What’s your story?
Every day you tell them. It starts in the morning and ends when you fall asleep. You decide what type of story you want to tell. You choose how the meeting went before it happens, how the presentation landed before walking in the door, and how you did on the exam before answering the first question. What story do you tell? Is it a story of anxiety, stress, and fear? Or is it a story of hope, happiness, and success? You choose.
I was hosting an event for parents of graduating high school seniors. A mom came up to me following the event to share a confession – she was struggling with her daughter. She had a history of making poor choices with alcohol and boys while in high school, and she predicted her daughter would be back at home before Thanksgiving. She shared this with her daughter.
I then asked, “Can I be honest with you?” I like to ask for permission before sharing sensitive feedback. This gives the receiver of the truth the power; it prevents them from feeling attacked. She responded, “Yes.”
I asked her why she chose to tell this story. She looked confused. I explained that there are two stories. There’s the story of her daughter going to college, making poor decisions, and coming back home. Then there’s the story of her daughter going to college, learning from her mistakes, using campus resources, finding answers, and being successful. I explained that telling the story of her daughter failing might protect a loving mom from getting disappointed, but it’s not going to help her daughter make it. In fact, it sends the opposite message – it tells her that the person who loves her the most believes she will fail.
Instead, I suggested she tell a different story. This story would start with her daughter struggling at first, but then getting help. She would turn to her professors, peer leaders, counselor and other first year resources. She could imagine celebrating with her during holiday break and feeling a sense of relief and joy. Yes, this story makes her vulnerable and opens you up to getting hurt, but at least this story has joy. Every change, challenge, and situation involves two stories. Which one do you choose to tell?
When you tell your story, jump into the future and imagine what you want has already happened. Feel it, taste it, touch it, hear it, and smell it. Indulge your senses. Tell the story of your day, week, month, or year as if you’ve already experienced it. Leapfrog the fear and anxiety and start with the happy ending. Experience what it feels like to get what you want, and reflect on the challenges you faced while getting there. Think about the people who helped you along the way, and identify the places where you found support. Put together a timeline to help you be patient as you create the experience.
If your story turns out as you imagined, great. If not, that’s great too. At least you will have information to process so you can either take the same risk again, make changes to get the results you desire, or take a different risk. Either way, you will win or learn.
While you can’t control the world around us, you can choose what stories you want to tell yourself. So, what’s your story?
- Harlan Cohan, author of Win or Learn