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Finding the Olympic Gold in Your Life Story

How life story writing is much like training and competing in the Olympic Games
Article by Tom Gilbert - © July 27, 2012

London 2012 Summer Olmpic Games
Another Summer Olympic Games is about to begin. This time London is the host for the 2012 gathering. I’ve been thinking about the Olympics, why it appeals to me and what might be the analogy to life story writing.

First of all, the Olympics are appealing because it is a global event. The world is watching and the stage is international. The elite athletes from all around our planet convene for these games and it is an event that draws billions of spectators.

By its very nature this should call to mind all that we are on planet Earth.

There is both the good and the bad in this. Just as in life. We have our proud moments of victory; we have our agony of defeats.

The United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Australia, China – basically the world's superpowers – tend to dominate in winning the medals (see table). But high drama can emerge at any time and from virtually any country’s competitor. This is appealing to me, the underdog story.

Competing in the Olympics is hard work. But so is writing a life story. Both require many hours of preparation, practice and revision. And don’t discount training. That may be obvious for Olympic athletes. But life story writers must also train. We must train our writing muscles. We must train our minds. We must discipline ourselves to persevere, even when it feels like we can’t go on. Kind of like the challenges in the Olympic arena.

In the end we want to “get the gold”. The highest achievement for an Olympic competitor is to take home the Gold Medal in their event. The greatest and most gratifying achievement for a life story writer is to find the gold in his/her story.

The journey to the award platform starts long before the actual event. There are hours of grueling training followed by various levels of competition just to get to the Olympic Trials. It is a long road to even become a representative for your country.

Life story writers also tend to start in obscurity, with the kernel of their life’s journey in mind. You must develop a memory list and expand on it. You will review pictures, talk with others, and then there is thinking, thinking, and more thinking. There are countless days of writing about various experiences followed by many revisions. There is the huge task of shaping your narrative and then seeking feedback (all good athletes have coaches, why shouldn’t life writers?).

I'm no elite athlete, but I have played in various sports. And after the age of fifty I ran two marathons and continue to do long distance running. I find it hard, but extremely gratifying on many levels. There is something spiritual to me about running several miles. But it requires continual training. There's no way around it - if I want to run a half or full marathon I have to put in the legwork.
Tom Gilbert crossing the finish line of a marathon
Yes, it is a long road to travel. But it is well worth it. Olympic athletes dream of competing in the games. Life writers dream of telling their story. All worthy goals need vision. Picture in your mind the finished story. Open the book, feel the pages, run your fingers over memorable pictures and poignant lines.

Congratulations, life story writer! Whether or not you achieve lots of recognition for your stories, finishing the work is akin to the Olympians who trained hard and competed. All that hard work eventually pays off. While only a few win gold, in truth all are winners.


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