In coming to terms with the challenges and the possibilities imbedded within the third age there is an opportunity for each person to decide how they will make meaning of their lives and take effective action. Savickas (2005) suggests that this process is really one of life/career design. We are given the opportunity to engage with life and career through a process of constructing our reality.
Engaging in life/career design and construction involves story telling. The meaning we make is reflected in the stories we tell about our self and others. These stories incorporate themes and metaphors that set a course for how we seek and incorporate new information and then how we make decisions about the future.
Storytelling can take many forms. Booker (2004) suggests that there are seven basic plot categories: overcoming the monster (challenges); rags to riches; seeking a better life; voyage and return; comedy; tragedy; rebirth. These storylines have a certain predictability and this can tie people into prescribed endings. As part of the life/career design process, it may be helpful to identify and then reframe where necessary the stories that we have been living.
When doing life review it is common to tell stories highlighting both significant life experiences and the people that one encounters along the way. In our culture when we seek to write down our stories we usually use the format of a book to pull everything together– with a title and a series of chapters. Niles, Amundson & Neault (2011) use the metaphor of life as a book as a way for people to reflect upon their life and career experiences. They outline the following exercise as a way for further self exploration.
The first step in using this metaphor is to find an appropriate title for your life / career story. It might be helpful to consider music or poetry as a source for deriving a suitable title. Once you have the title you can start to think about the chapters of your life. Try to be creative and capture the experiences that hang together using a series of descriptive titles. As you think about each chapter highlight some of the main components and try to identify at least three key life lessons learned from living each of the chapters of your life. Of course, your life story is not finished so there are also further chapters to be considered. Think about your future and list some of the chapter(s) that you have yet to live but must live for your book (your life) to be complete. As you think about these next chapters what are some things you need to do (i.e. learning new skills, letting go or adding relationships, making changes in how you spend your time) to help you move forward?
There are many ways of doing this exercise. It can be something that will go on for many pages, but you can also do a shorter version where you take a piece of paper and fold it twice to make a small booklet. The outside cover will display the title, and inside the booklet are the chapters. The back page provides some space for listing the chapters still to come.
The life as a book activity provides an opportunity for life review, with a focus on lessons learned and what might lie ahead. Through the process it is possible to identify some life themes and also to become aware of some new life and career directions.
Savickas, M.L. (2005). The theory and practice of career construction. In S.D. Brown & R.W. Lent (Eds.). Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work (pp. 42-70). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.