The influence of society, culture, and family come into greater focus.
There are also emotional, healing, and transformative aspects to autobiography. As noted by James Birren, one of the founders of the field of gerontology, “Stories of life offer not only new knowledge but also provide pathways to helping all persons – including the helpless and hopeless – heal the bruises of life.” Educator Joanne Cooper says,
“Telling our own stories is a way to impose form upon our often chaotic experiences and, in the process, to develop our own voice. Listening to our own stories is a way for us to nourish, encourage, and sustain ourselves, to enter into a caring relationship with all the parts of our self.”
Insights gained from a life story review can even help in how we come to understand and improve our relationships with others. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “He then learns that in going down into the secrets of his own mind, he has descended into the secrets of all minds.”
Through the act of learning more about who we are, of making this knowledge about our lives and our experiences more conscious, we are best prepared to design and live meaningful future chapters of our lives. As Carl Jung, the psychologist noted, “Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” Within one’s own deeply personal story lies access to the heart.
One way to apply the knowledge and insight gained through autobiographical reflection is by developing our uniquely personal way of engaging with and contributing to the communities that surround and nourish us. This is an especially important aspect of the second half of life, when generativity, or a concern for promoting and building future generations, takes on a larger significance. Living a generative life is one well-researched component of finding meaning as we age, and is an example of how self-knowledge is to be applied for a broader purpose, and not merely for a self-centered exposé.
You may be thinking, “Well, I don’t have that much to say regarding my story. It’s pretty uneventful.” Or, “My story is not very interesting.” Henry James, the novelist, said, “Adventures happen to people who know how to tell it that way.” Everyone has had “adventures” and life chapters consisting of wide-ranging experiences. Many times we just need a little guidance and support to bring forth these stories and help them find their voice and their significance.