Best-selling author Bruce Feiler explores how we adapt to life’s transitions and get to grips with change. He discovered, almost by accident, that telling your life story has many benefits. Feiler’s father was deeply into incurable Parkinson’s disease and was contemplating taking his own life. Feiler tried to focus him on something constructive and asked his father what toys he played with as a child. This sets his father off into telling his life story. Eventually, he not only tells his story, but writes a book. In the process he starts limiting the effects of his disease.
This turning point experience triggers a new mission for Feiler and sets him up for the Life Story Project. He interviews people from across the USA and asks them to tell their life stories. Through the series of interviews he discovers a common thread. The nonlinear life.
Many of us expect that we will go through life passages – from childhood to adulthood and old age – in more or less a straight line. Instead, his interviews reveal that people experience transitions because of major changes which he calls “life quakes”. These are events like losing a loved one, being fired from a job, changing careers, reversing relationships, changes of faith and more. The linear life experience is an outdated paradigm, giving way to transitions through growth and change. Another common finding is that these life quakes or transitional periods last for about five years. So we spend a great deal of time in phases of transition and should learn to navigate them with greater dexterity. He also describes, quite endearingly, his own health and financial life quakes in the book and his personal stories serve as field guides in a sense.
Why you should read it
This book is filled with conclusions based on his research data. Feiler gives many first-hand accounts of how the lives of his more than 225 ‘subjects’ of the study play out. Toward its end he gives us key lessons in how to address our life transitions. He delineates clearly how there are no fixed stages of life, but that our lives nonetheless go through phases in a non-linear way. The final chapters describe how we can accept the transitions, not by “waiting for the rain to end” but learning to “dance in the rain”.
The most important message is that life’s significant quest for people is to find meaning in their lives and that story telling gives much of that sense of meaning. He refers several times to Victor Frankel’s famous book “Man’s Search for Meaning”.
For people embarking on retirement, or for those already in it, this book is a major resource. Because the Reset advice we give to our members is not to see retirement as a destination but to appreciate it as the next stage of a good and productive life. Feiler’s counsel is particularly valuable. His description of life’s transitions and the way in which they can be identified, managed and accepted are all episodes of the retirement journey.
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