A Life Path Exercise


Here’s an interesting activity for you and those you work with to do, or it may be something that you’d like to introduce to an adult class you facilitate if you are a teacher or workshop leader. It has to do with depicting your path in life up to the present moment in time. It’s a good way to get to know others around you better and at the same time give you a visual representation of your own history; something very valuable as you’ll see.

How it goes is this: Each person participating is given a paper to write on that is large enough so that it can be posted on a wall for everyone to look at without having to use a magnifying glass. You’ll have to judge the size of paper based on the wall space you have and how many people are participating. Half a sheet of flip chart paper works nicely in most cases.

Each person begins by putting a dot on the page and labels that dot with the location of their birth; typically town or city and name of country. Where everyone started out in this world is in itself a good starting point for generating conversation. You could, if everyone agrees, add the year to the location.  What was going on in that part of the world when you were born is often very insightful. Everyone starts the same; with the first dot being their birth and ends with their final dot being the class everyone is presently taking or the company everyone is working at if it’s a workplace activity, although their positions will vary.

Moving out from the initial dot, each person now draws a line in any direction they wish (most will move from left to right in the western world you may find), and plots a second dot when they recall something memorable to note. It could be anything the person chooses to highlight and share with others including completing high school, moving somewhere new, losing a parent, meeting someone of great influence in their life; maybe even having a childhood illness of lasting significance.

The process continues with extending the line from the second dot to another one and so forth, noting significant moments like new jobs, volunteer roles, getting married, having children or grandchildren, losing jobs, life-defining moments they can recall, moving to new countries, taking the trip of a lifetime, buying a first home, education achievements, etc..

There are really only two guidelines when it comes to what to plot; it’s up to the person themselves to choose the events they wish to comfortably share and the other is that there should be a high degree of respect for what everyone sees on others lifelines. While some might reveal very little of their personal life and restrict themselves to a career path, others might open themselves up to a greater degree adding things like declaring their preferred gender for the first time, moments of great despair and failure etc.

You can see that the level to which a person shares their life journey is indicative of the relationship they feel they have with their audience. Groups that know each other well might reveal more or less than those who are less of a shared history together. This is the kind of activity that you could also do over not just 20 minutes but perhaps a week or more. Maybe people just sit and list on a regular piece of paper their own life events and then transfer these to the larger papers for viewing at a later date.

Now the interesting and most valuable part to this collective exercise is the conversations it generates and the shared or unique experiences people learn about each other. If you are facilitating this exercise in a class, you can draw attention to moments that took great courage, situations in which someone overcame great sadness or tragedy and of course celebrate those moments of great personal satisfaction and joy. It can be extremely uplifting and empowering to have one’s life experiences acknowledged, shared and celebrated.

It can be limited to just career moves as well which some might find safer and less invasive; but you only share what you want in any event. My advice would be to get some agreed upon parameters at the outset from those participating so everyone is okay with what they share and they should know who might look over their life path.

The benefit to this activity is that it can help people understand and appreciate others in ways they could not do otherwise. While one person might get to know another over time and over many conversations, this speeds up that ‘getting to know you better’ process and extends it outward beyond just the people we typically talk to about such things. A deeper understanding and empathy for co-workers, classmates etc. can come about that accelerates relationship building which then in turn can aid in shared projects, shared workspaces and interpersonal development.

A really good facilitator can also articulate and name the skills a person exhibited along their journey in life that they themselves may undervalue or think others will not find value in. It can also provide some good clues explaining why someone thinks, talks and behaves the way they do.

Is there an element of risk and trust in the sharing? Sure there is; there always is in most things worthwhile. Imagine the benefits.

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