When we think of “story,” we tend to think of three bears, a boy with magical powers, or the latest novel we’ve read. But story is so much more than that. Story guides our personal lives, as well as our collective culture.
The U.S. was established as a nation whose shared story was “equality for all,” and hundreds of years later it is that story which remains the foundation of our society. Our individual lives are shaped in much the same way – by our personal stories. Eknath Easwaran, author of Your Life is Your Message, describes a time Gandhi was traveling on a train in India while observing a day of silence and was asked by a British citizen what message he could take back to his people. Gandhi took out a piece of paper and wrote, “My life is my message.”
Gandhi lived the story of his life, one based on peace and equality, and he was comfortable with the message that his story conveyed. His message radiated joy, peace, and love throughout his life.
If my life is my message, what message am I conveying? Is it consistent with who I am and aspire to be?
Change Your Story – Change Your Message
In past blogs and client sessions, I have often discussed research supporting our ability to transform our lives by changing our thoughts. This transformation is facilitated by the recognition that our thoughts are part of an organized structure of reality—a story—that we are living. Rather than having to catch endless chaotic thoughts midstream, we can examine the story we tell about ourselves to ourselves and decide how we want to rewrite it.
Jim Loehr, author of The Power of Story: Rewrite Your Destiny in Business and in Life, says the success of our lives is at stake: the stories we tell about our work, relationships, accomplishments and shortcomings become our destiny. In essence, they become our message.
Here are some exercises to facilitate awareness of the stories that shape your life, and to diminish the influence of stories that are inconsistent with the message that you want your life to convey:
Discover your stories. Divide a piece of paper into two columns. On the left, list significant stories—your version of events that occurred—from all stages of your life. Perhaps you experienced a death in the family, divorce, birth, move, new school, great victory or defeat, or career change. In the right-hand column, write a brief description of what you learned or decided as a result of that experience.
Transform your stories. Now, reflect on a difficult incident from your past that prompted you to make an unhelpful or undesirable decision, and write it down. What happened? How did you feel? What were the implications of your story’s interpretation? Now, rewrite that story with a positive ending. Be imaginative. Any outcome is possible!
Explore your core stories. Explore how you see yourself in these important areas: Family, Health, School/Career, Community, and Love. Write a page on each subject. What does it mean to you? How do you feel about this area of your life? What did you learn as a child? Does the story you tell in one area sabotage your values and beliefs in another? If any story does not support the message you hope to convey, start telling a different one.
Intentionally authoring your personal story is a powerful way to create and live a life that is your message! I am no Gandhi, but I am inspired to live my life as my message.
Live well/Be well.