When I started storytelling, I used to pretty much stick to the stories as they were written, trying to get the cadence of the words as written to be reflected in the words as they were spoken. I hadn’t memorized them exactly but I had kind of gotten the shape of the story just as it was and I was trying to replicate that.
Over time, though I realized that everyone kind of makes their own shape out of the story and kind of makes it their own so I started loosening up on how I told it, making sure that I got the main points out but not worrying too much if the details matched exactly.
Then a few years ago, I had to tell a story at a story slam – I had to be the sacrificial lamb – the person who tells the story to warm up the judges at the beginning of the slam. The theme was Skeletons in the Closet so I chose to tell a story of literal skeletons- the story of Bluebeard who keeps all his former wives’ bodies in a closet in his house until his current wife discovers them.
Part of the story didn’t resonate with who I am – the girls in the story were helpless – so I thought, based on my previous experience with stories by then, that I should go looking for a version of the story that didn’t hinge on the girls being helpless. And sure enough I found one.
The story of Count Silvernose – one of my key stories to this day – is all about how one girl saves the day and protects her sisters.
It got me thinking though about the stories we tell ourselves and how tend to get stuck in the version we know even if it doesn’t serve us.
We get comfortable in the context that our brain has created for us to explain how we got to where we are, to make sense of our world as it currently stands, and we forget that there might be other ways of looking at it. This is especially true if the story hinges on us being the sole person to blame for the situation at hand – if it depends on us being flawed and difficult. We tend to accept those stories as being ‘true’ because they match our fears.
But, for example, there is another way of looking at being ‘flawed and difficult.’ To paraphrase something that Sam Bennett, author of ‘Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes A Day‘ says, we may be ‘flawed and difficult’ but we can choose to see that as being unique and determined instead.
That’s a version of our story that serves us and while we can’t pretend that we don’t have the other side too, we can recognize that both parts are true, sure, sometimes being determined means that we are difficult. But being difficult can also mean that the person defining us as such just doesn’t like what we’re doing. We are being difficult for THEM, not for us. (And frankly, I don’t mind all that much if I am being difficult for some people. ;))
Sometimes we NEED to be difficult to get things done. AND, sometimes we aren’t being difficult at all.
I’m sure me wanting my own way instead of wanting it your way is difficult for YOU but that doesn’t mean *I* am the problem.
Since there are always multiple ways of looking at things and a variety of stories to tell then it is always possible to find a version of the story that lets you be who you are and be kind to yourself.
After all, you might want to change your systems or your reactions but you aren’t going to want to change the fundamentals of YOU.
So find the story that serves you best, the one that is kindest to the things that are nearest to your soul. You need to be good to you.
We can always do what I did to find Count Silvernose. Take the version of the story that we know, figure out the elements that don’t really work for us, that do not serve our greater purpose, and look for other sides, other views, other ideas that more match what we are trying to accomplish. I am not saying that we have to lie, I’m saying that what exists as the truth depends very much on the perspective of the teller. What is true for you is not necessarily true for someone else but that doesn’t mean that your truth is more valuable than theirs.
You don’t need to go sifting through every detail on everything you hear, that would be exhausting. But something is bothering you, you can sort out different ways of looking it until one of them settles into your brain in a way that makes sense. You can find an approach that is satisfying and that makes you understand the situation and yourself a little better and lets you take action.
THAT is the best version for you.
Anything that keeps you stuck? Definitely not the best version.
A story that blames you isn’t making the world a better place – it makes you an ineffective person – and if you are ineffective then you can’t be doing your part to make the world a better place. And this world needs everyone who is willing to make this world better. Find the version of the story that helps you do that.
And if you can’t find it on your own, then I am happy to help you.