My doctoral studies have moved into the research phase, undertaking in-depth interviews with a small number of people. Whilst my research interest is in life after retirement from full time work, I want to understand their life leading up to this time. To learn more of their story.

Stories are useful. They help us to organise and make sense of our lives. But stories are remembered, they are reconstructions of our experience.

I want to consider more about the back story to our lives. There are always differing views to a particular situation. A misunderstanding perhaps, between two people there is one persons’ view, the other persons and the truth often lies somewhere in between. So with our history, we can have a fractured view of past events, perhaps we remember more of how other people talk about, for example, a childhood event.

When we look back over our career history it can look like a logical route, it all makes sense when we look backwards, but often our career is unplanned and we take advantage of opportunities. (Happenstance). With myself, taking an Open University Degree back in the early 80s, if I hadn’t decided to take psychology courses, and gain a degree recognised by the British Psychological Society, I may well have become a probation officer or Reflexologist. And never meeting, by chance a man who told me about Vision Quests, well … I would be unlikely to be looking at nature-based work and had the life changing experience of the quest.

Many times, we had choices, sliding door moments.  But for this article, more important is understanding our history, taking ownership and being authentic for what we did. Even when there may be feelings of shame or regret.

Is it important to have the truth? As an English nation, we remember the battles won and play down the terrible hundred years war between England and France. Stories were passed down in years gone by of successes and victories to inspire around the fire. Alongside the stories to scare on a cold night.

Interesting to read recently in an article in The Atlantic from Daniel Kahneman, the Israeli Nobel Prize winner, who has talked about the “cognitive trap” of confusing experience and memory. What we experience in life isn’t what we remember. Instead, we form a story of what happened, to make sense of events. “There is an experiencing self, who lives in the present and knows the present,” Kahneman explains. “Then there is a remembering self, and the remembering self is the one that keeps score.”  (quoted from the article).

We choose what we want to remember, the evidence to support where we want to go. We maybe don’t want to recall the setbacks, the failed relationships, the roads not taken. And maybe, over time we do forget these, and the way we have perhaps embellished the past becomes true to us. We don’t mean to lie, but take our own interpretation of events.

I’d also like to expand further into the role of story in becoming the person that we want to be. We can create short stories, vignettes of our past. Tell them enough times and they become true. The story of when we were the hero and rescued the child, or the princess. Or fought the dragon or found the treasure.

I’d like to encourage my clients to remember their full story and look at the lessons learned. Working with people who are unhappy in their work, I want them to make choices that will lead to a fulfilled future. I almost used the word happy, but I don’t think we always need to be happy; fulfilled seems closer to what people seem to want. Fulfilled by a life of meaning.


Image by Tomáš Lhotský from Pixabay


This article first appeared on the Amazing People website