What’s your story?
If you were to write a screenplay that was turned into the movie of your life, would it be a comedy, a mystery thriller, an adrenal pumping adventure, an insightful documentary, a snooze fest, a horror film…? If we think of our lives that way and then ponder why movies are entertaining or boring or informative, there are clues to be found about how to live a more enjoyable and meaningful life.
Interestingly, almost all films are love stories. Even in the most fantastic sci-fi adventures there’s a “love interest” and, in the end, some kind of resolution that involves a deepened connection. Two people traverse hell, often including serious challenges with each other, to finally arrive in some version of “heaven.” Roll credits.
So, who’s your lover in your life story?
Let’s play a mind game. Imagine that your lover is … yourself! And imagine that your life story tracks a journey of growing intimacy … with yourself. Those of us who work out in a gym probably understand that building muscle mass involves destruction and re-creation. We tear down, then we build up. We may also understand that the same thing happens in relationships, especially in the close ones. Our struggles make us stronger… if we hang in there. If we complete our “work outs” together without giving up. Make up sex … you know that story!
What about the challenges we encounter getting along with ourselves? My experience is that most of us seem to be toughest on “me.” Behind the façade of a smiling dinner partner, someone at a desk or on the phone, even that body close beside someone else all night, there’s a secret factory of constant ripping down occurring. And, sadly, without the necessary building back up.
Result? As the years go by, we tend to get increasingly negative about ourselves. With more time on our hands, we can lose ourselves in regretful reflections about woulda coulda shoulda: “If only I’d done this, if only I hadn’t done that, why do I always do that, why do I never do that..?”
Imagine seeing that on the big screen? What kind of a movie would that make? I guarantee, it wouldn’t be a popular one. Who would want to see that kind of graphic reminder of one’s own sorry internal state? No, we want to escape into a better place, forget about our troubles, experience a different world.
OK. Continuing with this metaphor, let’s re-ask that original question and go somewhere constructive with it: “What’s your story?” Forget about your actual life for a moment and shift into your imagination. Pretend you are an author, contemplating a new book. The page is blank. Sure, you have a lifetime of experience to draw from, but you can write anything you want. The only limitation is your own imagination.
I’m the author right now so I’m going to do this and I’ll share the process with you. You can practice on your own later.
I am a writer, obviously, and I have been for decades, so I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade. The first one is to start at the end. Why? Because if you don’t know where you are going, how could you make decisions that would take you there? So, in this case, pen in hand (actually, fingers poised over the key board), I decide that my destination is “total self-love.”
There’s something else just as important for successful story navigation: knowing where your hero is starting from. The best stories employ what's called a "story gap," a chasm between where the star is and where they will end up.
Here’s my protagonist: Born with big dreams, lived a small life. Thought I’d change the world, the world changed me. Realizing I’ll die without accomplishing 1% of what I thought I would. Filled with regret.
Next, what kind of story do I want this to be? It could be ponderous, a deep dark dive into psychological warfare that encourages readers/viewers to look within themselves. After all, as Socrates said, “The unexamined life isn’t worth living.” Yeah, I could write that. But in this moment, at 6:39 on Tuesday morning, it seems way too heavy to me. I’m the author, I get to choose, so I think I’ll write a different story.
How about an entertaining romp starring a goofy character who bumbles his way through a fascinating series of mishaps that somehow always turn out OK in the end and, in the process, discovers how to love himself?
That sounds much more entertaining to me!
Next lesson, next week: how to write that story. In the meantime, figure out where you want to go and where you’re starting from. And enjoy this thought: “My life isn’t over yet, I get to make it up the way I want to, and the best is yet to come!”
How can you know that’s true? Because you’re the author of your own life story!