The stories of our lives are rooted in change.
In my writing class, I teach people to mine the highs and lows of those stories.
First, we make a timeline of events that generate important documents: births, marriages, legal dispositions, and deaths. Next, we layer life-changing moments like graduations, job or address changes, diagnoses, “joinings” (think clubs, churches, or even friend or exercise groups), and gains and losses, financial or otherwise. Entrepreneurs add a few peak and valley moments from their market-condition-dependent endeavors to the list.
From these data-rich points emerges a hearty list of tales worth excavating.
Four years ago, I stood at a crossroads where several of these points in my story collided. I could dress this juncture up with lofty words that make it seem like I was pondering dreamily, “What shall I do with the rest of my life?” But really, it was a street fight with a mean little gang of circumstances trying to clobber me all at once. It wasn’t the easiest moment, but I had fought this fight before, with fewer resources and against bigger, meaner thugs. While I wasn’t as afraid as I might have been, it was still a challenging time.
A couple of years before, I spent hours with a coach talking about my changing whys and a nearly suffocating sense that the clock was ticking. I admitted to having a lifelong dream I’d like to unpack before they call my name on a roll up yonder. I want to write my way to that heavenly home.
For more than forty years, I herded stories into weekly and monthly community publications. I worked with talented professionals and collaborated with readers, customers, and vendors who made these endangered journals possible. Innumerable inspiring life stories, including hundreds featured in Fayette Woman, were released into the world under my watch. But in the closing scene of my own story, I want to be writing.
Bless her beautiful, patient heart. Whenever I met with my coach, she found new and unique ways to say, more or less, “What are you waiting for? What has to change to make this possible?” The answer, of course, was me.
I didn’t abandon my day job, but I did put a plan in motion. I came up with a name for a new company that would help people tell their stories. I prepared to repurpose editing and publishing skills, add some writing, and then see what happened. I set that company up and found a first project. My coach had a book she needed help with, which was a great place to start. Soon, other opportunities began to flow my way.
I hoped to do “all the things.” When it became painfully clear that I could not, I faced a choice most of us encounter a few times in our lives: Stay and try to make something work that wasn’t working for me anymore? Or go all in on the new thing? I sought counsel from family and friends, people I knew wanted the best for me. Unanimously, they said, “Go for it.”
In hindsight, things are easier to analyze. “Of course, this is how it should be,” we say. “It makes so much sense.” But in the stay-or-go moment, it’s anything but obvious. Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.” (Did I mention this plan, launched in the fall of 2019, including working from home or wherever I like? How’s that timing look in the rearview mirror?)
Today I help people tell their stories and make sense of their journeys, to capture the essence of their lives for family and friends. We all stand on someone’s shoulders, and people we will never know will stand on ours. Sharing our stories is a way to pay our experience forward to future generations, to tell people that we survived so they will believe that they can too.
Today, I’m deliriously happy with my work. Does this mean everything’s perfect? Do I have it all figured out? No. I’m learning and evolving. But I’m in a place I never imagined, having experiences and opportunities I could never have foreseen. Every situation is different, but if you’re considering a change, I hope you hear me say: Your story’s not over. You’re still writing it. Don’t be afraid to live your dream.
Joyce Beverly believes that every one of us has a story. The lifelong community journalist and former publisher of Fayette Woman has been sharing peoples’ stories for more than forty years. In 2019, she rebooted. Today, she writes and edits memoirs, coaches people to write their stories, and provides publishing services for indie authors. Find her at mystoryographer.com.
"I faced a choice most of us encounter a few times in our lives: Stay and try to make something work that wasn’t working for me anymore? Or go all in on the new thing?"