"I don't want to brag about myself." It's a refrain Tom and I hear often, especially from those of a certain generation. Taught to be polite, self-sacrificing, not to toot one's own horn, these good folks have trouble with the idea of preserving their life experiences, even when their children or grandchildren are clamoring for stories.
One gentleman of our acquaintance, who had a fascinating career as a public servant, acquiesced to his friends' and children's desires to read about his life and finally decided to write a personal history. However, because he didn't want it to be too long, he trimmed it down to what he termed the "essentials" -- lists of where he worked and when, the places he had lived, etc. We knew he had a lot of great personal stories because he had told them to us in casual conversation: about a famous person who had greatly influenced him, a funny story about how he met his wife, his valiant battle with a serious illness.
Yet none of these stories were in his history. When we asked him why, he replied, "Well, I didn't want to bore anyone with the personal stuff." Yet it is the "personal stuff" -- his hardships, his humor, his failings, his triumphs -- that his children want to know. They don't care as much about the facts and figures; they want to know him better as a human being.
If it's not personal, it's just history
Writing about your life is a generous act. It takes courage, it takes time, and it can be painful and exhilarating in equal measure. But the effort is worth the satisfaction of knowing that what you write may someday "comfort a stranger."
I have been comforted, taught, and inspired every day by the stories of others: family members, clients, ancestors, and, yes, complete strangers. I have been altered. Nearly every person we meet, when we tell them what we do for a living, responds positively. "What an interesting job! It must be fascinating to hear all those stories!" (Indeed it is, which is why we love it so.)
Why then, do so many insist that nobody would be interested in their stories?
If you hesitate to tell your own story because you feel it would be self-serving, narcissistic, or bragging, ask yourself this: Do you wish you knew more about your ancestors? Your parents? If the answer is yes, then it's not too much of a stretch to think that perhaps your descendants might wish to know more about your life.
Writing sensitively about your life is not selfish. It is a gift, an honorable offering to yourself and others in your circle of influence. As I write my own stories, it is my hope that whoever reads them will not just witness my life, but gain something they can use in their own.