By Julie Hadler, LCSW, Older Adults Therapist
Feeling a little down or isolated lately? It might be time to pause and take stock of your past and your purpose. “Life Review” is often associated with estate planning, but in this case, we mean it as an organized way to explore the value and meaning of your life story. By taking time to pause and reflect on your accomplishments, emotional growth, and future legacy, you can develop more compassion for yourself and discover more purpose in life.
Reviewing your entire life story may sound ambitious, so take it in small bites. Here is a step-by-step guide:
1. Choose at least five significant events or periods of time to chronicle. Here are few examples:
- My Growing Up Years
- Launching Into Adulthood
- My Family as an Adult
- My Jobs and Vocation
- Adjustment and Challenges
- Taking Time During Retirement
- My Legacy (recommended)
2. Identify at least two benefits you hope to gain from this activity. For example, you can anticipate finding satisfaction in your accomplishments, identifying wisdom you’ve gained and can share, or strengthening your courage to risk trying new activities.
3. Choose the form of communication that best suit you. Will you do an audio or video recording? Journal? Scrapbook?
4. Commit to begin. Make a specific goal (whether for progress or completion of your Life Review) that is measurable, achievable, and relevant to your current schedule and priorities.
5. Begin with whatever life period you are most interested in. You may start by writing a few paragraphs or choosing a few photos and giving them captions. Perhaps create some themes that describe important events, such as “Mischief with My Best Friend” or “How We Named Our First Child.” As you choose each memory, ask yourself: What did I learn through this success or struggle? Consider asking family or friends to contribute photos, drawings, or stories.
6. For the “My Legacy” section, here are a few prompts to get you thinking:
- How can I share my wisdom, talents, and resources in a way that will make younger people curious about the world in which I grew up?
- When have I made the best use of my strengths and talents?
- How can I use my talents and resources in new situations or in new ways?
- Might my past successes motivate me to risk trying something new? How?
- With which people or groups do I most want to share my Life Story? Why?
In my vocation as a social worker, I have helped several older adults compile a Life Story, and we have shared laughter and consternation about the strange beauty of life. I pray your experience will also be rich and rewarding, leading you more fully appreciate your contribution to our world.
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