“KEEPERS OF OUR CULTURE”
by Joyce Krieg (December 19, 2014 Issue)
I wasn’t trying to be funny – honest!
It was the third week of class to become a Guided Autobiography instructor, and our assignment was to write a two-page essay about the role of money in our lives. I could have spun a tale about opening a savings account back in fourth grade … or the thrill of getting a paycheck on my first “real” job as a newspaper reporter … or finally receiving a credit card at age 24 – thank you, Joseph Magnin! – after being turned down by countless other institutions for being a young, single female.
But for some reason, I kept being drawn to a more recent money-related memory, a low point in my life when nothing seemed to be working out when it came to earning and keeping greenbacks. So that’s what I wrote about.
Asking Myself, “Is That All There Is?”
I started my tale by relating how, like so many other people, I reached that birthday known as the Big 4-0 feeling restless and unfulfilled. In the words of the old Peggy Lee song, “Is that all there is?”
In that moment of vulnerability, a book fell into my lap called Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow. A huge bestseller at the time, it seemed like everyone I knew was reading it and raving out it. The message was basically a variation on Joseph Campbell’s concept of following your bliss. If you discover your true calling in life and pursue it 100 percent, the universe cannot help but shower you with rewards – including money.
I read, I believed, and I lived accordingly – with disastrous results.
The way Guided Autobiography works, you write your story on the assigned theme in private, then bring it to class and read it aloud to the other participants. After the reading, your classmates share their thoughts about feelings about your story.
Suddenly Everyone Is Laughing
So here I am, reading what I thought was a serious and somewhat tragic tale of a time when my financial life was bottoming out – and the other students in the class are laughing.
They first began chuckling when I described how my cat had chewed the cover of Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow, adding the observation that Cinnamon had obviously been a much better judge of the value of the book than I had been. They were giggling and guffawing when I got to this bit:
“When you think about it, Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow is the ultimate non-sequitur. What if there’s no commercial market for what you love? I mean, if I just did what I love, I’d be eating chocolate, playing with my cat, and writing fan fiction. What that book should have been called is Do What You Love … If You Have a Trust Fund.”
I finished my essay with:
“And yet … something interesting has been happening lately. A wonderful business partnership came my way, totally by serendipity. It involves writing and editing, things that I’m good at and like doing. After a very long time in the desert, I feel like I’ve stumbled onto the right path and am entering greener pastures.
“So what’s going on? Maybe I finally learned to relax enough around money to let it flow into my life. Maybe I finally came to accept that our skills and talents are gifts to the world to be shared freely, without necessarily expecting that we’ll be rewarded with money. Maybe it’s just finally my turn.
“Or … could it be? Is Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow maybe kinda sorta right after all?”
When I finished and the other participants in the class made their comments, I was astounded. “It’s so great you can laugh at your situation” … “Good for you for rising above it with humor” … “You’ve obviously moved on if you can make jokes about it.”
Not Therapy, But Still Powerful
But then I slowly realized – they’re right. I have moved on. This painful episode in my life really is over. If I can find the humor in the situation, then I didn’t just survive it, I triumphed over it.
Before this, I’d heard about how powerful Guided Autobiography can be. Even though founder Dr. James Birren stresses that it is not therapy, many participants report therapeutic-like results, powerful breakthroughs from past pain. But up until this moment, all that had just been words on a piece of paper.
But now I got it. This process actually does work. And the reason it’s effective is because we’re sharing our stories with other people and receiving feedback. It’s one thing to keep a journal … or to fill out workbooks … or to secretly write a memoir. But if we’re keeping all these written words to ourselves, they’re of limited value.
The group setting and the sharing of stories is what makes Guided Autobiography unique and powerful. We’re all in this together.