One of the many gifts of midlife is that we’ve racked up numerous experiences, in work and in life, that offer clues to our personal through line. In literature, the through line is the invisible thread that binds the story together. In our personal lives, we have an opportunity to draw the various strands and experiences of our lives together and weave them into our own through line.
Clues to our through line come from many places, such as the:
- overarching learnings of our childhood and adolescence
- recurring patterns in relation to our health, wealth and wellbeing
- lessons we’ve learned about ourselves through relationships
- books, hobbies and entertainment we’re drawn to
- unexpected twists and turns that have led us to learn new skills or shifted our beliefs
- activities and work we’re instinctively drawn to or repelled by
- opportunities we’ve had to express our strengths, especially when we surprise ourselves
For example, some of the pieces that make up my personal through line include:
- Growing up as a Minister’s daughter, which taught me the art and skill of leading people from the background so they take ownership of the outcomes they’re seeking
- Doing a Master’s thesis on prostitution, which taught me how to rapidly build rapport even with those who had an aversion to engaging with me
- Having a long (if intermittent) history of keeping a personal journal which has led to a lifelong love affair with writing
- Struggling like a hamster on a wheel to find balance and consistency in my eating and exercise habits which, more than anything, has taught me humility and continues to teach me about self-compassion
- Being drawn to books on self-improvement, productivity and personal leadership which informs the learning I take and share with others though my writing and consulting work
- Discovering, at several points, the joy I get from teaching and public speaking (weird, I know!)
These disparate experiences have enabled me to discern my personal through line and shape a life which allows me to pursue my personal mission.
You may have, at some point, done the exercise about drawing a personal timeline. In this you draw a line on a piece of paper from the day you were born till now and then mark in the significant events as they correlate to different ages in your life.
Excavating your personal through line is a little less structured. It involves being your own detective. What I’ve found most helpful, is writing the heading ‘My Personal Through Line’ at the back of my work notebook and simply noting down anything I happen to think of, that may be relevant – be it a movie that struck me when I was 18, a conversation I had when I was 32, a decision I made at 41 or an insight I’ve had about myself recently.
It doesn’t matter how big or seemingly insignificant the thing is. The point is that it’s meaningful to you, and as you’re the decider of what is part of your through line, you get to choose what goes on the list.
You may already have an instinctive sense of what your through line is and potentially even have given it a label, be it a profession (teacher, accountant), a role (partner, mother, daughter) or a way of being in the world (activist, peacemaker). What I’d urge you to do, is to dig a little deeper. While this profession, role or way of being may have served you well thus far, it may be more a case of what you’ve fallen into, than a true expression of your through line.
Giving ourselves permission to start from scratch and allow things that are meaningful to us to bubble to the surface is likely to give us a truer indication of our through line than simply accepting where we’ve landed.
And what better time of life to start doing so than midlife – when there is plenty of life to draw from, and still plenty of life left to choose anew the direction we’re taking, or indeed choose a new direction altogether?
Ripenist Reflection: Any clues as to what might make up part of your through line, that may spur the rest of us to take stock too?