2011-08-11 / Columns

What’s your life story telling you?

After 50-plus years, many of us have stories to tell—of achievements, losses, relationships and careers.

Think of those experiences like ingredients in a recipe: They can each stand on their own, but when combined, they produce something different and unique.

Up until age 50, most of us have been on what I call the roller coaster of life—education, dating, marriage, career and parenting— with little time to step off and reflect on where we’ve been.

About this stage of our lives, after the kids are grown and we have a moment to be introspective, the process of discovering more about ourselves can take on greater focus.

Empty nesters ask, “If I’m not Mom or Dad, who am I?” We raise the question, “If I’m not (insert job title here), what am I?” and some ask, “Who do I want to be?” O ur life experiences tell a story about how we adapt to challenges and opportunities. By creating an integrated view of our life, we have a powerful tool to understand how we might approach the future.

The Lifeline exercise is a simple method to help you interpret how key events have shaped your life and a good predictor of how you might act in the future. If you’re interested in doing this exercise, set aside about 30 minutes of quiet time.

Begin with an 8½-by-11-inch sheet of paper.

Draw a line across the middle of the page from left to right. You may choose to segment the line in 10-year increments so that you have a clearer picture of your time line. This is your lifeline.

Next, mark an “X” where you are today on your lifeline. For example, if you decide you are midway through your life, put the “X” in the middle of the line.

Now begin to review your life to date. Consider within the time line’s 10-year spans the significant events in your life, placing the happiest or most successful moments above the line and unhappy moments or failures below the line. The happier the moment, the higher it goes above the line, and the unhappier the moment the lower it goes below the line.

Don’t try to create an exhaustive list, just capture the most significant experiences in your life. Some categories to trigger your thinking: education, career, marriage, children, relationships, family changes (death, illness, divorce), moves, travel, mentors, hobbies, financial or health changes.

As you review your lifeline, write down your answers to these four questions:

1. Are there patterns or recurring themes in your lifeline? Patterns may tell you something about what your life has been about as well as what is most important to you.

2. What were the happiest or most successful times and the unhappiest or least successful times? What do those ups and downs represent to you? Is there a theme? How can you enable more of the happiest/successful times in the future?

3. What were the two or three most important learning experiences in your life? What preceded them? Were they associated with a crisis, confrontation or unexpected challenge? This will tell you something about how you adapt to and learn from adversity and how you will deal with challenges as you age.

4. Where did you put your X? How much of your life is still ahead of you? Are there things you haven’t done but want to? What are they? Have you created a plan to make them happen?

The Lifeline exercise is one of the tools used in Life Planning. To learn more about Life Planning, go to www.lifeplanningnetwork.org.

Senior Concerns in Thousand Oaks is providing this column. For more information, visit www.seniorconcerns.org, and for comments or questions, email acorn@seniorconcerns.org.

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