In the course of his research, Dan McAdams has found that everyone has a story — but summarizing an entire life isn’t easy. To facilitate the process, he has created an interview format that encourages his subjects to share the most important moments from their past. To construct your own life story, follow this condensed version of McAdams’ script (he suggests you try this exercise with a friend or relative, taking turns talking and listening). By the end, you’ll probably find that your life truly is a great story.
Think of your life as if it were a book. Divide the story into chapters (at least two or three, and at the most seven). Give each chapter a name and briefly summarize the contents. Think of this as the overall outline of your story.
For the next section, think about key events in your life — specific moments rather than experiences that play out over days or months. For each of the following events, describe what you were feeling or thinking, who was involved and what this event says about you as a person:
Looking back over the various scenes, describe the single greatest challenge you have faced in your life. How did you handle it? How has it impacted your life story?
Describe the people who had the greatest positive and the greatest negative influence in your story. (Think of them as the heroes and villains of your book.)
First, describe a positive future: what you would like to happen in the rest of your life story (be as realistic as possible). Then, describe a negative future: something that could happen but that you hope does not happen.
Looking back over your entire life story, can you see a central theme, message or idea? What is the major theme of your life story?