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The Story Behind our Stories
2014/03/13
By : Burt Kempner (StoryWorlds / Peaceful Warrior art by Cynthea LaGrou)
For most of my adult life I told a charming story about myself: I was Indiana Jones with a keyboard, fearlessly righting wrongs in my prose and films. I really loved that story, identified with it completely. Too bad it wasn't all that true.

During a months-long period of introspection brought on by a business catastrophe, I discovered an unmistakable pattern in the script of my life: I would tend to pause at the pinnacle of success and wait for someone - a Sherpa mountain guide, if you will - to take me the rest of the way to the mountain-top. The fact that this didn't happen wasn't due to my would-be guides being dishonest or incompetent (some were, some weren't), but because my expectations of them weren't realistic. I'd given other people the starring role in my own story, and that limiting belief cost me dearly.

So many of us do that. We set out to be the square-jawed heroes or resourceful heroines of our own tales, and we end up as supporting characters in someone else's story, whether it's our mates', our bosses' or society's.

It begins at an early age. When we are very young our parents tend to write our stories for us. Later we let teachers assume that role, as well as elected officials, business leaders and other authority figures. There comes a time for us to step out from behind the scenes and write our own scripts. But many of us continue giving that power away. We create backstories that have no basis in reality. I recently read about a woman who had her family and friends absolutely convinced that she sprang from aristocratic Old Southern roots. They hung on her tales of cut glass chandeliers and dreamy, romantic cotillion balls. In fact, she grew up in a tarpaper shack in the foothills of North Carolina and didn't put on her first pair of shoes until she was almost a teenager.

Did this charade harm anyone? Not really. But did it prevent this woman from rewriting her script into one that took full advantage of her talents and powerful imagination? I think yes, emphatically.

You may recoil from the concept that your life is just a story. It's real. Isn't it? Yes and no. Much of the way we work, play, act and love is based on images we see on screens or read in books. The stories families swap about one another shape our character. Our lives are the sum of our stories, and like any story, they can be rewritten, edited or crumpled into a ball and begun all over again.

I've worked with people from all types of background in my coaching business - lawyers, high school dropouts, wounded warriors, genealogists, writers and construction workers, among others. All of them want to have the final say in what happens in their lives but most have let fear and doubt hold them back.

It doesn't have to be that way. We can make concrete, realistic changes in our lives right now that make us the master scripters of our own tales. Once we overcome inertia, all things become possible. Even if the changes don't work out as we planned, we're now conditioned to believe - we know in our hearts - that we have the power to plot our own course. If the initial approach didn't work, another one will. Practically anything beats doing nothing.
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