Our lives are our stories. When people ask us questions about ourselves we share stories about things we’ve done or places we’ve seen. And often, these stories are so repeated they become engrained in the rhetoric of our identities. Before we are old enough to share our stories, they are shared for us.
Even before we remember them, stories that define and shape us are retold over and over. And sometimes it can be hard to write your own story of your life – but we do comes to those moments, don’t we? When we want to change and evolve but the stories of who we are have such a hold on us. How do we give ourselves room to grow in those moments?
We understand our lives as narratives, but what happens when these narratives have negative impacts in our understanding of ourselves, and how can we change that?
Every Story Matters
I know I have struggled with wondering if what I have to say has substance, if I should share my ideas or opinions, if being a blogger or author is out of my reach, my undergraduate degree is in communication and peace, communication is almost rhetoric and I’ve written my fair share of papers, but sometimes it feels like I’m still not qualified. I don’t have a PhD, I’m not an expert, I’m not a professional writer, I’m just a person with a story.
But, if I’ve learned anything in my life, it is that every story matters.
I have a minor in history and one of the things I learned this year is how interesting it is to study the history of untold stories, the unpopular opinions, the people who didn’t get to share their side of the story because they lost the conflict. These are some of the most interesting perspectives for historians to study. So if these hidden stories matter, maybe mine do too. Maybe all of ours do.
Your Own Leading Lady
I really like Kate Winslet, like a lot. She plays a character in the movie The Holiday (a wonderful Christmas movie if you’re looking for one this holiday season) who realizes she needs to take control of her life. The line I love is “you should be the leading lady of your own life” – giiiiirl yes. I tell myself that all the time.
It relates to a Donald Miller book I’ve been reading recently called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life. In the book he shares the experience of writing a film based on his life and gaining an understanding about living a good story. He argues that our lives may all be stories but they don’t naturally turn into good stories. We do need to make the choices that get us there – sometimes we need to step up and make sure we are living with purpose (or being our own leading lady – however you want to look at it).
It can be hard to take control of the story of your life or change the path you’re on, because it our stories often doesn’t start with your voice. We grow up hearing things and I think there is great power in the things people tell us about our selves shaping who we are. It could be a compliment from a teacher telling you you’re a strong leader or a mean comment from a bully – but I think those comments do really stick. And it is in the moments where we believe those comments, especially the negative ones, when we let other people narrate who are and what we are capable of. So how do we take control to make sure we’re being the leading actor of our own lives?
Rewriting Our Story Lines
I took a Narrative Mediation workshop in 2015 and was incredible to see how truly deep our stories run in our lives. Narrative Mediation is a cool process that invites people who are in conflict with one another to share their perspectives and stories of the conflict or shared relationship, to learn about the other person’s experiences. It is a method of working through conflict to create an opportunity to develop a new story for the future together.
If it hasn’t becoming evident among my other blog posts, I’m a huge Brené Brown fan, and in her book Rising Strong she writes about how owning our stories and reclaiming them we can redefine them. She writes;
“If we’re going to put ourselves out there and love with our whole hearts, we’re going to experience heartbreak. If we’re going to try new, innovative things, we’re going to fail. If we’re going to risk caring and engaging, we’re going to experience disappointment. It doesn’t matter if our hurt is cause by a painful breakup or we’re struggling with something smaller… if we can learn how to feel our way through these experiences and our own stories of struggle, we can write our own brave endings”
I love the idea both in Brown’s writing and the concept of narrative mediation that we have the power, both individually and in relationships, to respond to our stories and write the endings. If we live our lives with intentionality, thoughtfully and carefully writing our lives we can overcome stories we have grown out of, or don’t want to have shape us anymore.
That might look different for everyone, maybe you’ve been labeled as someone who’s not sporty or artistic but you want to try being those things anyway, or you feel like you’re in a pattern of not handling conflict well in relationships – you can always try to change. Stories shape us and our lives but we can be intentional about creating new ones if we want to.
When I went to Kenya when I was 16 our trip leader told us on the first day “Nobody here knows you, you get to be the person you’ve always wanted to be”. We might not always have the opportunity to be in a new group of people who don’t know our defining stories, but I do think that every day when we go out into the world we do have the chance to be the person we’ve always wanted to be and the narrator of our own lives.