Updated: Nov 23, 2020
Turning Points are the single moments in our lives that change everything—the times when something happens that causes a shift or an irrevocable change in direction. These can be obvious events like births, deaths, moves, marriages and divorces, but it can also be the less-obvious, seemingly small decisions or events that have the largest impact on our lives. I started exploring the concept of “turning points” years ago when a local writer put out a play by the same name. This got me thinking about what my own personal turning points have been and prompted me to revisit my life history through a slightly different lens than I had before. Like an explorer connecting the dots, I began to identify which decisions proved to be life-altering and why, which events shifted something about me or my path in ways that may have felt scary or confusing at the time, and which moments didn’t have as big an effect on me as one might imagine they would. I found this “turning points exercise” so enlightening that I asked my parents to do it so that we could share our findings. Essentially, this exercise uses narrative therapy to make sense of and assign meaning to our experiences. Narrative therapy is a style of therapy that helps people become an expert in their own lives. In narrative therapy, there is an emphasis on the stories we develop and carry with us through our lives, about our lives. As my parents and I discussed our turning points, it was interesting to see how people can go through the same exact event and be effected in completely different ways. Some things we assumed would have been game-changers for one another turned out not to be, while other seemingly mundane events had resulted in monumental change. The difference was in the meaning we each assigned to these events and the stories we created about them.
We are in the midst of an unprecedented time in history—a period marked by massive collective change and rebirth on one hand, and massive collective trauma and loss on the other. It it fair to say that 2020 will serve as some kind of turning point for nearly everyone. The question is—what kind of turning point will it be for you? What meaning will you assign to it? I invite you to become an investigator of and expert in your life history by using narrative therapy to identify your own turning points. Simply take out a large sheet of paper and some markers and create a timeline of your life, making note of each major turning point, as you see them. Next to each turning point, write out a few sentences (or more) detailing what made these particular events stand out as being turning points and explaining the meaning you’ve assigned to them. Examples of things to ask yourself as you do this are, “What changed for me after this event?”, “Did something about how I see myself or the world shift?”, “Did this event inform my next life decision(s)?”, “What is the predominant emotion I feel around this event?” and, “What words do I use when I talk about this turning point?” Lastly, give your story a name, take some time to reflect on the meaning you’ve given to your experiences and life as a whole, and notice how you feel in your body as you do so, paying particular attention to any feelings of discomfort or anxiety that come up. If these feelings arise, ask yourself if there are any parts of the story you’ve written that could be inaccurate? Are there alternate meanings you might assign to your turning points? Is there a new narrative you could write that might lessen the feelings of unease you are experiencing? Is there an alternate title you might give your story? The idea is to reframe any unhelpful stories you have written about your life and experiences in a way that brings you more ease going forward.
Renown psychologist, Viktor Frankl, author of the classic, Man’s Search for Meaning, famously espoused that the search for meaning is the primary, intrinsic motivation of human beings—and the only way to find meaning is to look for it. Going back over one’s life and making sense of it is like putting together the pieces of a giant puzzle—one piece helping to fill in the next, the picture totally unclear at times. However, once we take the time to zoom in and seek to understand, we may find that it actually fits together perfectly. Every choice, every disappointment, every experience, every “missed” opportunity is a chance to get to know oneself on a deeper level. What are we doing? Why are we doing it? What do our lives mean to us? What does our work mean? What do our relationships mean? Every day our lives are rich with meaningful answers, but only if we stop long enough to appreciate them will we taste the fullness. What are your turning points? You owe it to yourself to become the expert of your own life. The search for meaning, even in the most difficult of circumstances, begins with you!
I believe dignity emerges in the way you finally carry your own story. Through your painstaking reframes to write yourself as the heroine at the helm of your own life, your losses cease to consume you. They are not forgotten or made invisible, but rather aggrandized in your telling, passed on through the line of mothers and daughters, as the mythical ‘obstacles to flight’ that they were. But dignity also lives in one’s willingness to step wholly into a new life of love, even as its first strands are being woven together to create a shape that will warm you.