Western culture has a bad habit. Well, several actually, but that’s the subject of another blog. Or a Masters level seminar. Anyway, the habit I want to talk about here is our felt need to have a backstory for…well, everything.
This often extends to ourselves and how we view ourselves in the context of our daily lives. We listen to what others say about us, combine that with what we think we want our lives to look like, or what we think we stand for, and voila –
we end up with a narrative, often with a side order of low self-esteem and unreasonable expectations.
And that’s where I want to pick up the story (pun fully intended) after we’ve built this narrative around these externally derived concepts of ourselves. First, you need to understand that these stories often serve a valid purpose. They can give us the motivation we need to keep going when things get difficult. They can smooth over the bumps in life.
However, they can also lead us astray – to a false sense of self that’s based on the story and not on who we truly are.
The tricky part is recognizing when you start telling yourself such a story. Then being able to separate your actual self from the narrative version.
Start by realizing that you’re constructing the story around past events. Because that’s all you have to build them around. These are events you remember and can put yourself back into to sort out what’s happening now.
You’re telling yourself, “something like this happened once, and here’s how I handled it.” This is often followed by a critical assessment of how you handled it and how your past self failed in some way.
Here comes the self-doubt.
Now step back from the story you’ve constructed and realize that this is not who you are. This is an event from your past. Your present self has learned from that past event and is attempting to translate what happened and make it relevant to the present.
Let go of the story and allow yourself to live now.
“Nothing happens for a reason, but everything that happens has purpose.”
– Megan Hollingsworth
Saying that an event happened for a reason shifts accountability to something that happened before. And since that precipitating event is in the past, there’s nothing to do. This shifts any impetus to take action off Present You, since all you can affect is now.
However, saying that “everything that happens has purpose,” well now, that’s different. Now you’re saying that the event happened in order to affect something that hasn’t happened yet. Now the focus is on the future, something that your actions in the present can certainly impact. Now your future is firmly in your hands and rests on what you do now, in the present.
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
This follows from the first quote, and Epictetus’ words ring true today – two thousand years after he said them. He was a Stoic philosopher who believed that all external events happen as a result of fate and we should accept them without fuss. I’m not advocating that extreme a view. I want to take it far enough to adopt an outsider’s view of events to learn from them and carry that lesson forward.
If you can make this perspective shift, even if only when you remember this article, imagine the changes you can affect. Instead of saying, “why did that happen to me?” What you’re saying is,
“what can I do with this right now to affect my future in a positive way?”
You’ve taken the negative experience of dwelling on the past WHY and turned it into the positive experience of figuring out the future HOW.
Good on ya! Now, if you’re starting your journey down this path of discovery and wellness, and find yourself feeling a bit…stuck, get in touch and
Let’s start the conversation.