There’s one story I’ve been rewriting every year for a decade now. It’s a story where the facts don’t change, circumstances and characters remain the same, but the grand narrative takes on a different perspective every time.
It’s the story of my life, and I invite you to begin yours too. Why invest all that time to write a story we know like the back of our hands, you may wonder.
Truth is, it’s a story we may think we know oh-so-well, but it’s also one that will continue to surprise with every proper rewrite.
Each time I rewrite mine, I notice new revelations, patterns, and even playful secrets I had never observed before. The focus of each year may change or remain wholly consistent, and that’s just as telling.
Because this act of writing reveals our inner workings. It allows us to delve more deeply into our roots and sheds light on areas in our life — where to reach within or beyond, and even who we ought to forgive, let go, or reconcile with.
Here’s why that story is worth an annual rewrite and what you can expect to discover.
It turns out, there is a story arc in your story.
And if there is a story arc, there is a purpose to it: to move us from frame to frame, episode to episode, chapter to chapter… and meanwhile, to let us grow.
When I sat down to write, I recognised something I’d already known. Seemingly random events can actually connect to form a major story arc.It’s like watching a TV series where each episode resolves its own subplot but also draws us into the season’s overarching story, be it an upcoming battle with the cosmos or the make and break of a relationship.
Life is the same. As I wrote my life story, I began to see the seasons that had come and gone, the iterating theme in those seasons, and how there was an underlying current that had constantly been moving me to where I am.
“Everything happens for a reason” finally makes sense.
That’s usually said when we experience some kind of loss, and often, those reasons are just too elusive and out of reach at the time.
It was only in writing my life story over and over again that I finally began to understand a possible reason or purpose for why some losses occurred or why some relationships ended.
I’ve discovered that certain people were brought into my life at pivotal times when I was at those oft-talked-about crossroads, even when I barely recognised it then.
In the same way, some people had left when we had to split paths.
Probably, they were meant to be there for a season, and never meant to last more than one. Perhaps they were there to help us cross over to the next chapter of our lives, or had left because the fit is not ideal anymore. Either way, these realisations have helped me to greater appreciate their presence, or absence.
Rewriting and revisiting my story helped me see who played what role in my life and how I fit in theirs, and it was in these observations that I was finally led to a possible resolution of past issues one by one, year by year.
Why we do what we do
Life happens so fast sometimes it seems the only ‘pause’ moment we have is to capture a moment to upload on social media with hopes that we’ve secured a worthy memory.
It is only when we’re able to stop and look back that we begin to see with greater clarity the reason for how our life has been unfolding, the significance of choices made and even the purpose of relationships come and gone.
I know I had switched majors on what felt like a whim and fancy back in college; I had considered reasons before changing jobs, and I was very present when life changes occur.
But it was only when I sat down to write my life story that I really saw the significance in those decisions — it was no whim and fancy that led me to switch those majors but an inherent recognition of where my interest and strength lay (something I could not appreciate back then), it was not money or passion alone that made me change jobs but a prompting at the time, a gut feeling that withstood the logical pros and cons that landed me on a final decision.
I saw my strengths and weaknesses, where I had won my battles and where I’d lost before I even begun. You get the idea.
Who we really are
I’ve found it is too easy to play my role in life according to what others tell me — how to be a wife, mother, daughter, friend… how not to be toxic, how to have more empathy, why we should be grateful, who we really are…
All of which are helpful but can be overwhelming and confusing as well. I’ve found sometimes I play my role without truly understanding if that’s how I would really roll.
Writing my life story helped me take a closer look in the mirror. Because in that act of writing, themes and patterns to behaviour, approach and even mentality, begin to reveal themselves.
It is when I see from a ‘big picture’ perspective that core principles show up more characteristically. But so do the flaws. Still, it is only when these are within my grasp that I can then decide what I can do better and where I will not.
Sometimes, we’ve just got to see the pattern first to realise who we were, are, or want to be.
The need for healing and reconciliation
It continues to surprise me even after a decade of rewriting my life story that certain chapters in my life still bring on the tears.
In the initial years when I started this practice, I would just soldier on and tell myself, well, that’s life and life goes on.
Later, a friend would say to me, “Writing your story allows for healing.” And only then did I understand that this act of revisiting my life and the commitment to write it out, is bringing healing and showing up the areas where further reconciliation is required.
Our wounds show us where we hurt. They also show us where mending is needed. Perhaps the healing is one we need to work on internally. Perhaps the healing requires a call to an old friend or a visit to a forgotten memory. Either way, it shows us where to look, and that’s always a good start.
Steve Jobs famously said in his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University that “you can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards.”
The dots are there. Commit to try and connect them at least once a year, and let them surprise us. Maybe they’ll form a constellation just for us, maybe we’ll finally see the big picture, maybe we’ll realise where each dot could’ve veered off to form a different story — and in these, we’ll better understand why we are where we are.
And if dots can only be connected backwards, may we all make more dots and indent them more intentionally, using the engine that best prompts us — be it our gut, our faith, or well-calculated measurements.
Finally, let us lose the full stops. None of our story has concluded. The full picture isn’t seen yet. Let’s always finish our story at the beginning: Here we are now, it’s the start of a new day. What next?
I’ve been rewriting my life story in the faith context since 2008, at least once a year. Sometimes, I wonder if I had rewrote it so much that chapters seem to be more complete, and perspectives, better grounded. Have I peeled away unnecessary layers to finally see my life for what it is… or did I rewrite the story to become what I wanted it to be? I’m still finding out.