“When you’re in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all, when you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.” - Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace
Your story, the one where you are the hero, the villain, the victim, where you are thrown into rough waters or are abandoned in a desert, these stories where you can see the role you play and how things turn out -- they’re not stories at all until after the fact.
When we are in the midst of these events, there isn’t always rhyme or reason to it. There aren’t always moments of clarity to stop, breathe, take a step back, and see bigger pictures-- especially in dark moments where a hardship we face is all too encompassing. The greatest pain we face is always the one we are experiencing in the moment.
But here, now with the gift of hindsight, we can map our path from beginning to present. We can see the rising action, the climax, the hubris, the patterns and metaphors, the cast. Here, with the gift of seeing the story (for which I won’t ask you to be grateful), we can start to carve out not only the details, but also the path forward. In fact, we can do this even when we are still in the midst of the story -- something we all are facing as the pandemic drags on like a long window in history, not a pinpoint.
Some of the questions I like to ask people after they work with me or listen to my talks help them acknowledge and realize their story, AKA, their very real progress and growth:
Answering any of these can help you demonstrate to yourself your newfound wherewithal, wisdom, and methods for learning from the difficult experiences we all face in life. They can show us how we may have a new ability to adopt multiple perspectives of a situation, or the capacity to assess one’s own role in the experience.
They reveal your motivation to self-author a more empowering story moving forward.
We cannot always control what will happen to us. To vie for that control is a fruitless and draining endeavour. We can, however, know when to ask for support. We can show ourselves grace in learning how to navigate new terrain.
We can give ourselves and others the space and time they need to process. We can acknowledge and work on the harmful parts of our ingrained belief systems and psychological evolution. We can go through hell, and then keep going, knowing a horizon will appear for us.
Even when on our knees, we can look up, reach out, and not just survive through life, but thrive.
What story are you writing?
This is a modified re-telling of a few pages from Chapter 15 of my book Never Waste a Crisis. The rest of that chapter explores how we can continue writing our new narrative, revisit our hero’s journey, expand our supporting cast, change scenery, and expand what we believe to be possible.
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