Re-Creating a Life: Learning How to Tell Our Most Life-giving Story Book Report
Author: Diane M. Millis, PhD
Book Report By: Becky Williams
1. Discover the story you are telling yourself
The author asks the reader (or workshop participant) through a serious of questions and exercises in this section of the book to help the reader hear and see what story they typically tell others (and consequently themselves) when meeting someone for the first time. She asks the reader to put a title to their life story as if it was a book title. Another exercise she uses is to start the reader’s story with “Once Upon a Time…” and see what the reader learns about themselves.
2. Develop fresh eyes and ears to hear new stories
In this section of the book, Millis asks her reader to tell their story in the third person and ask the questions: Who is the protagonist in this story? What is the protagonist’s name and why? The author’s personal example of this was entitled “Wanting to be Seen’ because there is so much more to her than meets the eye.” (p. 45). The reader is to ask: What does your protagonist find life-giving? What does your protagonist find limiting? What is your protagonist seeking?
Millis focuses most of her book on this second point of developing a new story. She writes of multiple writing activities used with her university students to flush out a new story, one they choose to own and tell. Such activities include the questions of: Who is one of the heroes in your story? Who is one of the villains? What experiences are you trying to see more clearly? What would you ask and tell your younger self? What stories are you tired of hearing yourself tell? What stories are you wrestling with how to tell? With whom would you most like to tell your story? What stories would you like to better understand? What stories break your heart?
3. Discern the stories waiting to be told
Millis discusses the idea of picking one day in the reader’s story of life that they would want to re-create. From there, the author asks the reader to reflect on creating a new story of the reader’s best possible future self but focusing on: the protagonist’s name and why that name was given, what the protagonist found life giving, how the protagonist overcame or met her limitations, and finally, what does the protagonist choose to highlight in her life story.
4. "Hear into speech" one another’s stories
Millis’ final point made in this book is the importance of creating a setting in which one is free to tell their story. She believes that others can tell their stories if the listeners create an environment “to hear us into speech.” This includes offering a space to listen with attention and care. Millis created the 4,4,4 Storytelling Process. First the focus person has 4 minutes to tell their story in response to one of the questions featured in her book. The listeners take turns contributing their responses to the story, taking no longer than 4 minutes. They respond:
The focus person then has up to 4 minutes to describe what she/he is discovering about her/his story. Finally, all participants in the group pause for one minute in silence to honor what has been shared.
How this Topic Relates to Coaching
As I read this book, I found Millis’ questions aligning with many of the coaching questions we ask clients: what is the story you tell yourself? What do you believe to be true about your story? What is fueling/feeding the story you are telling yourself? How does the story you are currently telling yourself make you feel?
Many clients seek out coaching because they want more insight into their lives, discernment about decisions, clarity, steps for achieving goals, and even possibly to bring about change. Millis’ tools and activities around self-discovery and re-creating a person’s individual story resemble many of the tools we may use in our coaching. For example, the title of the book of one’s life, the who, what, and when questions which fill out the story, allow a client to explore, dream, re-create the story they prefer. Her tools serve to empower a client to create a story of their life from the past, present and future that is life-giving. This tool fits into the coaching approach we use as we invite clients to a time of self-discovery and a personal intention of how they choose to show up in the world.
My Favorite Quote
Millis quotes another author in her book after she describes his work.
“In 2003, Dave Isay set up a recording booth in Grand Central Station and launched the StoryCorps Project. Isay had learned, through his work as a documentary radio producer, that a microphone gives people permission to ask questions of others that they normally wouldn’t ask. Since then, tens of thousands of people have been asked by a friend or family member to share their stories in one of the StoryCorps recording booths found throughout the country. Isay reflects in his book Ties that Bind, “We can discover the most profound and exquisite poetry in the words and stories of the noncelebrated people around us, if we just have the courage to ask meaningful questions and the patience to listen closely to the answers.” p. 93-94