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52 Questions in 52 Weeks: Writing Your Life

Story Has Never Been Easier

Few people would argue the value of creating a story about a life lived. In
fact, its really quite a noble idea to create a story of your life for your
descendant. From it, they will likely learn something valuable and
endearing from the things you experienced and will get to know you as an
Many people believe that it takes a lot of time and work to write their life
story and feel that the task is just too big. Because of that, they never
start. But sharing memories of your life does not have to be a big,
involved effort. Imagine how much easier the task of writing about your
life might be if you were to focus on writing about just one topic each
week. It doesnt matter if you write a few paragraphs, a single page, or
several pages. The important thing is that you write something. Anything
is better than nothing at all.
Now imagine if someone provided you with one question to write about
each week for 52 weeks. At the end of just one year you will have created
your own life story to share with your children and your future posterity.
You will never be forgotten because your own life story will bear witness to
your existence. Add some pictures, and you can make it even more
inviting to read.
Below are 52 questions. Each week for one year, take one question and
write as much or as little as you want. Dont worry about how much you
write for each question, but do write something. Questions do not need to
be answered in any special order.
When you are done, go to, and add your stories to your
family tree. By adding your stories to your own branch of your family tree,
you are assured that your life story will be safe and secure for future
generations. Your great-grandchildren will be able to read them and enjoy
learning about your life and getting to know who you are. Future
generations will be glad that you took the time to write something about
your life and that you left them with such a valuable legacy.


What is your full name? Explain why your parents gave you that


When and where were you born? Describe your home, your
neighborhood, and the town you grew up in.


What memories do you have of your father (his name, birth date,
birthplace, parents, and so on)?


What memories do you have of your mother (her name, birth date,
birthplace, parents, and so on)?


What kind of work did your parents do (farmer, salesman, manager,

seamstress, nurse, stay-at-home mom, professional, laborer, and so


Have any of your family members died? If so, explain what they
died from and what you remember of their death; the circumstances of
their death.


What kind of hardships or tragedies did your family experience while

you were growing up?


Are there any obvious or unusual genetic traits that run in your
family line?


What are the names of your brothers and sisters? Describe things
that stand out in your mind about each of your siblings.


What were some of your family traditions that you remember?


Did your family have special ways of celebrating specific holidays?


Share some memories of your grandparents.

13. Did your grandparents live close by? If so, describe how they were
involved in your life. If they lived far away share some memories of
visiting them or of them traveling to visit you.
14. Who were your aunts and uncles? Write about any of your aunts or
uncles who really stand out in your mind. Give some details about
them (names, personalities, events that you remember doing with
them, and so on).
15. Where did you go to school? Give some details about what was
school like for you and some of your memorable experiences.


What were your favorite subjects in school? Explain why.


What subjects did you like the least? Explain why.

18. Who were some of your friends in school? Explain what your friends
were like and what they are doing today if you know that.
19. If you went to college or a vocational school, what school did you
attend? Describe what memories you have of those years and what
subjects you studied.

What do you see as your greatest strengths?

21. What were some of the challenges you have had to deal with in your

What medical issues have you had to deal with throughout your life?

23. Was religion an important for you and your family? If so, explain
what religion your family practiced and what it meant to you. Explain if
it is or is not an important part of your life today.
24. What foods do you like and dislike? Describe any food allergies you
or other family members had.
25. Were there two or three food dishes your mother or father made
that were especially memorable?

How did you meet your spouse?


What was your courtship like? Describe your marriage day.


Share some stories about your spouse.

29. How many children do you have? List their names and share a few
memories about each one.
30. Describe some of the major community, national, and world events
you lived through. How did these events change your life?
31. What are some of your life philosophies or life views that you would
share with others?
32. What are some of the personal values that are very important to
you? Share some examples of what have you done and what are you
doing now to teach these values to your children, grandchildren and

33. List at least five people who have had a memorable influence on
your life. What did they do that had such an influence on you?

What are 20 things about yourself that make you uniquely you?


What are 50 things that you are grateful for?


What is your philosophy on money?

37. If you could spend a day with any famous person in the world, who
would it be, and what would you do during your day with him or her?

What scares you?


What makes you stop and go Wow!?


What are some of the things you enjoy doing in your leisure time?

41. If you could go back in time and spend an hour visiting with yourself
at age 15, what would you tell your younger self?
42. What are some of your talents? Explain how you discovered them
and what you have done to cultivate and improve them. Describe how
your talents have they affected your life.

What did you do for a career? Explain how you chose that career.

44. What were some of the jobs you had throughout your life? Explain
some of the memorable experiences you had with these jobs.
45. What are 5 significant events or experiences in your life, and explain
what effects they have had on you.
46. What are some of the life lessons that you have learned and would
like to pass on to your descendants?
47. In how many places have you lived during your lifetime? Provide a
brief description of each place youve lived, why you lived there, and
why you moved.
48. If someone gave you $10,000 and told you that you could NOT give
it to any of your friends, family members or use it for yourself, what
would you do with it?
49. If you could go back in time and do things over again, what would
you change?

50. When all is said and done, what do you want to be remembered for?
Explain what you are doing now to create a legacy worthy of
51. If you were to leave 5 different bits of advice for your future
posterity, what would they be?
52. Have you traveled to any place outside of your home country? If so,
explain the reasons for your trip(s) and what memorable things
happened on some of those trips.
Extra Questions

If a newspaper wanted to do a story about you, what would the

story be about?


What were some of the popular fads you experienced during your


How did you spend your summers?


What were some of your more memorable vacations?


Did you ever have pets? If so, tell us about them.


List 20 things you think the world would be better off without.

Dave Isay

The Great Thanksgiving Listen aims to capture the stories of

a generation of elders over one weekend. But really, these
great questions from StoryCorps are useful every day.
Imagine if you were able to sit and listen to your great-great-grandparent and get to
know them, says Dave Isay of StoryCorps. Thats the premise behind StoryCorps
Great Thanksgiving Listen, a mass movement to record the stories of elders across
the US. To Isay, people over the age of 65 represent a wealth of knowledge and
experience wed all be wise to learn from and honor.
But how do you cut past talk of the weather over the dinner table, and start talking
about what matters? Actually, its not so hard. Isay shares some conversation-starters
to help kick things off.

1. What was your childhood like?

This is a great warm-up question, says Isay, because most people feel comfortable
answering. Even when someone is 100 years old, the first thing they want to talk
about is their parents. Its an incredibly primal and important relationship and it
stays that way through life, he says. While some people might be tempted to skip this
question because theyve heard bits and pieces before, asking directly can yield
unexpected results. No matter how well you know the person, youre going to find
out things you didnt know, he says. This question gives a sense of who this person

is. In fact, Isay regrets not getting to ask the question of his own grandparents: You
dont want to put it on your do later list.

2. Tell me about the traditions that have been

passed down through our family. How did they get
Isay was surprised when he asked his mom this question recently, and she shared the
origins of a song she sang to him when he was a kid. She went back generations, he
says. I got to find out about her grandparents and great-grandparents, and
understand more about where we came from. Having that context for traditions gives
them more meaning. Isay predicts that, after asking this, many of us will feel more
compelled to keep those traditions going. Then in 50 years, your grandkids can go
back and hear how a lullaby or prayer thats said before dinner came to be.

3. What are your most vivid memories of school?

This question might unlock tales from a one-room schoolhouse, or even a school in
another country. Understanding how schools worked in the past can help younger
questioners understand more about their present and future. I heard an interview
last night with a dad whos a cop talking to his daughter about how he struggled in
school, says Isay. Through their conversation, she got to see that bullying and the
pressure to succeed are nothing new. This question allows a young person to get out
of their head and see the experience through someone elses eyes, says Isay. Thats
important when youre sticking a toe in the waters of being an adult.

4. How did you meet your wife/husband/partner?

This question can give you a deeper understanding of where you came from. People
have great love stories, says Isay. But unless youve explicitly asked, there are often
things people havent been comfortable talking about. Isay remembers interviewing
his great-uncle Sandy. He told the story of his first date with my Aunt Birdie. Hes
this quiet person, and he just came alive sharing this, he says. He had asked her to
meet him on a stoop on 14th Street in New York City, but as he saw her walking down
the street, he panicked. He tried to hide in a building, but the door was locked. He
said, If that door had been open, it would have destroyed my life. Its proof that

romance is an alchemical, coincidental thing, and that no matter the decade,

relationships bring both anxiety and joy.

5. What piece of wisdom or advice would you like to

share with future generations?
This is perhaps the most important question, says Isay. This is the person speaking
to the future directly to their great-great-great-grandkids and letting them know
what theyve learned, he says. Even if their wisdom is as simple as be kind or be
honest, the interviewer will take a lot away. Some people share regrets about not
spending enough time with the people they cared about, or about not saying the
things that they wanted to say to the people they loved, he says. When you hear that
from someone whos close to you, it resonates deeply. Their answer might just shake
you up.

Laura McClure

Plus: 3 stories of gratitude and generosity from StoryCorps

Sometime between the first bite of turkey and the last slice of pie, itll happen: a lull in
the dinner conversation. What will you do next? If youre breaking bread with
acquaintances, you might turn small talk into smart conversation. But if youre
with family and friends and want to deepen the ties that bind, then try asking one of
the following 10 questions around the table, as recommended by StoryCorps
founder (and 2015 TED Prize winner) Dave Isay:

What are you grateful for?
What are you proudest of?
Whats been the happiest moment of your life so far?
Whats been the hardest moment of your life, and how did
you get through it?
What are the most important lessons youve learned in
How would you describe yourself as a child? Were you
Who has been kindest to you?
How do you want to be remembered?
If your great great grandchildren could listen to this years
from now: is there any wisdom youd want to pass on to
them? What would you want them to know?
If you could honor one person in your life living or
dead by listening to their story, who would that be,
what would you ask them and why?

Need some inspiration first? Below, check out 3 stories of gratitude and thanksgiving,
chosen by Dave Isay. For more stories from the heart, listen to these 7
unforgettable StoryCorps tales and read Ties That Bind: Stories of Love and
Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps.
I put an ad in the local paper and offered to cook Thanksgiving
dinner for twelve people.
Scott Macaulay remembers how, 25 years ago, he started an annual holiday dinner
for strangers who have nowhere else to go. Listen to his story.
If we left, they wouldnt have nobody.
In 2013, Maurice Rowland was working as a cook at Valley Springs Manor, an
assisted living home for elderly residents in California. He got his friend Miguel
Alvarez a job there as a janitor last fall. But in October of that year the company that
managed the home suddenly shut it down, leaving many of the elderly residents with
nowhere to go. The staff stopped being paid so they all left, except for Maurice and
Miguel. At StoryCorps they remembered caring for abandoned residents until the fire
department and sheriff took over three days later. Listen to their story.
A good man
Bryan Wilmoth and his seven younger siblings were raised in a strict, religious
home. At StoryCorps, Bryan talks with his brother Mike about what it was like to
reconnect years after their dad kicked Bryan out for being gay. Watch the
animated story.

Chris Colin and Rob Baedeker

Tips from a comedian and a journalist on the art of going

from small talk to big ideas all summer long.
Imagine almost any situation where two or more people are gathereda wedding
reception, a job interview, two off-duty cops hanging out in a Jacuzzi.
What do these situations have in common? Almost all of them involve people trying
to talk with each other. But in these very moments where a conversation would
enhance an encounter, we often fall short. We cant think of a thing to say.
Or worse, we do a passable job at talking. We stagger through our romantic,
professional and social worlds with the goal merely of not crashing, never considering
that we might soar. We go home sweaty and puffy, and eat birthday cake in the




We at What to Talk About headquarters set out to change this. Below, a few tips
forintroverts (and everyone else) on how to turn small talk into big ideas at the next
Social Obligation Involving Strangers:

Ask for stories, not answers

One way to get beyond small talk is to ask open-ended questions. Aim for questions
that invite people to tell stories, rather than give bland, one-word answers.
Instead of . . .
How are you?
How was your day?
Where are you from?
What do you do?
What line of work are you in?
Whats your name?
How was your weekend?
Whats up?
Would you like some wine?
How long have you been living here?
Try . . .
Whats your story?
What did you do today?
Whats the strangest thing about where you grew up?
Whats the most interesting thing that happened at work today?
Howd you end up in your line of work?
What does your name mean? What would you like it to mean?
What was the best part of your weekend?
What are you looking forward to this week?
Who do you think is the luckiest person in this room?

What does this house remind you of?

If you could teleport by blinking your eyes, where would you go right now?

Break the mirror

When small talk stalls out, its often due to a phenomenon we call mirroring. In our
attempts to be polite, we often answer peoples questions directly, repeat their
observations, or just blandly agree with whatever they say.
Mirrored example:
James: Its a beautiful day!
John: Yes, it is a beautiful day!
See? By mirroring Jamess opinion and language, John has followed the social norm,
but hes also paralyzed the discussion and missed a moment of fun. Instead, John
needs to practice the art of disruption and move the dialogue forward:
Non-mirrored example:
James: Its a beautiful day!
John: They say that the weather was just like this when the Japanese bombed Pearl
Harbor. If that actually happened.
See? Now James and John are talking! Be provocative. Absurdity is underrated.

Leapfrog over the expected response

An even better way to break the boring-conversation mirror is to skip over the
expected response, and go somewhere next-level:
Instead of :
Ron: How was your flight?
Carlos: My flight was good!
Beverly: Its hot today.
Gino: Yeah, it sure is hot.
Riz: Whats up?
Keil: Hey, whats up?

Ron: How was your flight?
Carlos: Id be more intrigued by an airline where your ticket price was based on your
body weight and IQ.
Beverly: Its hot today.
Gino: In this dimension, yes.
Riz: Whats up?
Keil: Washing your chicken just splatters the bacteria everywhere.
Go ahead, be bold. Upend the dinner table conversation! Turn small talk into big
ideas at the next summer wedding reception youre forced to attend! You never know
which ideas will be worth spreading next.
This excerpt is adapted with permission from What to Talk About: On a
Plane, at a Cocktail Party, in a Tiny Elevator with Your Bosss Boss by Chris
Colin and Rob Baedeker (Chronicle Books).