As you write your memoir, the path you took over your lifetime will unfold. You will discover more about yourself-your values, beliefs and the meaning of your life. To understand where you are today, it helps to spend some time thinking about your family-grandparents, parents and siblings-as they played a major role in your life. In this fourth article of the "Memoir Writing" series, you are going to explore your early years that helped formulate your life and in many ways defined the man or woman that you have become.
Much has been written about family and the early environmental impact on each of us. Our early years are our very first environment and form our experience and knowledge. It shapes our behavior-either/both negatively or positively. Your family’s economic status played a role in the person that you became. The most important aspect of your family and family life is whether there was adequate food, housing, social and emotional support during your childhood.
As you transitioned from childhood to adulthood, you were trained for independence with growing knowledge of family and outside problems. Many of your early relationships impacted your later interpersonal relationships. The goal was to prepare each of us to take part and become an economically productive member of society.
For example Lee Iacocca was the son of Italian immigrants. Iacocca rose through the ranks to become President of Ford Motor Company. While at Ford he is credited with creating the Mustang that sold over 400,000 in the first year. Later in life, he was responsible for the rebirth of Chrysler from near bankruptcy. Iacocca credits his family with the values that helped him succeed in life. Iacocca said the following about family:
"I learned about the strength you can get from a close family life. I learned to keep going, even in bad times. I learned not to despair, even when my world was falling apart. I learned that there are no free lunches. And I learned about the value of hard work."
As you entered adulthood you may have married and had a family of your own. If so, this marks the beginning of a new generation. You may have been surprised to find yourself replicating some of your early childhood lessons and traditions from your parents. You also learned that you remain a parent even when your children grow into adults. Part of your identity is your marital and parental roles.
For instance Art Linkletter had a very multi-faceted career that lifted our spirits for more than sixty years. He told his life story in three different segments each covering a twenty-year period of his life. Art Linkletter wrote his first autobiography at 40, his second at 60 and his final at 80. In his three autobiographies he describes going from being a hobo riding freight trains to getting a college education and going from radio to a TV career. With all his success he brags about getting the biggest applause when he announces, "I have been married to the same girl for seventy years". He describes himself as the "tent pole of my family" by being involved in every business his kids have started. He says that he is making up for the things he didn’t have as a young boy living in poverty.
As you chronicle your living legacy, you will surround yourself with the greatest influences in your life-family. Some family members were your circle of support, cheerleaders and advocates while others were your soothsayers. It is time to document your family members and the role that each played in your life. This document includes a list of key information for each family member including name, date of birth, date of death and birth place. As you list each family member, recall memories about each of them. Keep separate notes about family members that impacted or changed your life as they played an important role in your living legacy.
Every family member, circumstance and experience contributed to the fabric of your life. The circumstances and experiences of your early years played a key role in defining your life and life mission, your living legacy.