What’s your story and how is it serving you in your life?
Is it making you happy or sad? Peaceful or constantly in turmoil? Financially secure or forever scraping to make ends meet?
Is it carrying you confidently in the direction of your dreams, or sabotaging you every step of the way?
Do you even know what your story is? Do you know where it came from? Did you write your story, or did someone else write it for you?
We all have a story. It’s the narrative we tell ourselves as to who we are and why things happen to us.
We start crafting our story when we’re young, as we are forging our identities in life. Our story gives us a place in a big, scary world. It helps us make sense of things and our feelings. It’s something solid that we can carry around with us in those formless years when the self is searching for a concrete view of itself.
Stories can be passed down from generation to generation like family scrapbooks. The story you tell yourself about your life may be a derivation of the one your father went around telling himself, and his father or mother before him. You picked it up in the way they talked about themselves, and took it on as your own, assuming it to be true.
Entire nations can have stories. Stories of national hubris and conquest, or of victimhood and oppression, stemming from events in the past. These stories can shape a nation’s policies and decision-making, even though the events happened long ago.
My own story revolves around the fact that I was a middle child in a big family. I was shy and sensitive as a kid and felt things deeply, whether the pull of music, the beauty of nature, or the energy of other people’s feelings.
When you’re the third in a stack of six pancakes, you can feel suffocated and forgotten. It didn’t help that, hard as I looked, I couldn’t seem to find any infant pictures of me in my parents’ photo albums. There were plenty of pictures of my older sister and brother. But of me – precious few.
“That’s because you’re adopted,” people would say jokingly whenever I questioned this.
Not a good thing to say to a highly sensitive, impressionable kid. Early on that feeling of separateness, of being different from others, became my story. I was the lost, adopted middle child who got left out of things.
Did I really believe that I was adopted? No. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that I felt that way. And once a story gets into a person’s head, it tends to draw evidence to prove that it is true – like a magnet drawing iron filings unto itself.
Stories have a strategy and purpose. Though I didn’t understand it at the time, my story of being the lost middle child was aimed at getting pity and attention. Poor little Jimmy. No one ever notices Jimmy. Let’s take more pictures of Jimmy – to make him feel better, to show him that he’s loved and important.
As I grew older, the magnet of my story grew bigger and bigger in my head. It drove a fierce determination within me to achieve in order to get noticed. I set lofty and unrealistic goals for myself and pushed myself relentlessly to achieve them. All of which was a recipe for anxiety and depression.
Stories are powerful forces in our emotional well-being. They run like unmonitored tape loops inside our heads, shaping our perceptions, our decisions, our actions. Certainly that was the case for me, until I woke up to the effect that my story was having on my peace.
But here’s the thing about a story.
It’s not real. It’s just a story.
Just as we can pick up a different fairy tale to tell our children, we can change the story we tell ourselves. We can choose a more empowering, energizing, peace-producing story than the one we’re currently telling ourselves.
Doing so requires courage. Giving up our story is scary, because without it we feel naked – like shedding an old comfortable coat that we’ve worn since we were kids.
We have to be willing to look unflinchingly at our narrative and ask the hard question: how is my story serving me? Does it make me want to jump out of bed in the morning and greet the new day? Or does it make me feel defeated before the day has even begun?
Take it from me and don’t miss out another moment of this precious life with an old, tired-out story that brings you down. Get out your pen and write a new one.
The rest of your life is waiting. Best start now …