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Life Is in the Transitions

Mastering Change at Any Age

By Bruce Feiler
  • Read in 18 minutes
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  • Contains 11 key ideas
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Life Is in the Transitions by Bruce Feiler

Life is in the Transitions (2020) is a guidebook to weathering the big changes we may experience in our lives, from getting divorced to starting a new job, from coping with illness to winning the lottery. These major transitions can cause us to feel unstable, uncertain, and overwhelmed. Our lives rarely go as planned, but we can learn to navigate life's changes and better understand what makes them meaningful by changing the stories we tell about ourselves.

Key idea 1 of 11

Storytelling is a lifeline in a crisis.

What are the stories that you tell about your life? And how do you respond when the “plot” of your life takes a sudden turn that you never chose, and couldn’t have predicted? 

Bruce Feiler was faced with those questions when his otherwise regular life was walloped by a series of personal crises. He was diagnosed with a rare and deadly form of bone cancer. He almost went bankrupt. And to make matters much, much worse, he learned that his father who was battling Parkinson’s disease had repeatedly attempted to kill himself. 

The key message here is: Storytelling is a lifeline in a crisis.

Bruce had made a successful career out of writing, but suddenly he felt like he’d lost control of his own story. His father was having the same experience: having Parkinson’s made him feel like his life no longer had any value. Bruce realized that as much as anything, what he and his father were experiencing was a narrative problem: their lives had swerved off course, and they no longer knew how to make sense of their life stories. 

Bruce set out to find what he termed a narrative solution and began interviewing his father. He started by asking simple questions like, “What were your favorite toys when you were a child?” When his father responded eagerly, Bruce advanced to more complex questions like, “What is your biggest regret?” 

The process transformed his father’s life – by the end of four years he had written an autobiography and regained the will to live. For Bruce, the exercise was just as transformational. He realized that he’d stumbled upon a much bigger problem: people don’t know how to handle major life transitions because they don’t know how to include them in their life stories. 

Bruce decided that he needed to support his hunch by doing more research. Over the following three years, he traveled across the United States doing interviews for what he called the Life Story Project. By the end of the project, he’d completed 225 interviews with people of all ages and backgrounds. They all had one thing in common: their lives were shaken by unexpected changes, and they were struggling to find a way to make sense of them. In the following blinks, you’ll hear some of their extraordinary tales and learn how stories can guide us through change. 

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