At this point in our lives, it can feel good to state—with some authority—that we’ve “been there.” This is a shorthand way of saying that the depth and breadth of our life histories might be valuable for others. That the accumulation of our skills and experiences might also name our enduring practical wisdom. Recalling this truth about our lives may equip us to be story-tellers of high worth, exemplary grandparents, experienced mentors, gentle prophets or fascinating subjects for feature stories in the local gazette.
Here’s how I think “been there” can work: When you’re asked about examples of instructive life-experiences, you can describe past events, proficiencies, relationships, roles or adventures for the benefit of people around you—offering advice, instruction, comfort, companionship or caution. When you’re tempted to get down on yourself, these memories can reassure you about the worth of your life, then and now. When you’re trying to understand today’s world, you can step back into your own history and recall how you made sense of similar situations. And when it comes time for someone else to characterize your life in an obituary notice or eulogy, it might be good for that writer/speaker to know the full extent of your experiences.
As you try to reconstruct a mental file folder that holds your significant (or useful) life experiences, consider these memory prompts and hints:
1. What experiences come to mind as you revisit (in your mind) various places on a national or international map?
2. Inside of and beyond your occupation and family, what roles have you filled during your life?
3. What (semi)famous people have you met? Which of them might know you by name?
4. When have you learned important life lessons the hard way?
5. Who were your mentors when you were starting your career?
6. Where in your life have you interacted with a unique device, mechanism, process or tool?
7. When have you faced extreme difficulties, danger—or even death?
8. Naming various personality traits, what/who brought you to believe/act/think this way?
9. Where in life do some people name you as an expert?
10. What perhaps-unknown adventures have you engaged in?
11. What do you cherish about the natural world?
12. What makes you unique? Ordinary?
13. What life lessons have you learned over and over again?
14. What good decisions did you make? What harmful decisions did you avoid?
15. How has your spiritual core added to having “been there”?
1. Think of situations in which your accumulated life experiences could be useful for someone else. (E.g., authoring a memoir; telling instructive stories to grandkids; mentoring the person who will replace you at work; counseling a friend.)
2. Don’t be overly modest about your life’s accomplishments.
3. Credit others—and God’s providence—where appropriate.
4. Imagine how you could share these experiences with just the right amount of detail and emotion.
5. For easier recall, think of simple descriptive titles for your life experiences. (E.g., Visiting the Mexico City Dump)
6. Hang on to the artifacts that might add detail to these life experiences; make sure someone else knows the stories behind them.
7. Reconnect with someone who helped you know the score.
8. Start writing or recording some of those memories in an easily accessible place/format.
Remembering who I’ve become because of where I’ve been, I cherish these later years as a time to remind myself of the wealth of experiences by which God has filled my life with blessings. And I can thank God for somehow leading me through “been there” circumstances toward this valuable time of life.
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