The Story of Your Life
Have you ever envisioned your life as a story, with life events becoming chapter titles? Recently, I accepted a challenge from a wise friend to describe my life in five chapters — five events that changed my
life, for better or worse.
For me, the short version goes something like this:
- an abduction by a predator at age seven that taught me about agency, power, and fear;
- a breakdown in my relationship with my parents at 16 that taught me about the gift of unconditional love;
- the unwise decision to drop out of college to become a parent at 21;
- a choice to leave a bad marriage at 35 with little more than a high school diploma and three young children in tow; and
- the opportunity to become a CEO at 50.
I think you can understand that a few of these chapters wouldn’t be ones I’d choose to include in my life story. These five chapters are mostly hard lessons, but I’ve found it has been the hard lessons in life that fostered the greatest growth. Chances are you have a chapter (or few) that leaves you feeling the same way. We can’t change the events that have happened in our lives. These events are in the past, but that doesn’t mean they don’t impact who we are today. We may not be able to change the past, but we can revisit and reframe the chapters to allow ourselves to move forward and grow.
As I looked at these five defining moments, I assessed the story of my life. It may be tempting to wonder how my life would be different without a few of these negative experiences. Instead, I’ve tried to use these experiences to learn and grow.
For example, being rejected by my parents at 16 taught me how to love my children differently (not perfectly). Learning to confront and cope with fear, develop a sense of agency, and build resilience made me stronger. In other words, these experiences equipped me to make tough decisions I faced later in my life – leaving a bad marriage and taking a big professional risk. That professional risk led me to become the CEO of an organization that still fuels my passion today. And recently I’ve been thinking – is it possible all of these experiences combined gave me the hope, strength, and courage to lead Loretto through a pandemic? Let’s be honest, if there’s a time for facing fears, challenges, tough decisions, and being resilient – the time is now.
All of this talk reminds me of a quote we’ve all heard a million times: “for such a time as this.” Humor me for a moment because while this may seem like a cliché, chances are many may not know the story behind it, the story of Esther. Esther is a woman in the Bible who has the most unexpected journey and finds herself in the position of queen, with influence over the king in a moment when her people were facing a dire future. In the midst of her story, she finds herself afraid, hopeless, and devastated at the future it seems her people will face. A close family member asks her if she’s considered perhaps she was in her position as queen for such a time as this. Sure enough, she was. She confronts the king, boldly makes a request, and saves her people – all because an unexpected journey led her there. Who doesn’t want to read a story like this?
I challenge you to write your story in five chapters and then stand back and look at it. Do you want to keep reading your story? Is it empowering? Inspirational? Or do you find yourself a victim, tethered to the past? If your story isn’t serving you, right here, right now – I have good news – you’re the author. You may not be able to change the chapters, but you certainly can rewrite how they impact your future.