Branching Points – A Fork in the Road

By Barbara McCarthy

Barb McCarthy

There have been many forks in the road in my life – college, marriage, divorce, buying a house and condo, retiring, national events, etc. But taking Guided Autobiography in the spring of 2022 is the most significant. Guided Autobiography changed the underlying factors that were present during all the other forks. Thus, it’s most important to write about today.

To explain, my marriage and subsequent divorce were turning points. I married a man I didn’t want to marry. A few weeks before our wedding I told my mother I did not want to marry Rich. She said it was just pre-wedding jitters. I was 25 at the time and did not have the confidence to trust my own instincts. I needed confirmation from someone that it was okay to call it off. Three years into the marriage, I said I wanted to move out but he started to cry, therapy was tried and after another three years, I was single.

So, divorce was a turning point in my life but I hadn’t really changed. I corrected a bad decision but it took me six years. However, there have been times in my life when I knew for certain that my decision was the right one. I knew I was going to buy my 1989 red Honda Prelude the minute I saw it. I knew I would rent an apartment at Lincoln School when I walked in. I knew I would buy my house as I stood on the sidewalk gazing at the front door. And I told a realtor, “I’ll take it” within five minutes of being in my condo. All were beneficial, long-lasting decisions.

That’s the feeling I now have much of the time after participating in the Guided Autobiography class. Writing about myself and reading what I wrote to strangers changed me. Or, did it reveal me? Did it give me permission to trust my instincts?

Feedback from classmates was insightful and helpful. I revealed failures yet felt accepted and supported. The writing and the class gave me validation I didn’t know I needed. I was surprised at how open and honest my classmates were with their life experiences. Maybe that was part of it too: realizing that everyone has struggles in life.

It is unknown where this fork will take me. I only know it will be an intentional journey based on what fits with my plans for a fulfilling and purposeful life.

©2022 Barbara McCarthy

Barb is a lifelong Madisonian who retired right before the pandemic took hold of the world. Along with practicing more yoga, she believed writing about her past was necessary for a happy, productive and fulfilling retirement. A Guided Autobiography class launched her personal writing efforts along with taking History classes as a Senior Guest Auditor at UW-Madison. She lives in the heart of Madison and enjoys all that the isthmus offers.

P.S. from Sarah

My next Guided Autobiography workshop is about to start in Madison: this is an in-person workshop.

  • When: This 10-week workshop meets Thursday mornings, 9:30-11:30 a.m. Central, from 10/6 to 12/15.
  • Where: Truax campus, Protective Services Building, Room 225
  • Fee: $205
  • To register: Click here and follow the link to register for Class #33569, or call 608.258.2301, Option 2

I believe deeply in the Guided Autobiography method developed by Dr. James Birren. When I teach this workshop, I find that students do more than start writing down their memories—they gain insights about their lives that help them find new meaning, satisfaction, and comfort in life. As fellow GAB instructor Jerry Waxler says, “it helps to free one’s self from the tyranny of unresolved memories.” Is that something you’d like for yourself or someone you know? 


About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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