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Life story interview

Instructions: Find a person you know 65 or older (a relative or family friend), and ask them whether you can interview them about their lives. Once you have found a person, organize a time to meet for the interview. Using the McAdam?s The Life Story Interview guide, complete the Introduction and Life Chapters sections. Optional: feel free to pick and choose any other sections in the guide to ask your interviewee. Make sure to take notes during the interview. Using your notes, write a brief biography (no longer than 5 pages doubledspaced, 12-pt font) about the person?s life. Include the name and contact information of the person. Your mark will be based on the following:
1. Content (60%) a. depth and quality b. do I have a good understanding of the person
2. Style (30%) a. coherence and flow b. spelling and grammar
3. Entertainment (10%) a. have you engaged me in the story

This is an interview about the story of your life. As a social scientist, I am interested in
hearing your story, including parts of the past as you remember them and the future as
you imagine it. The story is selective; it does not include everything that has ever
happened to you. Instead, I will ask you to focus on a few key things in your life ? a few
key scenes, characters, and ideas. There are no right or wrong answers to my questions.
Instead, your task is simply to tell me about some of the most important things that have
happened in your life and how you imagine your life developing in the future. I will
guide you through the interview so that we finish it all in about two hours or less.
Please know that my purpose in doing this interview is not to figure out what is wrong
with you or to do some kind of deep clinical analysis! Nor should you think of this
interview as a ?therapy session? of some kind. The interview is for research purposes
only, and its main goal is simply to hear your story. As social scientists, my colleagues
and I collect people?s life stories in order to understand the different ways in which
people in our society and in others live their lives and the different ways in which they
understand who they are. Everything you say is voluntary, anonymous, and confidential.
I think you will enjoy the interview. Do you have any questions?
A. Life Chapters
Please begin by thinking about your life as if it were a book or novel. Imagine that the
book has a table of contents containing the titles of the main chapters in the story. To
begin here, please describe very briefly what the main chapters in the book might be.
Please give each chapter a title, tell me just a little bit about what each chapter is about,
and say a word or two about how we get from one chapter to the next. As a storyteller
here, what you want to do is to give me an overall plot summary of your story, going
chapter by chapter. You may have as many chapters as you want, but I would suggest
having between about 2 and 7 of them. We will want to spend no more than about 20
minutes on this first section of the interview, so please keep your descriptions of the
chapters relatively brief.
February 5, 2007
[Note to interviewer: The interviewer should feel free to ask questions of clarification
and elaboration throughout the interview, but especially in this first part. This first
section of the interview should run between 15 and 30 minutes.]
B. Key Scenes in the Life Story
Now that you have described the overall plot outline for your life, I would like you to
focus in on a few key scenes that stand out in the story. A key scene would be an event
or specific incident that took place at a particular time and place. Consider a key scene to
be a moment in your life story that stands out for a particular reason ? perhaps because it
was especially good or bad, particularly vivid, important, or memorable. For each of the
eight key events we will consider, I ask that you describe in detail what happened, when
and where it happened, who was involved, and what you were thinking and feeling in the
event. In addition, I ask that you tell me why you think this particular scene is important
or significant in your life. What does the scene say about you as a person? Please be
1. High point. Please describe a scene, episode, or moment in your life that stands out
as an especially positive experience. This might be the high point scene of your entire
life, or else an especially happy, joyous, exciting, or wonderful moment in the story.
Please describe this high point scene in detail. What happened, when and where, who
was involved, and what were you thinking and feeling? Also, please say a word or two
about why you think this particular moment was so good and what the scene may say
about who you are as a person.
2. Low point. The second scene is the opposite of the first. Thinking back over your
entire life, please identify a scene that stands out as a low point, if not the low point in
your life story. Even though this event is unpleasant, I would appreciate your providing
as much detail as you can about it. What happened in the event, where and when, who
was involved, and what were you thinking and feeling? Also, please say a word or two
about why you think this particular moment was so bad and what the scene may say
about you or your life. [Interviewer note: If the participants balks at doing this, tell him
or her that the event does not really have to be the lowest point in the story but merely a
very bad experience of some kind.]
3. Turning point. In looking back over your life, it may be possible to identify certain
key moments that stand out as turning points — episodes that marked an important change
in you or your life story. Please identify a particular episode in your life story that you
now see as a turning point in your life. If you cannot identify a key turning point that
stands out clearly, please describe some event in your life wherein you went through an
important change of some kind. Again, for this event please describe what happened,
where and when, who was involved, and what you were thinking and feeling. Also,
please say a word or two about what you think this event says about you as a person or
about your life.
February 5, 2007
4. Positive childhood memory. The fourth scene is an early memory ? from childhood
or your teen-aged years ? that stands out as especially positive in some way. This would
be a very positive, happy memory from your early years. Please describe this good
memory in detail. What happened, where and when, who was involved, and what were
you thinking and feeling? Also, what does this memory say about you or about your life?
5. Negative childhood memory. The fifth scene is an early memory ? from childhood
or your teen-aged years ? that stands out as especially negative in some way. This would
be a very negative, unhappy memory from your early years, perhaps entailing sadness,
fear, or some other very negative emotional experience. Please describe this bad memory
in detail. What happened, where and when, who was involved, and what were you
thinking and feeling? Also, what does this memory say about you or your life?
6. Vivid adult memory. Moving ahead to your adult years, please identify one scene
that you have not already described in this section (in other words, do not repeat your
high point, low point, or turning point scene) that stands out as especially vivid or
meaningful. This would be an especially memorable, vivid, or important scene, positive
or negative, from your adult years. Please describe this scene in detail, tell what
happened, when and where, who was involved, and what you were thinking and feeling.
Also, what does this memory say about you or your life?
7. Wisdom event. Please describe an event in your life in which you displayed wisdom.
The episode might be one in which you acted or interacted in an especially wise way or
provided wise counsel or advice, made a wise decision, or otherwise behaved in a
particularly wise manner. What happened, where and when, who was involved, and what
were you thinking and feeling? Also, what does this memory say about you and your
8. Religious, spiritual, or mystical experience. Whether they are religious or not,
many people report that they have had experiences in their lives where they felt a sense of
the transcendent or sacred, a sense of God or some almighty or ultimate force, or a
feeling of oneness with nature, the world, or the universe. Thinking back on your entire
life, please identify an episode or moment in which you felt something like this. This
might be an experience that occurred within the context of your own religious tradition, if
you have one, or it may be a spiritual or mystical experience of any kind. Please describe
this transcendent experience in detail. What happened, where and when, who was
involved, and what were you thinking and feeling? Also, what does this memory say
about you or your life?
Now, we?re going to talk about the future.
C. Future Script
1. The next chapter. Your life story includes key chapters and scenes from your past,
as you have described them, and it also includes how you see or imagine your future.
February 5, 2007
Please describe what you see to be the next chapter in your life. What is going to come
next in your life story?
2. Dreams, hopes, and plans for the future. Please describe your plans, dreams, or
hopes for the future. What do you hope to accomplish in the future in your life story?
3. Life project. Do you have a project in life? A life project is something that you have
been working on and plan to work on in the future chapters of your life story. The
project might involve your family or your work life, or it might be a hobby, avocation, or
pastime. Please describe any project that you are currently working on or plan to work
on in the future. Tell me what the project is, how you got involved in the project or will
get involved in the project, how the project might develop, and why you think this project
is important for you and/or for other people.
D. Challenges
This next section considers the various challenges, struggles, and problems you have
encountered in your life. I will begin with a general challenge, and then I will focus in on
three particular areas or issues where many people experience challenges, problems, or
1. Life challenge. Looking back over your entire life, please identify and describe what
you now consider to be the greatest single challenge you have faced in your life. What is
or was the challenge or problem? How did the challenge or problem develop? How did
you address or deal with this challenge or problem? What is the significance of this
challenge or problem in your own life story?
2. Health. Looking back over your entire life, please identify and describe a scene or
period in your life, including the present time, wherein you or a close family member
confronted a major health problem, challenge, or crisis. Please describe in detail what
the health problem is or was and how it developed. If relevant, please discuss any
experience you had with the health-care system regarding this crisis or problem. In
addition, please talk about how you coped with the problem and what impact this health
crisis, problem, or challenge has had on you and your overall life story.
3. Loss. As people get older, they invariably suffer losses of one kind or another. By
loss I am referring here to the loss of important people in your life, perhaps through death
or separation. These are interpersonal losses ? the loss of a person. Looking back over
your entire life, please identify and describe the greatest interpersonal loss you have
experienced. This could be a loss you experienced at any time in your life, going back to
childhood and up to the present day. Please describe this loss and the process of the loss.
How have you coped with the loss? What effect has this loss had on you and your life
February 5, 2007
4. Failure, regret. Everybody experiences failure and regrets in life, even for the
happiest and luckiest lives. Looking back over your entire life, please identify and
describe the greatest failure or regret you have experienced. The failure or regret can
occur in any area of your life ? work, family, friendships, or any other area. Please
describe the failure or regret and the way in which the failure or regret came to be. How
have you coped with this failure or regret? What effect has this failure or regret had on
you and your life story?
E. Personal Ideology
Now, I would like to ask a few questions about your fundamental beliefs and values and
about questions of meaning and morality in your life. Please give some thought to each
of these questions.
1. Religious/ethical values. Consider for a moment the religious or spiritual aspects of
your life. Please describe in a nutshell your religious beliefs and values, if indeed these
are important to you. Whether you are religious or not, please describe your overall
ethical or moral approach to life.
2. Political/social values. How do you approach political or social issues? Do you have
a particular political point of view? Are there particular social issues or causes about
which you feel strongly? Please explain.
3. Change, development of religious and political views. Please tell the story of how
your religious, moral, and/or political views and values have developed over time. Have
they changed in any important ways? Please explain.
4. Single value. What is the most important value in human living? Please explain.
5. Other. What else can you tell me that would help me understand your most
fundamental beliefs and values about life and the world? What else can you tell me that
would help me understand your overall philosophy of life?
F. Life Theme
Looking back over your entire life story with all its chapters, scenes, and challenges, and
extending back into the past and ahead into the future, do you discern a central theme,
message, or idea that runs throughout the story? What is the major theme in your life
story? Please explain.
G. Reflection
February 5, 2007
Thank you for this interview. I have just one more question for you. Many of the stories
you have told me are about experiences that stand out from the day-to-day. For example,
we talked about a high point, a turning point, a scene about your health, etc. Given that
most people don?t share their life stories in this way on a regular basis, I?m wondering if
you might reflect for one last moment about what this interview, here today, has been like
for you. What were your thoughts and feelings during the interview? How do you think
this interview has affected you? Do you have any other comments about the interview

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