Tell a Better Story
June 13, 2017
by Kim Childs, CPPC
Last year I was working with a client who was preparing to retire from a long and successful career. She named a desire to work part-time in a new field, and her face lit up as she described what she’d like to do and why she wanted to do it. It was clearly a long simmering passion.
As we identified her next steps of research and action, her face darkened. She began to voice doubts about her ability to transfer her impressive life and work experience to a new pursuit for which, from my perspective, she was sufficiently qualified and definitely trainable.
“So you haven’t inquired yet, but you’re telling yourself that they wouldn’t want to hire someone like you because you haven’t worked in that field yet?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied, getting pensive. “I guess that’s a story.”
We agreed that it was. And like most limiting stories we tell ourselves, it was worth examining.
Remember the old joke about how, when you assume, you make “an ass out of you and me?” While a little crude, there’s truth in there about the danger of making assumptions. My client was not alone in telling herself a story that prevented her from taking action, asking questions, and obtaining information that could debunk her assumptions. On the flip side, we sometimes do take misguided action based on unchecked assumptions, and later regret them.
I know that I’ve made up stories about why someone doesn’t reply to my email, include me in an invitation, or return my call. Quite often, those stories are unpleasant, painting me or the other person in a bad light. That’s when I have to remember the words of a dear and wise friend on this subject:
“If you’re gonna make up a story, make up a good one.”
This is also known as giving people (and situations) the benefit of the doubt. Think about that oft-used phrase. Injecting our painful stories with some doubt or curiosity, making room for other possibilities and perspectives, makes us feel better and expands our thinking and creativity. This leads to more constructive action, which can lead to better outcomes.
I often invite clients to do this with painful episodes from their past that are still holding them back. Sometimes these experiences involve abuse or mistreatment from another, in which case a forgiveness process can liberate us from the toxicity of resentment and a disempowering world view. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we have to hang out with those who harmed us, it means we stop harming ourselves by feeling permanently victimized.
In the words of Carl Jung, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
Sometimes our limiting stories and beliefs are rooted in regrettable actions we took that damaged our self-perception. In those cases, we’re often being harsh and not letting ourselves off the hook.
“View your life with ‘kindsight,'” says author Karen Salmansohn. “Stop beating yourself up about things from your past. Instead of slapping your forehead and asking, ‘What was I thinking?’ breathe and ask yourself the kinder question, ‘What was I learning?’”
If you find yourself long ruminating over past actions or hurts that won’t let you go and keep you from forgiving (yourself or others), healing, and moving on to your greater good, try this exercise:
- Write about the experience as you recall it, full of your authentic emotion about it.
- Write again about the experience objectively, as a good reporter would, with “just the facts.”
- Write once more about the experience from the perspective of the wisest or most spiritually evolved person you know of, consciously appreciating any growth, lessons, gifts, clarity, strength, resilience or wisdom it yielded.
Use that brilliant, inventive mind of yours to make up the best stories you can about what’s possible, what you can do to improve situations and relationships, and what good could come from bad. Let those better stories guide your actions and choices.
In doing so, you make yourself the author and victor in your own life.
Kim Childs, CPPC, is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, Creativity, and Midlife Transitions. Click here to learn more and schedule an initial consultation.