Ten years ago, if you were to ask me whether I believed my life was worth remembering, I would have said “probably not”. Though I’ve been fortunate in many ways (both personally and professionally), most of my life has never been of interest to anyone else.
Growing up, I always felt alone. While I enjoyed a few close friendships and intimate relationships, over time (aside from my marriage) they had all ended. Pretty much as far back as I can remember, I never really had anyone I could truly call a ‘close friend’.
Sure there were plenty of people that would come to the house, eat our food, enjoy some drinks, share some laughs, and play some games. But then you’d never hear from them again until there was another party or get-together. And despite having hundreds of ‘friends’, never once did anyone express interest in getting to know me on a deeper level. It was always about them: listening to them, supporting them, and helping them (all of which I was happy to do).
As a result though, I often found myself doubting the purpose of my very existence. While I was always willing to be there and support my friends, no one really cared about my story. When I was in their presence, no one offered to ask me questions about my life beyond the typical “how are you; how is work” scenario. They never bothered asking me for advice on a topic they knew I was very knowledgeable in, nor did they make an effort to encourage me during the more difficult times.
Bottom line, it was never about me. And after a while you can’t help but feel like your life is meaningless. Like you are just another leaf hanging on a tree…that will eventually be replaced, and forgotten.
So that is when I decided to try an experiment. Three times a week for two months, I would write one short paragraph about a memory from that day. Some were good, some were bad. But most of these short stories were just normal daily experiences, ranging from incidents at work…to places I went that day…to emotions I was experiencing at the time.
Once those two months had ended, I stored everything in my own little ‘memoir’ box , and placed it in a safe location to be opened at a later date. I promised myself not to touch that box for 5 years because I wanted to see if these stories would have a different meaning later on in life. Come my 35th birthday, this box (and the memories inside) would be a gift to look forward to.
So five years of life experiences had gone by, and eventually my 35th birthday was here. It was time to open the memoir box and relive the memories of long ago.
Sitting there with my family nearby, we were all very excited…and perhaps I was a little bit nervous as well. What would we uncover? What would I remember? What did I forget? What would make us smile? And what would make us cry?
The fact is, I remembered almost nothing…and smiled at almost everything.
I can’t begin to describe that feeling when you’re reading something you wrote about so long ago. It was like you were instantly taken back in time to moments that you thought you would never forget, but did.
However, the most amazing part was being able to share these memories with my wife and young son (who coincidentally was almost 5 years old himself). He was able to understand the stories I read, and sometimes relate them to an experience in his own life. The same held true for my wife. And even I looked back on those days and realized how some of those moments brought me to where I was today.
As we rifled through the papers, we were all thirsty for more. My wife and son genuinely wanted to hear the details behind those moments that I had forgotten about. Even I found myself eager to keep digging through the memoir box, and a bit disappointed when we had finally reached the bottom.
But that was the life-changing moment for me.
I haven’t really done anything big or “news worthy” in life. I’m not a celebrity. I don’t have a lot of money. I haven’t traveled the world. I’m not a motivational speaker. And virtually everyone I’ve met along the way has probably forgotten about me.
But when I sat with my family looking through those memoirs together, all of us smiled. All of us wanted more. All of us wanted to dive deeper and look for photos, documents, and videos that were taken around the same time. In the end, ALL of us had a genuine interest in the moments that made up my life story all those years ago.
In seeing our reactions to these small bits of paper, I suddenly realized that my story DOES matter. Just because I had no close friends, and lived a fairly normal life, it doesn’t mean my story is any less important than the person sitting near me on the bus, for example.
The evening of my 35th birthday has taught me that the rollercoaster of life is one that many take for granted. People will come and go. And memories will fade almost as quickly as they are created. We will experience a wide range of emotions, and might occasionally feel like our life is nothing special.
But despite it all, life is just another story that eventually has an ending. That is why it’s up to us to document that story the best we can, as it happens. Otherwise, we will one-day be forgotten.
And that is why I now regularly add certain memories to my Footprint, documenting the milestones in my life that I wish to leave behind for myself, my family, and perhaps a friend I will one day grow close with.
So whether it’s for you, your family, people you’ve known, or people from the future you’ll never get the chance to meet…I’ve learned that a memoir (no matter how simple) can help you build a legacy that will live on. Because there will always be someone, somewhere, who will want to know more about the journey you once took, and the life you once lived.