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Where Do You Start in a Life Story Interview?

Updated: Apr 13


You can start anywhere, any time, such as where /when the interviewee wants to start, where family members want to start, and filling out the organization's interview form.

What kinds of questions might you ask?

Early-Life Questions

  • Whom did you admire when you were growing up?

  • What was your earliest recollection?

  • What was your favorite books/magazines//TV shows?/films?

The above three questions were proposed by Mark Savickas, PhD, in his Career Construction Theory. Mark is one of the most well-respected career counseling educators in the world today. Why start with your early life experiences? Because those early experiences have the strongest influence on your entire life, including your career and personal life. For example, when I was under 8-years old, at an extended family party, my cousins and I were drawing pictures. My cousins laughed at my picture, which was abstract, while all their pictures were more concrete/realistic. But when we showed my picture to the adults, they loved my picture. The adults' positive reinforcement gave me confidence to accept that part of me throughout my life.

Building on Mark's Career Construction Theory, I propose three more questions to ask an interviewee, related to one's early life:

  • Where did you live?

  • What was the environment like?

  • What did you like to do?

Throughout-Life Questions

Anna Miller-Tiedeman, PhD, who, like Mark, is a prolific author and educator, says " There is no career; life is career." Your life continues after you retire, however many times you change your work/hobbies/interests.

Depending upon the interviewee's age/stage/ background/ability, the rest of the interview will unroll naturally and probably end up with such questions as the following:

  • Where are you now?

  • Where are you going?

  • How are you going to get there?

What's the Best Time to Conduct a Life Story Interview?

Since life is constantly evolving, life story interviews can be picked up and dropped off at any point in ones' adult life, when one is changing careers, moving into a new environment, preparing for end-of-life or making any one of the multible transitions one makes in one's life. The interview/s can be recorded into audio, video, or written stories, framed, and shared in public media or stored away in one's personal or family's intellectual living room.

When Do You End a Life Story?

There's no endpoint to a life story interview. Its value to yourself and your loved ones and others is immeasurable. For example, just a few years ago, I told a piece of my life story to the Rosie the Riveter Memorial Team, then created a banner, for the Rosie the Riveter Wall of Honor in Richmond, CA, for my mother, who was a reporter and one of the first recruiters who helped women and adults with disabilities find work during WWII. When I created the banner, it was the first time I realized that I have followed her footsteps by becoming an interviewer, writer and career counselor and providing service to underrepresented people throughout my adult life.

Just before the Pandemic, I interviewed Rita Abrams, one of my favorite local elder heroines. View "A Rita Abrams Retrospective," Rita composed the Music and Lyrics for "Pride & Prejudice The Musical," which, after a challenging three Pandemic years, is finally playing (with great reviews, don't miss it!) through April 16, 2023, at the Marin Art & Garden Center Playhouse. Rita told me last week that she intends to make the Musical available to more audiences nationwide. Rita keeps her life story moving forward!!!

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