This quote has been ricocheting around my head like a helter-skelter:
"The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won't make a story meaningful, it won't make a life meaningful either." — Donald Miller.
There are many parallels between writing a meaningful story and building a meaningful life. The marks of a good story are the marks of a good life.
I believed good stories were all about action, excitement and drama. But, thinking back, the stories that I cherish don't have much, if any, of those things. The stories that have stayed with me are about relationships, morality, and love.
"Tell me the facts and I'll learn. Tell me the truth and I'll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever." — Ancient proverb.
The simplest stories, about the smallest moments, are the ones we carry with us.
Matthew Dicks explains in his book Storyworthy how all stories are about a five-second moment:
"All great stories — regardless of length or depth or tone — tell the story of a five-second moment in a person's life. Got that? Let me say it again: Every great story ever told is essentially about a five-second moment in the life of a human being, and the purpose of the story is to bring that moment to the greatest clarity possible."
Our lives will have many of these five-second moments. Hold on to them. They'll keep you warm as your time on stage draws to a close.
The beautiful thing about stories is that we each have one. We all tell ourselves a tale that shapes who we are. We build our character out of that story.
The question of 'what is the meaning of life' is an ambiguous one, often met with the answer 'it's different for everyone’. I was a subscriber to that camp, believing that we each assign our meaning to life. That was until I discovered Dr Jim Loehr's work and what he calls 'the hidden scorecard'.
Dr Loehr is a world-renown performance psychologist and best-selling author, who has worked with everyone from FBI Hostage Negotiators to Olympic gold medal-winning athletes. In his book 'Leading with Character', he describes a hidden scorecard in life. We have the outward, external metrics of success. But, we have another secret score that pertains to our moral and ethical values, the people we are at our core. In the book, Dr Loehr shares the results from an experiment he conducts with his clients. The experiment consists of two life-changing exercises.
He first presents the group with this question:
Who are you when you're proud of yourself?
The results? Absent from that list was all the things the majority of people spend their life chasing. No one said they feel they're best at work, when they're winning or making a lot of money.
Instead, they all mentioned aspects of the hidden scorecard, such as:
"When I'm 100% present and engaged with my family and friends."
"When I'm trustworthy, compassionate and kind."
These people went immediately to their moral and ethical categories for determining who they are at their best.
Dr Leohr had the group complete a second exercise. He asked them to write 6 to 8 of the words they would like inscribed on their tombstone. The words that best encapsulate themselves during their short stay.
When it came time for them to reveal their answers, they all looked around the room in shock.
Mouths gaped in disbelief.
The results? Identical.
The words that showed up were: loving, caring, humble and kind. They all referenced their connection to others. This connection is woven into the tapestry of our psyche; it's the gold standard for measuring the kind of humans we are.
It's not the exciting moments in our lives that define who we are, nor provide meaning. It's the obstacles we overcome. The battle to become who we aspire to be. The relationships we develop and the kindness we share.