A recent poll found that the number-one retirement aspiration of baby boomers is to write a memoir.
Amazing?! Not really.
For years I suffered from a debilitating self doubt. I hid it reasonably well in public, but inside, it ate away at me. Writing my memoir, "King of Doubt," to my surprise and delight, became a huge factor in changing the foundation of my life from doubt to wonder.
Before I wrote "King of Doubt," I had no interest in writing a memoir. "Why hash over the past?" I thought. I’d rather forget about all that stuff. And who would want to read it anyway?
My daughter Caitlin kept at me. “Daddy, you have so many great stories to tell.”
“I do?” I said. I remembered how I regretted missing the chance to encourage my parents to document their stories. I didn’t recognize the loss until it was too late. The stories were lost.
I still wasn’t convinced that I wanted to write my memoir. “I’ll do it for the kids,” I thought. And so I wrote a story. About a race I was in when I was 5, living in Scotland. I won the race. But I lost my soul. Traded it to the devil. It was in the writing about that race that I remembered how painful it had been. How I thought for sure that all my classmates would like and admire me, now that I had won. But just the opposite happened. They shunned me. Told me I had cheated. I retreated inside. It was the moment I began to fashion my life around trying to please others, until I could no longer recognize my own shadow. That story became the first chapter of my memoir.
I thought I wouldn’t remember much of my early life, but once I started writing, one memory jogged another. Pretty soon I was staying up late at night to write, and getting up early in the morning. I had fire in the belly like I hadn’t had for years. It wasn’t all easy. I wrote and I rewrote. Now that "King of Doubt" has been published, I can’t think of a project from any phase of my life that I am more proud of, or that I enjoyed more, or that I learned more from.
Teaching memoir and mindfulness and writing and publishing my own memoir has taught me a few fundamental truths:
1. We all have a story to tell.
2. Though most of us know the basic facts of our lives, many of us have little real understanding of the story of our lives.
3. Many of us cling to outworn assumptions and beliefs about who we are. These “false stories,” that we perhaps adopted as children or young adults, imprison us in fear, often well into our senior years.
4. An enormously liberating way to break out of our “false stories” is to write a memoir. Writing a memoir is a gift to oneself, and often a legacy gift to children and grandchildren.
5. You cannot change the facts of your life, but you can change the meaning of your experience. It is this “subjective interpretation of our life story” that locks us into fear. The combination of writing a memoir and practicing mindfulness satisfies deep needs, can bring great joy and liberate a spirit that has been in hiding for decades.
A memoir can focus on career, or family, or loss, or spiritual growth, or a hobby, or travel, or health challenges, or … well, the list is infinite. You can write it just for yourself and never show it to anyone, or write for your kids and family, or write for publication and a broader audience. Not so long ago, the dominant belief was that only politicians, celebrities and criminals had a story worth telling. Not so. Everyone has a story to tell.
I’m so glad I told mine.
Peter Gibb’s multiple award winning memoir, "King of Doubt," is now available in paperback and e-book, on line and through local bookstores. He will be giving an introductory workshop, memoir and mindfulness from 2 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 15, at the Ashland Public Library. Other scheduled talks are listed on his website at www.petergibb.org. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 541-488-5221.