If someone were to ask you what your most important life lessons have been, what would you say? And why?
The first question occurred to me recently in response to a writing prompt about losing and finding, or loss and gain. And I was surprised to discover that it was easier for me to write about what I’ve lost than to write about what I’ve found. Easier to write about pain than joy, tragedy over triumph. Perhaps that’s because I discount my accomplishments, tending to focus instead on my failures, on dreams discarded like old clothing because they don’t fit anymore, and on the pain of endings instead of the excitement of beginnings.
I know I’m not alone in this, because I’ve talked to so many writers and journalers who feel compelled to write when things go wrong, rather than when things go right.
Then — still in response to the writing prompt — when I attempted to focus on what I’ve found, my life’s lessons bubbled to the surface. Hard-earned wisdom that I’d want to share with my children and grandchildren, if they cared to listen. Hard-earned, but not always the result of pain, for I have found that life’s wisdom comes as much from joy as it does from grief. Or perhaps it’s the contrast between the two that teaches us so much.
What about you?
I invite you to use this week’s journaling prompts to help focus your thoughts on what you’ve learned and distill that wisdom for others:
- Brainstorm a list of at least 50 of your life’s lessons. (Yes, you do have that many — maybe more.) Include the mundane (Every day, tell your children you love them) with the profound (Recognizing our own mistakes helps us be more compassionate toward others). It may help to begin each sentence with, “I have learned …”
- If you could pass on only five bits of wisdom from your list, which five would they be? Circle them and rewrite each at the top of a new page in your journal.
- For each of the five lessons you selected, freewrite for five minutes. You don’t have to do this all in one session. Choose one to write about each day. Or draw a creative cluster followed by a five-minute freewriting session. You might want to consider why these five are so important to you and what you did or experienced to learn them.
- Using one of your lessons from your brainstormed list (it doesn’t have to be one of your top five), finish the sentence, “When I realized ___________, my life changed in the following ways: …”
- If someone had shared this wisdom with you when you were young, would you have listened? Why or why not?
- Did (or do) you have someone in your life who gave you the benefit of his or her life’s lessons? If so, describe this person and how you interacted with each other. Write a scene in dialogue to bring his or her voice alive again. If you didn’t have anyone in your life like that, did you wish you did? Did you seek out a good friend or mentor or idol to fill this need for wisdom? Or did you go it alone?
- Who do you want to pass your wisdom to? Write a letter to one or more of those people, explaining that you hope to give them the benefit of one of your life’s lessons. Tell them what it is, how you learned it, and how you hope it will help them in their lives. You may choose to send your letters, or put them in an envelope to save with your journals.
Now that you’ve thought and written about it, do you have some wisdom you’d like to share with us? Please leave a comment.