Guided Autobiography Gives the Gift of ‘Telling Your Story’

Guided Autobiography Gives the Gift of ‘Telling Your Story’

Nancy Sharp believes that every life is unique and worthy of further exploration and sharing. It is this belief that leads her to the practice and instruction of Guided Autobiography.

Nancy Sharp believes that every life is unique and worthy of further exploration and sharing. It is this belief that leads her to the practice and instruction of Guided Autobiography.

“People are often intimidated by the thought of writing about themselves, but once they begin the process, they quickly realize how rewarding it can be,” Sharp says.  “For many it reframes how they see themselves and just as importantly how they choose to live the rest of their lives.”

Guided Autobiography grew from the work of gerontologist and professor, James E. Birren, PhD, who stumbled on the basic concept while on sabbatical from his post as dean of the Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California in the 1970s. He was teaching a class at the University of Hawaii on the psychology of aging, and in an attempt to motivate the students to become more involved, he gave them an ungraded assignment: Go home, write two pages on a branching point in your life, and be prepared to read it in class tomorrow. Once the class had read and heard the other stories, they began to open up and to become involved with and interested in others and in the class.

Now facilitators and participants use Guided Autobiography as a way to preserve cognitive skills, reduce isolation, and deepen purpose, connection, and community. Working with a coach, teacher or facilitator, authors reach back into their life history to capture meaningful moments and experiences that have shaped who they are and determined what they value most, thereby opening the door to important self-reflection while also giving participants the chance to share their life experiences with family and friends who have always said, “I never knew that” or “tell me more.”

Sharp marries the traditional curriculum with strategies to help participants become more resilient on and off the page—strategies she learned firsthand from her own tough life experience of caregiving and young widowhood along with significant findings she’s gleaned from the fields of emotional intelligence, resilience, and growth mindset work, in particular. 

In Sharp’s 8-week workshops, she prepares priming questions and exercises that evoke memories and events, and also teaches skills to enhance storytelling and writing. She then guides students to write two pages on universal themes like branching point moments, family, health, work/career, and life meaning. Students share each other’s stories, allowing for greater appreciation of their own lives as well as the lives of others in the group.

“I feel like this class has helped to restore my voice again after feeling cut off from others and my community. It’s been a lifeboat for me,” says participant Roberta Rosen. “Nancy brings a real gift in helping capture and share written legacies with family for generations to come,” added participant Vicki Perlmutter Dansky.

With so many feeling isolated due to the ongoing pandemic, Guided Autobiography offers a rewarding creative outlet with tangible gifts. 

For more information about Nancy Sharp’s Guided Autobiography workshops visit here.

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