Defining Yourself: What's Your Life Story?

11/09/2010 04:39 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Are you willing to re-examine one of the most important parts of who you are?

Life stories do not only describe our lives, they define them. These stories do far more than re-tell what happened to us, they also set the stage for what will happen to us.

We have all met the person who carries a negative life story. It might focus on limitations or bad luck. It might blame someone or something. But the message is strong. I can't do things now because of my past experience.

We have also met the person who seems to emanate possibility and joy. Someone who says my life story is about how I respond to challenges, how I appreciate what I have.

Imagine that every morning as you get out of bed, you reach down and pick up a briefcase filled with your life story. Then you carry it with you all day. What does yours say?

Does your story say you have suffered loss or been hurt so deeply that you will never get over it? Or does your story say, "Life is hard sometimes, but I am resourceful, not to mention still breathing, and I have free choice and the ability to change patterns that don't work for me."

These are generalizations, I know. But you can fill in your own blanks. The point is simple: a life story tells you who you are, and that definition will have a profound effect on how you live you life.

Lisa Dale Norton, in her book "Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir," says it well:

"Creating a new story by which you can live your life ... is the act of ordering the chaos of the past, assigning meaning through the narrative process, and simultaneously creating a truth you can carry into the future, upon which you can base future choices.

Can we change the past? No. But a life story is far more than a list of past details. It is our interpretation of those details, our creation of meaning. As Ms. Norton says, telling our own stories allows to create our own truth.

Challenge: Write your own life story in a short paragraph. How have you lived? Who are you? Then put your paragraph away. After a few days, read it aloud. Does it capture your spirit? How can you change the story -- not the facts -- to better fit who you are and the life you want to live?

A version of this post first appeared in CASA Santa Barbara Magazine.