Your Life as a Movie: 7 Questions to Re-Create Your Story
An exercise to put your life and goals in perspective.
Posted Nov 21, 2020
Here’s a short exercise to help you check in on the state of your life. Pretend you are a screenwriter or a novelist creating the outline for a new movie or novel based on you and your life. Here are seven questions to ask yourself to get you started along with the rationale behind them:
#1. How would you describe yourself, the main character?
In novels, these descriptions generally show up in the first few pages: Sara has green eyes; Makeem can't help focusing on details. Think in terms of both your physical and personality traits. Notice what traits you think of first on both counts.
But then drill down: Is there anything else about you that you consider important parts of your physical or personality parts but are often overlooked not only by others but yourself? How might others describe you?
Our views of ourselves are often based upon how others see us or we adapt a too-simple view of ourselves. What is the gap between how you see yourself and how others see you? What do you need to do to close that gap? Do you need or want to bring other, often overlooked traits, more to the forefront of your life to expand your self-image?
#2. What other characters play an important role in this story?
Except for War and Peace perhaps, most stories don’t have hundreds of characters, but have a few important and often pivotal ones — best friends, parents, mentors, enemies.
When you step back, who has or is now pivotal for you in your life — who are steady influences or supports or sources of frustrations or challenges? How do you possibly need to change these relationships?
#3. What is the core conflict?
Every story has some conflict, as does life. It may be internal — the protagonist struggling with trauma of the past or an addiction; Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and his light and dark sides; or in coming-of-age movies about who they want to be. Or maybe it is about external conflicts with others — Sherlock Holmes had his Moriarity, Batman, and Joker — or with the outside world — the whistle-blower and their values vs. the organization.
When you look back, is there a core conflict for you — internally, externally, or both — that has lingered, a thread runs through the fabric of your life that you even now continue to struggle with?
#4. What is the main character’s #1 goal, their quest?
Win the war, save their family, get off the island, make a million dollars, find Nemo. This is about purpose and focus — maybe something right now, immediate, but often something larger and longer — the powerful psychological driver that impacts everything the character tries to do.
Step back: What is your #1 goal, your quest that shapes who you are, who you want to be?
#5. What obstacles get in the way of reaching your goal(s)?
Sleeping Beauty’s prince needs to get through the forest of thorns; Indiana Jones needs to decode the riddles; Frodo needs to get to Mount Doom and destroy the Ring. What are the obstacles that challenge you in your quest? They may be internal — that you are impulsive or perfectionistic or lack confidence or have a temper — or external — that you lack money or emotional support.
What are the one or two things that seem to get in your way of succeeding?
#6. What do you need to overcome these obstacles?
Maybe others: Frodo had Sam and Gandalf; Sherlock Holmes had Dr. Watson; Captain Kirk, Bones and Spock. But for others, it was about learning about determination or commitment, or being able to walk away, or facing that addiction or anxiety, or learning to appreciate what you have, or think outside the box.
What is it you need most within and without you to succeed?
#7. How do you want the story to end?
You return the ring, you kiss the princess, you get the gold medal at the Olympics. Or you reconcile with your family or become a better parent, or you develop that self-confidence that allows you to believe in yourself and reach your goals.
This is important: You have control over the ending of your story because you and only you can make decisions and have choices about where your life will go, what will happen to our hero, even if those choices seem at times so limited.
Envision your future, the ending that you want to create. What will it be?