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My story flows in more than one direction.
Adrienne Rich

The way you tell your story to yourself matters.
Amy Cuddy

Each of us has a story. I believe we begin to craft this story from a very early age and make it our own. The story may not be accurate but it reflects what we believe about ourselves.

Some time ago a friend recounted how her 2 year old granddaughter, when asked why she was having time out for some transgression, replied: because it’s my story. It was a reminder about how early stories about ourselves begin to form- even if they are not the ones we want.

No one wants a gloomy story. And yet that is sometimes the one we take on– intentionally or not. Stories in which life is unfair, opportunities elude us, or it’s not possible to fulfil our deepest longings.  Challenges do come our way from time to time. And it is true some of us experience difficult life circumstances, acquired at birth or in the course of living, that are without a doubt unfair. We all know people who have tough lives and others who seem to breeze through from one wonderful life experience to the other.

No one wants a boring story. And yet some days, our stories seem like a whiter shade of bland, lacking a vibrancy that we see in other’s lives. There’s nothing bad about the story but it’s one that could use a little spark- more colour and texture and meaning.

Most of us want a story that grabs the imagination, one in which our hopes and dreams and expectations are on their way to being fulfilled.

The difficulty is that we get trapped into thinking stories:

  • must follow a linear path in which we (hopefully) reap some reward in the end. In reality, life’s journey is usually full of twists and turns with surprises along the way;
  • are fixed and can’t be changed. You know the refrain: I am what I am; it’s too late to change;
  • are really only one story: I am too old to start doing such and such; I am not really bright enough or attractive or funny or whatever. Such stories are a collection of unhelpful thoughts that distort the facts.

Why would we ever think our story can’t be changed or that there would be only one story?

We can always change our story! Although the essence of who we are –our true nature- remains unchanged, we are also human beings of many dimensions. Some aspects figure more prominently at certain stages in our lives while others lie quietly below the surface waiting to emerge- or re-emerge- at the right time.

One of the gifts of midlife and beyond is that we can pause and ask ourselves if the story we are living is the one we want or if it’s time to shift direction.  After all, we are not the same people we used to be, so yes- our stories do change or as Adrienne Rich observed, flow in more than one direction. This is not about erasing what has gone before, but rather drawing out those submerged parts of us that need air time in order to add depth and richness to a narrative that is very much our own.

The question one wise friend posed to me is: What part of yourself do you want to more fully express? Or as I like to think of it: what is itching to come out?

It’s a good question!  Some time ago I had a sense my story needed to change direction. There wasn’t anything wrong but I felt a restlessness I could not explain. Restlessness can signal the need to revisit assumptions we have lived with for some time. With the benefit of what one person described as a panoramic view of accumulated life experiences, we can bring seemingly unrelated parts of ourselves together to reveal something new that was really there all along.

As someone whose life has been shaped in part by the conventions of the time in which I grew up, I now have this urge to engage in constructive rule breaking (as long as no one is hurt) and do something just a little bit wild. Surely for most of us, there is a place deep within that wants to take a detour from the usual routine or abandon the established expectations of ourselves, or simply do something really different for the sheer joy of it. It’s the part of me that asks: Why not….as I leap off the cliff hoping the net will be there.

There are people who turn their lives upside down and go off in a direction somewhere. But changes also come about through small shifts in thinking that eventually lead us down a whole new path.  Slowly but surely we begin to change the narrative. The job, the laundry and the meals are still there, but they’re no longer the central part of the plot.

Our story is really many stories reflecting the varied aspects of ourselves heading in countless directions that no one can pin down.  Regardless of missteps and wrong turns and circuitous routes, the story matters and it’s all changeable. The point is: we are the ones who write our story; we decide how to tell it; we can choose a different direction if that feels right.

What do you want your story to be? I have been giving a good deal of thought to the path my own story is taking. I hope that when I look back years from now, I will view that story as one that grabbed the imagination with enough rule breaking to make it intriguing and fun, yet ever in awe of how extraordinary the ordinary every day is. Whatever your story: honour it and make it your own- all of it. May it be colourful and bold and in the words of Mary Oliver, may you “be married to amazement!”

 

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