“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.
― Gilda Radner
I am a person who finds solace in a book. There’s something about escaping into a world that may or may not exist, escaping the reality, connecting with a person that doesn’t even exist but who was imagined by a total stranger – another being figurative or real, who understands your feelings, or who has experienced something you have never experienced. Finding a different reality than yours and imagining being in that world.
This love may also explain why I occasionally find myself sitting in bed reading such gems as “It’s Called a Break-Up Because It’s Broken” (it’s by the same author as “He’s Just Not that Into You” – now a fantastic movie!) on a perfectly good Friday night.
Stuff happens from time to time.
Words are powerful to me though. They can be used in infinite combinations with varying intonations in any context and have incredibly different meanings.
A few days ago I was talking to a friend and she said to me – “You need to work out the story you’re going to tell yourself.” And it was such a powerful thought for me. How was I going to tell the story of my life. Not necessarily to the world, I might share parts of it with the world, but how was the story going to play out in my head?
How you tell the story has a massive effect on how you feel about your life, the choices you make, everything – and I’m not saying throw out a YOLO and do whatever you want under the guise that you can write it in a positive way and your bad decisions won’t be bad decisions. Or that you should be delusional about what’s going on in the world. You can tell yourself whatever you like, but be constructive about it.
I thought a lot about how to put this into words without coming across as a cheesy/crazy person, because I don’t exactly have my life figured out, I don’t really feel qualified to be giving life coaching, but this was such a powerful idea to me. I realized that to do neither of these things was going to be a little tricky, so get the nachos/crackers/wine whatever it is you consume with cheese and buckle up for safety.
I know some people who pervasively think the world is out to get them, that everyone exists to thwart them, the Eeyore’s of the world . We will experience the same event and their story looks like we weren’t even in the same time zone. Which goes back to some of my more philosophical discussions of experience and how we as human beings experience things, but point here – is that if you tell yourself the sad stories you will feel sad.
Kind of like when you’re in a bad mood and you start listening to sad music, you know like when you broke up with someone and suddenly you hate happy songs and just want to play Jar of Hearts endlessly as you sob into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.
Perspective is everything. Unfortunately the right perspective isn’t lying at the bottom of that bottle of wine or pint of ice cream.
So I thought about this whole idea of how to tell my story. I’ve had some rough experiences – you know the usual heartbreaks, the rejections, the disappointments. And I’ve had some outright miserable experiences that made me want to sleep until the end of time. I could probably write a really sad story if I wanted to.
But I don’t.
Because that would make me sad.
I’d rather focus on the silver lining, the hidden blessing, the [insert cheesy analogy for positive outcome from crappy situation].
In thinking about how to write my story, I thought about how those around me would write and have written my story. Some of the stories are more flattering than others, some are pretty damn near accurate, but that’s not my story. That’s my part in their story. And I thought about how often when we talk about things we think about how that would appear to other people – we tell our story as if they were telling it, or they were watching the movie. And again, I’m not saying forget the world/they don’t matter anyways – they do matter. There are people in my life that I can’t imagine not being there, they are as much a part of my story as I am in some cases. What I’m saying is that people may come and go from your life, they may play the lead or the may be an extra, but you are stuck with you. And not everyone is going to be there for everything. What about the quiet moments at home? When you’re alone with your third glass of wine contemplating where your life is headed (or not headed) and you’re trying to sort out everything in your head.
People come and go, and yes, their stories matter to a degree when you’re dead and they’re left to remember who you were, but at that point it hardly seems important to you. What matters is how you see your life. How you tell the stories of your achievements and bad decisions, of love and heartbreak, of goals and fears. How you tell yourself who you are and how you got to be that way.
Have you ever done something you look back on and go “Who the heck did that? Because no way would I have done that.” Really I did do it. It made no sense. Maybe it was alcohol induced, maybe from lack of sleep or excessive hormones. Point is I did something that didn’t sit right with my mental image of myself. We talk about this in my courses – this idea of cognitive dissonance – our thoughts and actions didn’t match. To eliminate this feeling people usually either:
- Blame the circumstances/context – they did it because they had to/or only because the situation temporarily affected their judgement; OR
- Change their mental picture – they change who they think they are.
In short – we change the story. We go back and edit. We change perspective. And that’s the incredibly exciting thing about this big beautiful brain we have – we can do that. Heck our past edits our future experiences as we go. We can always change how we tell our story, we’re the editor-in-chief here.
The internet is awash with all sorts of corny comments on this – the idea that you are the hero to your story, or about how we have chapters in our lives, turning the page in the book rather than closing. But it really struck me how powerful this ability to write our own story is when guiding our lives. I am one of those people who, without flipping the bird, has sort of marched to my own tune, I try my best to not let other peoples’ judgments affect me. I’m one of those take it or leave it people – if me spending an inordinate amount of time running/planning runs, or my cat, or my occasional irrationality, or my unsexy undies bother you, well, in the words of William Golding,
Sucks to your ass-mar.
And yet for all this “Meh, I am who I am” attitude, I realized that I actually care deeply about how other people will read my story – will they look at what I’ve done and understand why I did it? Will they still accept me if they knew all the nooks and crannies, if they were there for EVERYTHING? For someone who supposedly doesn’t care what other people think, I sure do seem to care. So I let other people write my story, or I alter the story to make other people happy. But where’s the fun in writing a story for other people? They aren’t stuck with you, nor you with them.
And I thought about arguing that you’re the only one with all the information so why let them write the story. But maybe you don’t have all the information. We’re not omnipotent – we don’t know everything. So we need the input of the other. And social protocol is a very potent influence in our actions. So don’t forget the world, but don’t make it all that matters. I am human. I am a smart person who sometimes does dumb things. I am a funny person, but sometimes my jokes make no sense (my favourite joke is actually the world’s cheesiest, and that’s probably why I love it so much). I am an active/healthy person but I have been known to devour a bag of chips and I have skipped runs on the basis that it was too cold/wet/hot/windy/I was too lazy.
Things go wrong sometimes and that’s totally fine, sometimes you make mistakes or choices that make no sense to you. Sometimes you’re trying to write the story, expecting to already know the ending. Doesn’t always work that way. At this point I don’t really know where the story is even going except the general direction I would like to go. Which made me realize, you write the story looking back, to write a good story you have to throw yourself in 100%. Commit to making some bad decisions from time to time (because as cheesy as it sounds that’s when you realize who you really are/who you really want to be), go for the spontaneous adventures, love people, take a lazy day, try something new.
My story isn’t perfect, it probably is barely publishable given the number of typos I’m sure exist, but it’s still worth telling, and it’s my story to tell.
So I leave you with this: How will you tell your story. Are you the hero or the villan? The quirky person that serves as comic relief? The “cute” but always single person?
“Happiness is an allegory, unhappiness a story.”
― Leo Tolstoy