You are the author

Everyone creates their own ‘essential story’ through their struggle to find their life path and destiny. The essential story is not a person’s full life history, it is the ‘essence’, driving force or central theme that shapes their life. A person’s essential story is the basis of their self-authorization, the source of all independent learning and action. An essential story also helps to keep track of what the life struggle is about, why it is important, and how to find one’s direction when things become difficult and uncertain.

A person’s essential story determines how they respond to the unfolding problems and opportunities of life. The story defines the roles they seek to play, whether positive or negative, passive or active. If a person sees themselves as a victim they will respond to hardship or injustice as a victim. If they see themselves as being resilient and resourceful they will see difficulties as opportunities to learn and become stronger.

The theme of the essential story may emerge very early in life and never change. In other cases the theme may not be obvious until late in life or may change as the person grows. In every case however, the essential story is something that each individual writes themselves. The raw material is provided by fate and circumstance, but each individual is the author that weaves fate and circumstance into a life story of their own.

Essential stories can be created unconsciously, programmed by life experience or simply absorbed from the people around you. Essential stories can also be copied in whole or in part from the lives and teachings of other people, or they can be created as a unique and original work of art and adventure. Some communities pressure everyone to adopt similar essential stories and resent or exclude anyone who is different; other communities permit and support a wide range of essential stories. Whatever your situation, nothing is more important to your future than choosing to create a positive, active life story. You are the author, only you can decide. Hero or victim, leader or follower, it is up to you.

© 1997 Action Studies Institute Calgary, Alberta [403] 246-2544

Developing a Personal Essential Story


  • the journey begins with a personal life commitment to wise self-creation and control - creative realization
  • motivation must be strong because the journey is long and often difficult
  • life commitments are made in stages as one develops more capacities, and learns more about oneself, life, and what most needs doing - this often results in a series of turning points whose pattern may be clear only in retrospect
  • once a few commitments are in place, the need for others will be easier to identify
  • essential story is a way of developing, organizing, remembering and realizing your life commitments

Take time

  • like any significant creation, developing an effective essential story takes time
  • remember that you are designing your life - which is more complex than anything else you will ever create • also remember that it can be done, and you are worth the effort

Take care

  • to be more than wishful thinking, the essential story must be informed by a sense of the challenges involved and what it will take to meet them
  • a commitment to continuous development of one’s own understanding & judgment is essential

Seek & give support

  • every human life has something to teach; learn from as many sources as you can
  • don’t count on schooling or job training alone - life education is much broader and deeper
  • wisdom is relatively rare, if you don’t have access to wise mentors in your immediate environment, search them out in the human story
  • support is not a one way street; just as teaching is often the best way to learn, supporting others is often the best way to be supported
  • remember that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves, and that our personal journeys are part of the larger need to help all of humanity become wise

Capture & remember

  • to be effective, an essential story must be a constant guide
  • by having a clear sense of ‘who am I and what difference I seek to make in the world by my presence in it’ an
    individual is better prepared to find their way in any situation
  • remembering ‘who you are’ can be difficult, especially when you’re stressed and/or external pressures are strong
  • tying your life commitments together in a ‘story’ form makes them easier to remember
  • it helps to write down, memorize and frequently review the key points of your essential story, as well as a personal conduct code


  • an essential story is a guide; self-determination means translating the guide into action - realization
  • realization will depend on how you persist in developing and maintaining your powers - self-cultivation • you can start small, and almost anywhere, the key is to keep going

© 2001 Action Studies Institute Calgary, Alberta [403] 246-2544 v. 2.1 ‘04

Starter Questions

Focus Questions:

  1. What difference do you seek to make in the world by your presence in it?
  2. How do you know this is a worthy way to spend your life? What informs your sense of purpose?
  3. Why will it be difficult to realize your purpose - what internal and external challenges do you face ?
  4. How do you need to prepare and conduct yourself in order to meet these challenges well?
  5. What are you doing about it? What could/should you be doing?
  6. How will you remember and apply all this?

    Exploratory Questions:

    1. What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
    2. What inspires or moves you? Why?
    3. Who or what do you really care about? How could you best show this caring?
    4. What does it mean to you to be responsible?
    5. What can you see that really needs to be done in this world?
    6. What is important for you not to do?
    7. How readily do you admit and learn from your own mistakes and ignorance? Could you handle this better?
    8. How well does your personal code of conduct work in difficult situations? Could you do better
    9. How well do you trust and respect yourself? How could you improve?
    10. What about your heritage is important to you?
    11. Assuming you will have grandchildren, how would you like them to think of you?
    12. If all your grandparents and great grandparents could watch how you live your life, how would you like them to feel? What could you do to make them feel this way
    13. What are the major challenges faced by the people you care about?
    14. What do the people you care about need you to do?
    15. What are your greatest fears? How will you learn to face them
    16. What could take you off your chosen life path? How will you guard against this?

    We are all ‘actors’ of our own life story, but few people realize the extent to which they can also become effective writers and directors of their life stories.

    The ‘essential story’ technique is a way to begin to write and direct your own life story, and more than that, it is also a way to develop a sense of quality and discipline around your own conduct, learning, and obligations.

    Just as an actor needs to understand the ‘essence’ of the character they are playing to know how to handle a particular scene, the role of the essential story is to remind you who you are and what you are striving to become so that you can better choose how to act, react and learn.

    Remember, a personal essential story is not a biography or history of what happened to you, it is how you are determined to conduct yourself as you meet the problems and opportunities of life’s journey.

    © 1997 Action Studies Institute Calgary, Alberta [403] 246-2544