I have always been attracted to the idea that one's life is a story, one in which you are both author and protagonist. What I have learned is that this perspective is more than a literary fancy. It actually provides a perspective and a set of tools that can greatly facilitate personal transformation at any stage of life, and especially so at midlife.
Let's look at this a little more closely.
First of all, if you are the author of your own life, then the narrative is always and only in your hands. You may, of course, be influenced by others, just as one author often inadvertently echoes the theme and style of another. But ultimately, the creative decisions are yours; you decide what gets in and what stays out, you decide how any particular event is to be portrayed or understood.
Second, a narrative approach to one's own life gives you the chance to re-evaluate the role played by the inevitable difficulties life entails. No author would ever attempt to write a story without conflict. Who would read it? What would keep the story going? As author of your life-story, you are free to take the position that things don't “happen to you. " They are “written in" as a plot device to keep the action moving toward its final resolution.
And third, the resolution remains in your hands as well. This is as true of any episode in the unfolding story as is of the story as a whole. Aristotle said that no life can be pronounced good or bad until it has reached its end. This is because until the very last line is written, the possibility of transformation or redemption remains.
Let's say you are struggling through midlife. Perhaps you have a string of so-called “failures" behind you: perhaps a career that never got under way, or a string of failed relationships. What will you, as the consummate novelist you are, do with this material? How will your hero (that's you, remember) finally respond? Think about it. This is the stuff of great drama! No one becomes a hero without slaying a few dragons, and your life has graciously supplied all the challenges you need to now demonstrate your true heroic nature.
In fact, the moment when you feel the most thoroughly beaten down is precisely the moment of greatest dramatic and transformational potential. Here is the crisis, the point of greatest emotional tension (that's a literary definition, by the way), when your hero, propelled by narrative energy, experiences breakthrough and transformation.
Now this transformation can take many forms. So you need to ask yourself: What kind of story are you writing yourself into? A comedy, which in the classical sense means a story where the world after crisis and transformation is a happy one? Or a tragedy, where the transformed world is sad, broken but still noble and ennobling?
It's up to you. . . and only you. Which will you choose? But remember, where there's life, there's hope. While you're still writing, you can still write a happy ending.
Here are some books that will help you write your saga:
- The Story of Your Life: Becoming the Author of Your Experience, by Mandy Aftel
- The Story of Your Life, by Dan Wakefield
- The Hero's Journey, A Guide to Literature and Life, by Reg Harris
Two other resources that have been very helpful to me and may be to you as well include the following:
- The first is the DVD series The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Bill Moyers interviews with mythologist Joseph Campbell (or read Campbell's book by the same name if you're up for a project).
- My final recommendation is personal and probably pretty idiosyncratic. This is J. R. R. Tolkien's essay entitled “On Faerie Tales. " Not only is this the first and greatest essay on what has sadly come to be regarded as children's literature, but, in his epilogue, Tolkien makes the connection between story, happy endings and his own deeply held religious faith. This is not for everyone, but some will some will find it pure Elven healing magic.
My name is John Lord. I am a teacher and a personal coach based in New York city and Puebla, Mexico. My personal mission is to help individuals who at mid-life are looking for proven ways to achieve personal transformation and success.
You can find out more about me and the work we are doing at: http://anotherolddog.blogspot.com