NOTE: The following is a featured post from 2016 which first appeared on my former creative blog, Scrappy Storyteller. I’m sharing this as a way of embracing my past creative self and sharing ideas she had that, well, still matter today. Enjoy!
Every year I have great plans for February. And every year, they get totally derailed.
Like it or not, for me February seems to be the month when I’m called to hibernate in my own soul, mulling things over. I feel like that bear in a cave, slowly burning off the fat of her last intellectual meal so that when she awakes, she can stretch and crawl out of her cave in search of a good trout and a handful of berries.
The reward for my hibernation, however, is rarely a sense of well-restedness. (I actually slept terribly this month.)
It’s a sense of renewed understanding and purpose.
As I explored in my last post, there are apparently phases to this thing called the creative life. The early phases are so exciting! You watch concepts you heard and read about unfold before your very eyes.
But once the excitement and glitter are past, you’ve got a long road of hard work ahead of you.
And as it turns out, that is where our storytelling skills most come in handy.
You see, in the middle of all my intellectual machinations and internal questioning this month, it occurred to me that our storytelling skills really are so much more important than we think. And not just for the creative endeavors we might be pursuing.
They’re critical to the living of this thing called life.
This month it occurred to me—possibly for the first time ever—that the story truly must come first in any endeavor, not just in art but also in life.
So often we want to rush into action, or see change happen, without getting the story straight first.
Every day, every hour, I’m shaping a narrative inside my own head about how my life is going, whether I’m the hero of a comedy or tragedy, or how close I am to achieving my goals.
The most important story I’ve been telling all of my life isn’t one of my many specific fictional tales. It’s the story I’ve been telling to myself about my life.
I am my own first (captive) audience. I am also perhaps my own most important audience.
And like the reader of a choose-your-own-adventure novel, I will ultimately decide how the story turns out.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting I have ultimate power over my own life, or some kind of omnipotent edge that can merely think away obstacles and fly to the moon. But I am suggesting that I do have the power over how I react to, respond to or view what happens to me.
That internal narrative is just as important—maybe even more so—than any external one I’ll ever write.
As I was lying awake many nights this month, thinking over many things, or letting my mind wander as I doodled in my art journal . . . I realized that the creative life really is not about being in the “right place” with the “right people” or the “right work.”
It’s about telling yourself the right story about yourself, your place, your people and your work.
This is not to say that we should never make changes to our external environment, or pursue new opportunities, or perhaps finally lay that languishing project to rest. But perhaps we’re just too quick to look around us, expecting the change to happen.
We look to the details of the story to change magically on their own, rather than asking the Storyteller to change the plot.
I am the Storyteller. So are you. If we don’t like the story . . . all we have to do is change it.
After all, isn’t that the beauty of a story? It’s not completely random? There IS a Teller out there somewhere, shaping our understand of what’s happening, and helping us to make meaning of the events as they unfold.
In the case of life, we rely on ourselves to make meaning of what’s happening to us. It’s one of the sacred tasks we’ve been given.
So I’ll ask you the question I had to ask myself:
Do you like how you’re shaping the story of your own life?
If not, you always have an opportunity to shift the narrative inside your own head, and in doing so, to transform your reality.
That’s what stories are all about, anyway: the power of transformation. The transmuting of a soul from one state of being to another—whether literally in the physical realm or figuratively in the metaphoric one.
(I didn’t tell you we’d be delving into alchemy today, now did I? Well, every good story has got to have a plot twist anyway . . .)
A story starts off in one place and must alway end up in another. If there’s no shift or movement, there has been no story.
The bottom line for us is: transformation is possible. And it starts in our own heads.
So as we enjoy this unusual extra day in February, and prepare for March (already?!), I hope you’ll remember with me that we really, truly are the story that we tell ourselves.
If we don’t like the story we’re living, the problem isn’t usually in the story. It’s all about the telling.
This is why movies go south. Novels flounder. Graphic novels fall flat.
The telling of the story just wasn’t as grand as the original idea.
Our own less-than-effective telling is why the story of our life sometimes turns out as less than we’d hoped, too.
But the problem is never the story itself.
The narrative we spin inside our own heads, about our own lives, is quite possibly the most important narrative we’ll ever write.
It’s about time we got absolutely clear on who we are, what’s happened to us, and why it matters.
Because when we get our story straight, the rest (of life) will always follow.