Taylor and I talked the other day about the moments of uncertainty we’re all currently living through and he offered a thought; the more people understand the theme of their lives, the more they’ll be able see what they can offer others during this time of crisis.
With that in mind I wanted to give you a deep dive into what drove me to discover the theme of my life and how you can start to discover yours.
As I stood on a ski slope in the heart of Washington State in January of 2003 I knew I should be one of the more content men alive.
I was there with my two sons who I loved spending time with. They were in the middle of their ski-school lesson and in 45 minutes we’d be swishing down the slopes of Steven’s Pass together.
I was in my 17th year of marriage to the woman of my dreams.
And my ad agency was thriving.
Life was good, right?
I was far from content.
There was a huge chasm inside and I didn’t know why. But over the course of the next six months I discovered the truth. I didn’t know who I was. I went to counseling and the counselor got to the heart of the matter almost immediately.
“You’re not doing what you were put on this earth to do.” She paused, a look of compassion on her face. “I’m not talking about a job or making money, I’m talking about you being the person you were born to be. But in order to do that thing, first you have to find out who you are.”
That moment sent me on a quest to find out who I was. Not the roles I’d played in life. Not husband, dad, ad guy, friend. No, I wanted to find out who I was at my core. I wanted to know what the theme of my life was. I was driven to unearth the man I’d been designed and destined to be since the moment I was born.
Over the next three years I did discover the theme of my life. It was a game changer, the game changer. It made every decision easier. It gave me a purpose and a direction. It explained why I acted and reacted the way I did in every situation. It made the path stretching out in front of me crystal clear.
(And yes, part of the result of that discovery was my becoming an author.)
Two years after that realization I started sharing the idea of identity discovery with others.
The first time was as I taught at a writers conference. I was talking about identity and toward the end of the class I said, “If you were to tell me your three favorite movies, I could tell you the theme of your life.”
The reaction was immediate. After I finished speaking, twenty or so people came up to me and started telling me their movies. I hadn’t necessarily meant my statement to be an invitation to chat, but I welcomed their interest and after hearing their movies I told them what I thought the theme of their lives was.
Their eyes lit up, more than one gave a little gasp, and I realized this was a powerful way to set people free.
Do you see the difference this could make in your life?
If we were sitting together right now having coffee (make mine a White Chocolate Mocha, please) and I asked you, “Who are you at your core?” Would you know how to answer?
If I followed up my first question with, “What is the theme of your life?” how would you respond? If I wanted to know what your identity is, could you tell me?
Most people—if honest—would answer those questions with, “I don’t know”, or, “I’m not sure.”
And yet if we can’t answer these questions, it’s extremely difficult to write life changing stories. Because we don’t know the place we’re writing from. And why we’re writing from that place.
How I Do It
The entire method is a bit complex, and it has taken me years of practice to do it well, but let me give you at least a part of how it’s done.
After people tell me what their three to five favorite movies are, I search for one theme that runs through each movie. More often than not, that theme is the theme of their lives.
Let me give you an example:
A few years ago I was sitting in the hotel bar after a day of teaching at the Oregon Christian Writers conference in Portland. My friend Susie (Susan May Warren) and Randy Ingermanson and a few others were at the table.
Out of the blue Susie said, “You know your movie life theme thing, Jim? Well do me.”
I grinned and said, “I’ll try.”
She held up her hand and counted off her movies. “Frequency. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. And Return to Me.”
I was tempted to think Susie’s life theme was romance, but that’s too easy since it’s the type of stories she loves to write. And that’s the surface anyway. It’s a mistake I see most people make when they make their first attempts at discovering their life theme. You have to go deeper.
So I pondered the deeper layer.
I’d seen all Susie’s movies and knew them well. So I thought about the underlying theme that ran powerfully through each one of them. (If the theme isn’t in all of them, you toss it out.)
- Frequency- a sci-fi story of a son and father reunited across time.
- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty- the story of a man that whose life has passed him by, but he throws every scrape of caution to the wind and goes on an epic adventure
- Return to Me- the story of a man whose world is shattered when his wife dies, but then falls in love with a woman intricately tied to his deceased wife in a way he couldn’t imagine.
A minute later I had it and smiled.
“Oh, wow. The theme of your life is so cool.”
“What is it?”
“Second chances. You’re all about second chances!”
Her eyes lit up. “Oh my gosh. You’re right. That’s my whole life.”
I’m guessing you’re starting to realize why identity and teaching people how to discover the theme of their lives is one of our favorite parts of The Rubart Writing Academy. Why we kick off every live Academy with that session and discover the theme of each student’s life.
It’s why we start the online version of The Rubart Academy with an in depth teaching on how to discover the theme of your life.
To write from a place of confidence, and clear direction, and authenticity, we have to go deep, and discover that theme, discover what makes us, us. We have to discover who we are in the deepest places.
And once we know it, we can bring that message to the world. A message people need right now more than ever.
Yes, I wish we were sitting together right now. I wish you could tell me your movies and we could dive deep into your theme and together discover what it is. Maybe someday, yes?
In the meantime, try it. No, it won’t be easy at first. And yes, it’s easier to do it for other people than for yourself. But try it, then try again, then try again.
Once you discover it, your life will never be the same.
For a limited time, the Rubart Writing Academy Online Course is open for enrollment! This course contains a deep dive into Identity among other writing topics, so by the end of it you’ll have a firm grasp on your own identity.