Is My Life a Story or Resume?
My son Alan had a life threatening disease called Muscular Dystrophy. In spite of his worsening condition over the years, with constant pain from his twisting back and numbing legs, he loved life more than anyone I have ever known. He certainly had every reason to be depressed. Instead, he approached every day ready to take on whatever challenge came his way.
I would watch him in the morning get mentally and emotionally ready for his daily work. He literally talked himself into a high energy mindset with optimistic self-talk. His thoughts, though, were not thin phrases like “Let’s be positive” or “Live like there is no tomorrow.” Instead, he placed all of his actions in a context of his life story. Alan knew his life would be shortened by disease and therefore wanted his life to have a purpose and meaning. The best way he found to achieve this was to place his life in a context larger than himself, where he was a lead character struggling with conflicts all in an attempt to achieve something significant.
Alan made a daily effort to be aware of his emerging life story. His daily pain and struggles were just part of the things he had to overcome. He developed a narrative for his dreams that supported several themes…
“It is not what happens to you, but how you respond that defines who you are“… and… “Live your Dreams, Not Your Troubles.”
This idea of understanding your personal life story is powerful. Most believe a life story is a series of events, accomplishments, and a few memories much like a resume. This “Resume” view of a life story, often referred to as memoirs, fails to capture the essence of a living life story, and the power this rolling narrative can have upon people to drive their actions and overcome obstacles.
Recently, I was clicking through one of Alan’s laptops. It had been years since his death, yet I still felt hesitant regarding what I might find in his documents and e-mails. I did find an unfinished short story. In the opening paragraphs, I discovered a brief insight into exactly what kind of life story Alan had for himself, through the description of the main character whom, I figured, was Alan. He wrote this story while confined to a motorized wheelchair with no use of his legs, and very limited use of his arms.
“Ethan took great pride in his ability to forge relationships and deal seamlessly with others, no matter how obnoxious he found someone. Lies, deception, and manipulation could be necessary tools, even in the most open and honest of relationships. Sincerity was inconsequential because friendships, whether perceived or genuine, could open doors. And Ethan was never regarded as anything but sincere by those he knew. It’s not that he went out of his way to employ such vices; rather, he simply possessed an uncanny ability to steer expressions of emotion and tone, so as to endear himself to anyone as somebody who would be there in their moment of need. Why waste an opportunity to obtain the trust of someone who might one day help him make a connection, or provide him with valuable insight about something? And why ever refuse a true friend a favor when you one day might require one from them? These were important values, if not morals, to Ethan, for he always made time for his friends, even at his own expense.”
Alan’s life- long pursuit to place his condition within a context of something larger than himself provided him with a sense of purpose and context for what happened to him. The illness, the pain, the successes, the loneliness, were not random events but part of an emerging story-line, which he had the power to shape.
Judging by the impact Alan left upon the people he knew, including the countless stories from friends who believe Alan changed their lives through his inspiring actions, it appears we can all benefit from placing our daily actions and events into a context larger than ourselves.