Many people retire only to feel overwhelmed by their own space, a space they may have been blind to while they were distracted by the busy-ness of their work life. Sam, a Broadway actor, began working with the Memoir tool when he turned seventy. “I was still auditioning,” he says, “and still getting myself out there, doing voiceover work and some commercials. But I had less work and more time than I’d had before. Turning seventy gave me pause. I don’t know what I expected to feel, but I actually felt pretty depressed. I looked at my contemporaries who had won Oscars. I had had a long, steady, solid career as an actor, but I couldn’t stop playing the ‘compare’ game. What if I had stayed in LA in my thirties? What if I hadn’t gotten my first Broadway show? What would have happened instead? Going back through my life with the Memoir, I very, very slowly started to honor my own career path. It wasn’t someone else’s. It was mine. I had done work I was proud of. I had met lots of people.” As Sam focused on seeing his life as it was, not as it might have been, he also focused clearly for the first time on his surroundings. He realized that he had become a real packrat, saving the mementos of a lifetime. His home was cluttered with memorabilia—playbills and 8x10 glossies--beginning with his bit parts as a young actor and continuing, part by part, season by season, all the way to today. When I suggested to him that he might consider jettisoning some of his stash, he reacted with genuine horror. And yet, there was barely room for him in his crowded apartment.
Sam had to admit his home environment really wasn’t serving him. “Working through my Memoir, I realized I’d always felt ‘less than’ this or that other actor. I actually think that I kept every memento to prove to myself I’d had a career: See? I danced with Mary Martin. I met Richard Rodgers. I got a mention here, a great review there. But the sheer volume was leaving no space for me to think, much less find perspective on what I’d done and what I’d still like to do. And most of what I had was packed in boxes, stacked to the ceiling. What good was it doing me, really?
“I went through it all,” he continued. “What I couldn’t have seen coming was the profound realization that it was the first time I had honored my own career. I had always dismissed my accomplishments to some degree. I didn’t even realize I was doing it.”
Many of us routinely dismiss our own accomplishments, and this is why working with our own Memoir is so vital to moving forward as complete people, in touch with our own stories.