“I am going to write my biography,” Joshua told me exuberantly. I met Josh in Central Park last week, and was interviewing him for an upcoming feature story for a professional association. For the past 15 minutes he had been discussing with me the reasons that, no, he does not tell his children stories from his childhood. “Why would they care?” he said with a laugh, before proudly telling me how close he is to them, and bragging of all their accomplishments.
Joshua’s children are adults, working professionally in cities far from their dad, but in regular contact with him. They are indeed close, as Joshua was to his own father—who, by the way, led an extraordinary life of which Joshua only knows some of the details firsthand.
Joshua, a 60-something man of Japanese descent who has lived in New York City for more than 40 years, is far from typical in his experiences. He enthused about his life, sharing stories in rapid-fire succession about everything from his father’s “double Holocaust” (he lost his family in a concentration camp, then, Joshua told me, in later years his wife took everything their young family owned and left Josh’s father to raise three children alone) to his aversion to books (“I’d rather watch people in the park”) to his enduring positive attitude (“no one can take that away from me”).
Empowered by a Listener
After a reluctant two minutes where he told me there was no way to do his story justice in a brief conversation—“that would take years!” he said on another laugh—Joshua launched into his storytelling. No prodding necessary.
This was no interview, really—once Joshua began to share, he couldn’t stop. I asked an occasional question in response to his stories, but he, so positively impacted by an eager listener, I think, was on a roll.
I was enthralled by Joshua’s stories, and by his enthusiasm. He radiated positivity, roaming Central Park with his adopted dog (whose collar, as Josh pointed out, read “Don’t shop - Adopt”) and punctuating his sentences with glorious belly laughs and expansive hand gestures.
And while I view Joshua’s experiences as singular, his attitude of guardedness with his own family is anything but.
The Myth of Disinterest
Josh’s stories were so clearly intriguing—to me, a stranger. Why wouldn’t they be of interest to his own children?
Joshua valued his life experiences enough to dream of writing his autobiography one day, but not of sharing his stories in person with his family. This is the case with so many people I speak with. And it saddens me.
- They think that “the time will come” for them to share their stories.
- They figure one day, when their kids get older and aren’t so busy, maybe the kid will ask questions.
- Or they assume that no one cares; that their story matters to them, but not really to others.
I have heard a litany of excuses as to why people are waiting for “some other day” to tell their stories.
My opinion? Stop making excuses.
(There Will Be a Quiz)
Your stories matter. Share them. Don’t wait for “someday.” Someday is today.
Why should you share your stories?
- Perhaps you want to leave a legacy.
- Enrich the family history for the next generation.
- Help others learn from your experiences.
- Provide a few laughs.
There are so, so many reasons to share your life stories.
The one that I regard as of utmost value, however, is probably the least talked about: It will enrich your life.
Sharing stories with those you love is enriching, plain and simple. Whether you are telling tales of struggle and triumph, love and loss, hardship and pain, rollicking good fun and misadventures…whatever directions your stories veer, they will be welcomed.
There is joy in the telling, and gratitude in the receiving. Storytelling can be cathartic, healing, challenging, difficult. Always, though, storytelling will be rewarding.
Quiz (I Said There’d Be a Quiz, Didn’t I?)
When should you tell your stories? _________________
Joshua would have failed this quiz. He is waiting for “someday.”
How about you?
If your “someday” is today, congratulations!
You’ll find plenty of tips & resources on our blog, including:
- 3 Unexpected Places to Discover Great Life Story Questions
- How to Use Photographs as Prompts for Writing Life Stories
- Books to Help You Write Your Family’s Stories, Even If You Are Not a Writer
- A Journal to Help You Find—and Write—Your Truth
And we’re always here to partner with you on creating a professional heirloom coffee table book, with stories gathered through one-on-one interviews (the heart of our process!). If you would like help capturing your life stories, see how we can work together.