I listened to an amazing podcast the other day, it was an interview with Australian tennis champion Ash Barty’s mindset coach, Ben Crowe. I had to keep pressing pause to write things down – and i was nodding along in recognition of his mindset work with a lot of what I teach in 90 Day Memoir. The tools and techniques he shared, tools that he uses with the elite athletes to bring them back from the lowest points of their careers, are techniques I share in both my memoir journaling and 90 Day Memoir writing courses.
It’s all about how we question and frame our personal story.
Interestingly, Crowe shared that it’s when these athletes are commonly at ‘rock bottom’ which is when they call on him. He uses a very unique approach and it’s all about getting the individual to re-frame their personal story, considering emotions and metaphors and memories and pulling up the most profound experiences of their lives as ‘anchoring’ visualisations to reframe their current experiences.
But diving into our personal stories requires humility, vulnerability, and the emotional capacity to dig deep into our memories and consciously re-frame the meaning and significance we give to certain events.
The results he gets from these athletes are astounding – and not just from an emotional recovery perspective. They consciously choose the story they want to tell about their lives, and this directs their new inner (and therefore outer) narrative.
To Crowe, his work is fulfilling not because the athlete then wins the tournament or beats the other team in a match or does their personal best on the track (although I’m sure he’s happy when this happens!), but because he’s making such a profound difference on their internal and emotional lives and their relationships. And this comes from their ability to be vulnerable and dive deep into their stories.
I often think about why I find the the process of writing memoir so fulfilling and so valuable, as much if not more than the finished product.
Memoir: The Value of the Finished Product
Don’t get me wrong, the finished product of a written, 3 dimensional book that outlasts you is precious indeed. I’ve shared the story many times about how when I found my late father’s memoir manuscript hidden in the wrong box at the State Library Victoria, it was like I’d uncovered him and brought him back to life.
The value of knowing his story was immense. His words on the page, his feelings and experiences and not just what he’d done when, but more importantly, how he saw it all. It was like I was waking him from a tomb and able to have a conversation with him, after decades. I’d never known his stories – but with this precious memoir, it was like i had him back. Because our stories are all we can ever truly own or leave. There’s a tale or myth or superstition that we all die twice: once, when our physical bodies die, and the second time is the last time our names are spoken. To create a written legacy that lasts beyond our lives puts us in the realm of immortality, and it’s precious indeed.
The value of my dad’s memoir was like the value of a life – how can you put a figure on that?
Stories are living, breathing things – any time I want to ‘see’ my father I can open these pages and dive into the experiences of his life. How precious. And how valuable.
Memoir: The value of the writing process, even when there’s ‘failures’ or grief or trauma
We live in a materialistic, output-orientated world that favours tangible results, productivity, winning at all costs, perfection and success.
But frankly, this idea of perfection is boring. And it doesn’t exist! The Hero on his journey has no reason to change or grow if they don’t encounter setbacks, if there’s no weakness or blind spots or shadow side causing friction between want and have. Life is one bland stasis point from one check on the box to another. Quite honestly, I don’t know anyone who lives like this – or I do, and they are the least authentic people I’ve ever encountered (and there’s addiction and pain there, but it’s all buried so deep you never get more out of them than a ‘fine thanks, and you?’).
This false idea of perfection leaves no room for nuance and vulnerability, the lessons of failure, the quiet time necessary to absorb the information from events, then integrate it so we can transform. And quite frankly, failures, troubles and traumas have the capacity to deepen our relationships (with ourselves and others), grow our humility and empathy, and set us off on a much more unique, fulfilling and authentic path than that bland stasis of ‘ease’ would have seen us live. Crowe talks about this in the interview, too, how the masculine macho idea of perfection is crushing society and how we must embrace vulnerability, slowing down, quietness and ritual before it’s too late.
Memoir is valuable because self-honesty is rare and precious
One part of Crowe’s interview struck me, and it was when he was describing where he starts with an athlete who has hit rock bottom and they start their work together to re-frame and re-tell their story:
“There’s two questions that any human of the world has to answer: “Who am i?” And “What do I want?”
I thought about this in terms of the way I teach memoir writing with the Hero’s Journey inside The Art of Memoir. The Hero (you) has to have a conscious and an unconscious goal and this is the engine that drives every true story.
But so many writers never find their two goals because they don’t do the work to know themselves first. This is why so many published memoirs fall flat – you can tell the author hasn’t looked within deep enough, to realise all the parts of themselves that have broken off or been rejected in that (unrealistic) goal of success and perfection. Revelation of the unconscious goal is the most important aspect to a deep and meaningful memoir, and one that stays with the reader long after the book is closed. The author’s unconscious goal is integration of the information in the story with the transformational process of reaching for the conscious goal, if that makes sense.
“We have to answer these questions in that order because we can’t know what we want unless we know who we are. Most of us don’t want to do that because we’re so scared of what we might find eg. maybe I’m not good enough or loved enough or just enough… so we keep the mask on for self-preservation purposes… but if you can lean in to the risk the uncertainty the emotional exposure to reframe let go or forgive those moments and then reframe that and realise that your life story is not your life story, it’s just a story, and you have the power to re-write that story and your perspective… it’s scary and ultimately empowering.”
Transformational questioning to re-write your story
You could hire a mindset coach like Ben Crowe to work through your story in metaphor and symbolism (I’m not sure if you have to be an elite athlete though?!) or you could write your memoir with the Hero’s Journey to achieve the same insights and integration. I’ll never forget when I picked up Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey as I was working through my memoir draft in 2017 and started to see all the events and people in that story in terms of what they symbolised and represented, rather than in the trivial and mundane guise of the everyday world. I started to see my own story from a mythic perspective and how common my experiences were with the ancients, my favourite fairytales, the most compelling and inspiring movies.
Re-writing our stories from a place of myth, magic and symbolic perspective is profoundly transformational, and the most valuable inner work you could do.
Whether you want to leave a published legacy or simply transform your internal (and external) story, memoir writing with Hero’s Journey is transformational and incredibly empowering.
You can listen to the podcast with Ben Crowe here.
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Is the work of writing memoir worth it?