If you had to write a report of your life what would it say? How would you evaluate yourself or even choose which chapters to highlight? This is a question David Brooks asked his readers. A month ago, David Brooks asked readers over 70 to send him their Life Reports. He asked them to take a step back and write a brief essay about what they had learned in "the realms of private life, career, faith, community, work and self knowledge." Since then he has begun to post the 'Life Reports', and the stories he received are poignant, fascinating, and thought provoking.
The Life ReportsWriters of many different backgrounds contributed to the long list of Life Reports that have been submitted. They share with us the highlights of their lives, which include their successes and failures, their regrets and their fond memories, and the relationships they made along the way. Here are some of my favorite pieces of self-reflection:
"Part II. Grade C+. Later I recognized how unhappy I was even as an active, well respected pastor. This effected my ability to father my children properly, but I chalked it up to “being busy for the Lord.”
"At 56, while working and studying at nights and on weekends, I obtained a BA degree, Cum Laude, with English honors, from Marymount Manhattan College. Graduation was one of the most joyous, exciting and rewarding times of my life.....I try to live my life remembering a little poem my mother loved: Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. "
"Six years ago tragedy struck our household. My dear, sweet Adrienne was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. So, here comes the redemption. It never occurred to me for a moment that it would not be my duty and my pleasure to take care of my sweetie. After all, she took care of me in every possible way she could for 55 years. The last six years have been my turn, and certainly I have had the best of the bargain."
"As for my own marriage and family life: B-. If I (we) had one do-over, it would be adopting an infant rather than a six-year-old. And I must admit that I wish both I and my wife had better control over our anger. Too many verbal fights are regrettable to say the least."
“It took me twenty years of my fifty-year marriage to discover how unwise it was to attempt to remake my wife. ... I learned also that neither could I remake my friends or students.”
How do you evaluate your life?One of the most insightful parts of this experiment was the manner in which people examined their lives. David summarizes with the reader some of his thoughts and discoveries after reading through many Life Reports.
- Divide your life into chapters. Many uphappy readers saw "time as an unbroken flow with themselves as corks bobbing on top of it." The happier readers were able to divide time into phases by looking at time as something that could be broken down, they were more able to stop and self appraise. "They had more control over their own fate."
- You can't control other people. David Leshan, and many other writers made this observation. However, other reports submitted by stepparents indicate that it took years for them to be accepted by their stepchildren.
- Measure people by their growth, not their talents. Regina Titus is an example of this, despite demeaning jobs and a troubled personal life as a young woman, she was able to receive a college education at the age of 56. David Brooks calls her a "story of relentless self expansion."
- Lean toward risk. "Many more seniors regret the risks they didn't take than regret the ones they did."
- People get better at the art of living. For many individuals it wasn't until their 60s where they really "found their zone."
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