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Book review: rewriting your life story

The Power of Story: Rewrite Your Destiny in Business and in Life

By Jim Loehr

Free Press, $29.99

There are these two office towers in downtown Orlando. The buildings are 30 stories high and 10 metres apart. A wooden plank spans the two roofs. Walk the plank and the Human Performance Institute will write you a certified cheque for $5 million. Your chance of success is 80 per cent.

Not interested? How about $50 million.

No? Then here’s an offer you won’t refuse and there’s no money on the table. Standing on the other roof is your family. To save their lives, you’ll have to cross the plank.

Of course, you’ll do like Jack Bauer and fearlessly sprint across the plank to rescue your family. You’ll do it backwards, with your eyes closed and hopping on one foot. You’ll go across in gale force winds and you won’t balk if your odds for success are just 50, 20 or even 10 per cent.

Author and Human Performance Institute cofounder Jim Loehr makes this hypothetical offer during his workshops, asking for a show of hands from the audience. He gets few if any takers for the $50 million deal.

"When the stakes are a large sum of money — almost never a transcendent purpose — no one walks across that plank. When the stakes are love and life and that which has incalculable value, everyone goes. Purpose is the epicentre of everyone’s life story."

Loehr is a big believer in purpose-driven life stories. He says the stories we tell ourselves about family, work, health, happiness and friendships determine our personal and professional destinies.

"Your life is the most important story you will ever tell, and you’re telling it right now, whether you know it or not. From very early on, you’re spinning and telling multiple stories about your life, publicly and privately, stories that have a theme, a tone, a premise."

There are great and inspiring stories and then there lousy stories that get us into trouble and lead to flawed endings. Any of these stories sound familiar? Yes, I know I’m 30 pounds overweight and eating my way to an extended stay in the cardiac intensive care unit, assuming I survive the ambulance ride and stopover in the emergency department.

But when am I ever going to find the time to exercise, eat right and get enough sleep? Yes, I’m never home for dinner, baths and bedtime stories with my kids but I’m working hard to provide for my family.

And they understand and accept that the reason I work 16-hour days is because of them. Most of my problems in life stem directly from my job.

Without all the stress at work, I’d be a more responsible, engaged and generally pleasant parent and spouse. I’ll lose my job if I don’t keep checking my Crackberry every five minutes on weekends and holidays.

I’ll be happy when I’m rich. I’d love to get involved in the community but I have a young family and a full-time job.

These are not good stories to be telling ourselves. And Loehr knows how these stories end. He’s built an entire company around helping otherwise smart and successful people do a rewrite of life stories that aren’t working. These folks are all too often joyless, spouseless and not on the best of terms with their kids. They’re suffering a slow death and an acute case of presenteeism. They show up to work and return home in a fog that doesn’t lift and keeps getting thicker.

The good news is it’s never too late to do a rewrite on dysfunctional life stories that aren’t getting you where you want to be with family, friends and work.

"To author a workable, fulfilling new story, you will need to ask yourself many questions and then answer them, none more important than those that concern purpose. Purpose is the sail on the boat, the yeast in the bread. Once you know your purpose — that is, what matters — then everything else can fall into place."

So what’s your purpose? If you’re not sure, start by asking yourself these questions and invest the time to come up with honest answers. How do you want to be remembered? What is the legacy you most want to leave for others? How would you most like to hear people eulogize you at your funeral? What is worth dying for? What makes your life really worth living? In what areas of your life must you truly be extraordinary to fulfill your destiny?

If you’re suffering a slow death at work and becoming an unwelcome stranger on the home front, this book is well worth the read. You’ll learn how to write a truly great and inspiring life story with the essential elements of purpose, truth and action.

"In the end, your story is not a tragedy, " says Loehr. "Nor is it a comedy or a romance or a thriller or a drama. It’s something else. What label would you give the story of your life, the most important story you will ever tell? To me, that sounds like an epic. End of story."

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