"When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story we can write a brave new ending."― Brené Brown, American academic and author
Have you ever wondered how ropes are made? I know how they're made.
First, I know how they're made because I'm just endlessly curious about all kinds of things. But I also know because I googled it before my husband and I did a gorge jump at Victoria Falls – I had to be sure about the rope because it was the only thing that prevented us from crashing into the rocks and the dark, swirling waters of the Zambezi river!
Ropes don't start life as big, strong objects. They start as fibers gathered and twisted into yarns. The yarns are then formed into strands by twisting them together. The twist of the strand is opposite to that of the yarn. These strands are then twisted together (once again in the opposite direction) to form a rope.
The counter-twists of the successive steps are what hold the rope together. And obviously, the more yarns and strands you use, the thicker the rope.
When it comes to strength, a rope's thickness isn't all that matters. The type of material and the quality of the material are also important. And exposing the rope to any form of solvent, knotting it, or using it against sharp edges will diminish its strength.
Now, let's talk about stories.
Do you ever sit in a coffee shop and imagine stories about the people sitting at the next table? I do that all the time. When I visit new places, I see stories everwhere; tastes and aromas stir up emotions linked to stories.
When we feel that a movie or a book didn't tell the whole story or had gaps, we feel disappointed. We don't like the hollowness – the untruth of a half-story.
Stories are more than just words and images. Stories are a collection of events, feelings, expectations, information, and interpretation.
We're each and every one of us living our own story. Everything you've experienced forms the yarns of your story. Gathered together over time, the yarns become strands and the strands become ropes.
Everyone lives within a multiplicity of concurrent stories because we don't exist in isolation. We show up in one another's stories.
And together we create new yarns and strands and ropes with all the people around us, with the animals, the sky, our forebears, the unborn, the Earth and how we relate to it.
It's easier to own the parts of these stories that we like, the chapters with good endings. It's not so easy to acknowledge that we're sometimes the "villain" in our own or someone else's story – those times we've made poor decisions, or caused others pain or harm. It can be tempting to hide these chapters and not think about them.
But where does it leave you if you don't own your whole story?
When you hide the uglier part of your story, you're not being honest with yourself about the reality of your life. If you're not honest with yourself about that reality, you can't take responsibility for mistakes you made. (In some cases you also run the risk of taking ownership of things that weren't your fault).
"Owning your story" applies to every part of your story, every yarn of the rope. Acknowledging the more unsavory chapters of your story doesn't mean sinking into despair. Instead, it gives you the opportunity to accept your imperfections, learn from your failures, develop your character and grow into your purpose.
It's only when you bring the dark into the light that you can see clearly and start to make different choices.
Just like you don't want to expose a rope to solvents, you don't want to deny certain parts of your story.
One of the rewards of owning your story is that it reveals the threads or themes that run through all the chapters: your characteristics, values, desires, and how they inform your decisions – the good and the bad.
Using a weak rope in a life-or-death situation won't give you much peace of mind, because you won't trust that it'll hold. Owning your whole story gives you back the gift of trusting yourself and strengthens your rope.
The wonderful thing is, if you can face the difficult things, learn from them and heal, they stop haunting you: you take away the sharp edges that fray the rope and wear it out.
After years of working with people, I've learned that sharing parts of my story can be the lifeline someone else needs. Being brave and vulnerable enough to own your story, and courageous enough to change, can inspire and encourage others to do the same.
Every part of your story that you own makes you stronger. While you can't go back and re-write history, you can take more control of the next chapter.
And in the end the truth we all have to face is this: "Who you are is far more powerful than who you're pretending to be." (Christina Berkley.)
During the #MTtalk Twitter Chat last Friday, we talked about the importance of owning your whole story. Here are the questions we asked and some of your most insightful responses:
Q1. What does "owning your story" mean to you?
@PG_pmp Appreciating your journey with all its ups and downs.
@ZalkaB For me, it means I create and convey my story online and offline. Fully and congruently being myself in my actions and words.
Q2. Why is owning your story a brave act?
@bluesummitsupp Telling yourself half-truths for the sake of your comfort zone and sticking with what you're used to is the easy way out. But owning your story is brave because it forces you to get intimate with even the ugly, uncomfortable truths.
@emapirciu When you own your story, you’re OK with the good and the bad in your past. You overcome guilt and regret. It’s an act of courage.
Q3. What are the consequences of not owning your story?
@MikeBarzacchini We have this one precious life, this one precious narrative to experience. We are each remarkable. And no one can tell our story better or more honestly than ourselves.
@vivektweetsso As long as you don't own your story or become the biggest cheerleader of yours, your life will feel like a meaningless journey. You won't be able to align to your purpose unless you own your story.
Q4. Owning your story puts a target on your back/increases your vulnerability, true or false? Why?
@NWarind False. When you're ready to own your story you become more resilient and not vulnerable.
@J_Stephens_CPA Both – having your story in the open and not covering it up means some will take advantage when they can. But you are also stronger because you already know the details.
Q5. In what ways have you invalidated or denied your own story, and why?
@TheToniaKallon I've invalidated parts of my story whenever I've doubted myself or let regret or fear control my behavior. Why? Because I'm shifting focus from acceptance to actions of defense/criticism.
@ColfaxInsurance I've denied my own abuse, or played it down, because there were always others that "had it worse" or I didn't want to hurt the other person's reputation. I'm learning to actually work through my trauma, instead of pretending it didn't happen.
Q6. Which parts of your story do you find difficult to own?
@LernChance When the story concerns my weak spots. The parts of the story I don’t want to share with others although they are important.
@MicheleDD_MT I used to deny the darker parts. When I was young, I lacked self-esteem, I was depressed and lonely. I behaved in ways that I was ashamed of.
Q7. Embracing those parts of us we are not proud of is a gift. Explain.
@Yolande_MT Embracing my weaknesses opens a space for curiosity – looking inwards to explore my role in different stories in a different way.
@NeViNShCe1 It makes me gentle. It allows me to forgive, understand and accept not just me but others. And somehow it takes away all anxiety and fear that someone may expose the parts of me that I am hiding. I feel more CALMA, stress-free, and confident.
Q8. How do you go about owning your story? What steps can you take?
@lsmurthy99 Be true to yourself, have courage and conviction to own it. It's always blissful, beautiful, to be authentic and be grateful for all that one has and share the love and kindness you received.
@nitinwelde Tell yourself the real story as if someone else is telling it. Become a little aloof – understand it's not as bad as you think. Remind yourself that you are human and humans have real/unscripted stories. Be sure that the intent was clear and don’t feel guilty.
Q9. How has seeing other people own their stories helped you manage events in your life?
@Midgie_MT Helps me to put my "stuff" into a more positive perspective. Plus have more empathy and understanding towards others. Reminds me that we never know what is going on or has gone on for others behind what we see.
@aamir9769 Many things to learn from their life, [it] gives you a kick inside. Stories inspire, influence you. They share their example to many and you see them as mentors and follow in their footsteps.
Q10. What impact would you like to have on other people through you owning your story?
@JKatzaman If owning my story helps others do better in taking charge of their own tales, then my work is done.
@MicheleDD_MT To create understanding that the darker parts of us are a part of a whole... it is part of our truth. We were doing our best with the tools that we have.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat over here.
It's easy to live in a bubble, auto-piloting from one day to the next. However, sometimes there's a pivotal moment – almost like a moment of awakening, that catapults a person into becoming a change maker.
In our next #MTtalk chat, we're going to talk about change makers and how to be one. In our poll this week, we'd like to know what drives some people to become change makers. To see the poll and cast your vote, please click here.
In the meantime, here are some resources to explore strategies to help develop your abilities as a change maker. Some of them may only be available in full to members of the Mind Tools Club.
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