Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Creating the Narrative of Your Life

(This is something I've been thinking about for a long, long time, and as such am bound to completely flub it up. Also, important to note, if I know you and you think, "She wrote that about me, didn't she, the little skunk!" the answer is no, no I did not. I wrote it about me because I am a huge, huge narcissist and I don't care in the slightest about you or your life.)

(Which is completely untrue. But it isn't about you in the specific sense, but more the general, ethereal, anyone who happens to read this blog you.)

I've had an eventful year or two. I've been faced with situations I never expected to happen--nearly dying, infertility, a wildest-dreams-book deal, a whole heap of rejections, and a slew of crazy, out of the blue, overwhelming issues from my personal life that I love you too much to talk about on the blog. This has, in turn, led me to a rather-more-than-healthy amount of introspection. And I've come to some conclusions about myself.

The biggest one is that I expect things to work out for me. Maybe not in the way that I plan, but I'm genuinely surprised when things don't go my way. Surprised, and more than a little pissed off. (You hear that, uterus? Yeah. You. YOU'RE FIRED.)

And I wondered where I got this idea that I should succeed at things I try. Because I've always had it. My life is a narrative of success. I don't always get exactly what I want when I want it, but in my mind if I really want something and work for it, it'll happen.

It's a lie.

It's a total, total lie.

So many things in life are completely out of my control. And if I look back over the years, I can think of endless examples of things I wanted that did not go my way. For example, Michael-of-the-bowl-haircut-in-fourth-grade? Yeah, total hottie. Hottie that I must have wasted at least two hundred holding-my-breath-and-touching-a-screw-over-railroad-tracks wishes on. Hottie that I made it very clear in a fourth-grade telling-my-friends-who-told-his-friends-who-allegedly-told-him, wearing-my-nicest-dresses-and-always-picking-him-in-heads-up-seven-up way that I liked him.

And he never, ever liked me back. NEVER.

Which is not the most dramatic or horrifying example of things going wrong in my life. Still. Lots and lots of things in my life haven't worked out. But that didn't change this internal narrative I had, this one that said I will succeed where I want to, and things will go well for me, and people will like me, and I deserve to be liked and successful and happy.

(I blame my parents. In the best possible way, of course.)

When you get down to it, we sort our memories and we categorize our experiences. And when we've decided what the story of our life is, we filter everything through that lens.

So guess what? If you've decided your life is a tragedy, it will be! Everything, good or bad, will fit into that framework.

If you've decided your life is an inspirational success against the odds story, it will be! Everything, good or bad, will fit into that framework.

If you've decided your life is a romantic comedy, well, don't ask me for Fourth-Grade-Michael's number.

And if you've decided that your life isn't worthy of any story at all, it won't be.

I'm not saying you can change things by deciding that your personal narrative is going to be one of success. Sometimes it even works against you--because when things don't work out, it's so jarring that it can catch you completely off guard and leave you without the emotional resources to deal with it. (Yes, uterus, YOU ARE STILL FIRED.)

But there are things it can do. I didn't get a book deal because that happy voice inside my head said, "You can be on bookstore shelves someday!" I got a book deal because I believed that was true, and I worked my freaking butt off to get there. (Not literally. I do, in fact, still have a butt.) I always knew I could do it. Even on the days when I didn't think I could, I still knew I could. You'll always have to make adjustments for that pesky real-life thing, but they don't have to derail you. Absorb them into your story, file them away, and move forward.

So I'm telling you right now: Figure out what your personal narrative is. Figure out how you view yourself as a character in the story of your life. Figure out if it's a story you like. And if it isn't, figure out what you need to do, how you need to change your thinking to turn yourself into a character that is going to take your setting, your backstory, your side-characters, and your plot and turn them from whatever course they were taking. Steer them into something you'd love to curl up in an armchair and read when you're ninety. Maybe your story doesn't go exactly how you planned, because no story ever does, but a story is all in the telling.

It's always in the telling.

So tell yourself a good one.

50 comments:

Falen said...

this is so true! I'm a huge believer in "like attracts like", so if you belive you will be successful, then you will attract success (within reason of course. Even if i believe i'm going to win the powerball, it most likley isn't going to happen)

Wen Prior said...

Ah Kiersten, you always give me hope. I've had that same weird narrative in my head, always.

It has absolutely no basis in fact or experience, and yet I always believe I'll get what I want. Belief never hands you things on a silver platter, but it gives you what you need to keeping working until you get it for yourself, because you never doubt it will happen, so you never give up.

You've cheered me up immensely, there is hope for my deluded self after all. It worked for you :)

Mama White said...

Wow. Love you, sweetheart. You are beautiful! That is all.

Candyland said...

Great post, Kiersten. I'm a big believer in faith in oneself, but it coincides with hard work. Also, my uterus has been fired for the last year as well. So, I feel you.

Lisa said...

Me likey! Good post!

Kristan said...

I agree: you can't change your life with positive (or negative thinking... except that you can.

:)

Now please excuse me while I go chant over and over, "I can be as successful as Kiersten White, I can be as successful as Kiersten White..."

;)

Samantha Bennett said...

This was so encouraging! I agree that our "personal narrative" sets the tone for this writing thing. Depending on what we believe deep down, we can view a rejection as another step toward publication or a signal to quit. Great post!

P.S. I could never pick the boy I actually liked in heads up seven up. Way too scary.

Nicole said...

I too have always felt like things would work out for me. I've set outrageous goals and actually met them. And I've been thrown some curve balls, which has made me adjust my course, but still, in my heart, I know I'll get to where I want to go. But today, it's all moving too slowly for me. Kiersten, how *do* you parent children, write this fabulous blog, *and* pen and publish books all at the same time???

Piedmont Writer said...

Thanks for this today. It's nice to know that we all have our own crap we have to deal with (sorry about your uterus) and we can just put it behind us and persevere.

I've always wanted to be a published writer and even though I haven't been working on it that long, I have the courage and determination to get there.

When I look back at 90, I will be happy with my life.

Kiersten White said...

Nicole: I am always tired, my house is never quite clean, and my cooking leaves much, much, MUCH to be desired ; )

Everyone else--I so much believe that it's less what happens and more what you make of what happens that determines what kind of story your life is : ) And you all deserve happy stories. And that you're all smart enough to work toward them. I love my blog readers.

strugglingwriter said...

"It's always in the telling. So tell yourself a good one."

Very smart.

I always thought that how we experience the world is very much in how we interpret what happens to us. Two people could have something happen to them and if you asked them about it afterward, it's possible you could get responses so different you would not know the same thing happened. Does that make sense?

Paul

Kiersten White said...

And Paul, YES. That makes perfect sense.

Lindsey Bench said...

That Michael really was such an idiot. And I bet he never got rid of that stupid bowl haircut.

katarinas mama said...

Thank you for that inspirational post. It's so v v true. We do create our own paths and perspective. I'd like to think of mine as a dromedy. Part drama (always a flair for it) and def lots of comedy. In the words of Frank Sinatra, "That's life..."

PS/ Loved how you tied in writing and personal accomplishments and frustrations. This Mundie Mom thanks you for that. (take that fired uterus!)

Stephanie L. McGee said...

Aww, virtual hugs! Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing.

Caitlin said...

You're completely adorable. And I mean that in a totally non-psychotic, not-going-to-steal-your-dryer-lint kind of way.

Good luck with your uterus. I'd give you mine if it wasn't utterly jacked up.

Amanda J. said...

This is a beautiful post, Kiersten. Really. I know exactly what you mean, because for the longest time i was caught up with all of the bad things in my life and couldn't focus on anything good.

I thought nothing in my life could go right. Nothing. And while sometimes horrible things bring me back to it, I still believe things will work out and will be good if I make them. If I try and I work hard to stay positive and go after the things I want.

Thank you for this post. I'm sure I'll come back to it again. :)

Penelope said...

This is a fantastic, well-written and inspiring post. Thanks for putting it out there!

Kayeleen said...

I know how hard life can be and filtering it through a positive lens takes a lot of work, too. Thanks for posting, Kiersten. I love you in that non-creepy, don't really know you sort of way.

Andrea Cremer said...

Brilliant post!

Tawna Fenske said...

How eerie is it that we both picked today to blog about believing in yourself? It's like a coordinated agency sistah cheer-leading routine or something. The message bears repeating over and over again though!

Tawna

Grimmster24 said...

BRAVO, Kiersten. BRAVO. Very well done. And INSPIRING! :-D

Empress Awesome said...

Oh my gosh, that reminds me of this movie I just watched last night "The Secret." Everyone just kept saying that if you think about things long and hard enough, you'll attract them to you (which I think is a load of crap-- you can't just dream of being published and have it happen without sending out query letters and stuff. I can't believe people actually spent money to make that movie!)

Anyway, this post reminded me of that... except it was very encouraging. Thank you.

Jessie Oliveros said...

I've had similar thoughts lately. I can look back at my day and depending on how I tell it, I can remember it beautiful or terrible. Great post!

Kiersten White said...

Ha! Oh, Empress Awesome, thank you for clarifying that I was *not* like The Secret. When I started reading that I thought, oh CRAP that is not what I meant...

Jeanne said...

I love this post!
I blame my parents too for thinking my life will be an automatic success. (It's better than blaming them for the opposite.)

L. T. Host said...

GREAT post! I feel all inspired and kick-butt now.

Um, now I just need to find something to do with all this energy...

H-Duck said...

Michael-of-the-bowl-haircut may not have liked you back, but as I recall plenty of other 4th grade boys did like you.

Lynsey Newton said...

Kiersten, I just love your writing style and sense of humour. It makes me really look forward to your book release! That being said, this was a great post and one that I agree with. I do believe that whatever you tell yourself, will be truth. I also believe that things will some how work out - perhaps not in the way I want - but the way it was supposed to work out for the best. I do believe in the whole "things happen for a reason" although sometimes you can't see what the reason is for a long time, or even EVER. Wow this is getting a bit deep huh... anyway I'm going to keep telling myself that one day I could be where you are (publishing my debut novel) because...I know I can be :)

Chantal said...

OMG. You so wrote my story - but not, but so. I am totally on-board with you. Karma is what you decide it is and how you decide to look at what you've got. My uterus is officially shelved, too. My 7yo (who I JUST adopted like a few months ago), yeah, he's just been waiting for me apparently. And the uterus knew. I still hate my bod. But I love my kid. And all the other things--like getting laid off a year ago and not having a book deal yet - yea, those are things that totally are giving me time to spend with the kiddo. It's all in how you take the lemons and make the lemonade.

mumfusa said...

this post rocks. just like you. and thanks for the reminder that i rock too!

Jess said...

Great post, Kiersten. We all decide how to tell our stories, and lately I think I've been focusing on the stressy instead of the grateful. Must adjust. Also, good luck with the uterus. One of my best friends has been struggling with infertility, and I know it's really hard.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this post made me feel better or worse. (My day kind of sucks right now. A lot.) But the last part made me smile. :)

Erin said...

ah, michael of the bowl haircut, and then you broke your leg in half at the end of the school year to boot? not your year.

please email me with michael's identity.

Krista V. said...

Something about this post reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell's OUTLIERS: The Story of Success, which I just finished today. Have you read it, Kiersten? It's fantastic.

pinksuedeshoe said...

Amen to The Secret! A bunch of crap. Your idea is way better. I love this post and I think I might print it out and crochet it into an afghan or something. (Actually the "something" will probably be jabbing it with a thumb tack and letting it hang a little skewampus on the wall. But whatever.) But seriously, LOVE this post.

LisaP said...

Kiersten, this post made me feed all squishy (in a good way). I haven't liked the narrative of me all that much over the past year, but there is hope! ; )

K. Marie Criddle said...

I truly love this post. And I've never bookmarked a particular blog-post until now. Congrats, you're on my toolbar next to twitter and craigslist. :)

Jade said...

I actually did a very similar post recently because I've been trying to be all positive (which is sooo hard) about this writing thing.
I read my old journal from when I was a teenager and realised that I had gotten everything I'd ever really wanted, so what was stopping me from getting the writing thing too?

Nothing, in theory. I'd just have to keep work hard and hope for a little luck too.

Great post!

lora96 said...

So inspiring, honest, and all-around lovely! Thanks for this post! I wish I had something clever to add, but, straight appreciation today.

Valerie said...

This is something I believe whole-heartedly! I was also fortunate to have parents who lead me to believe I could be and achieve anything I wanted. It's so important to create the life you want to live and know you can have it.

Great post!

Peggy said...

Wow! That's exactly how I feel, too, except your version of it is much more succinct.

(And I, too, blame my parents for much of it. In a good way.)

Rachel said...

Wait...what happened to the contest?! I was so excited!

Claire Dawn said...

Wow!

I feel humbled. Kinda like how you'd feel if you were standing at the temple of universal truths, hearing and seeing life for what it is...

Thanks.

Heidi said...

This is so true... Sometimes I am like, wow I have such a great life, I get everything I want. I discovered this brilliant skill for drawing portraits and then got to meet all my favourite bands and bond with them because of that skill, and every musician I love knows my name and remembers my face, and I get to go on all these trips overseas all the time... and I think, wow, I am so lucky. But then... I forget the bad things when I say that. I forget that I didn't get into university a couple times (even though I eventually did, 5 years later) or that I've been disappointed a lot by friends and jobs and trips... and most of all, I've been wanting someone special in my life since I was 14 years old, and I'm 25 now and it still hasn't happened. And that one is the worst of all.

Thanks for writing this post

Holly said...

Very inspiring post! Thanks for that :)

Whirlochre said...

So much sense for one so young. You are delightful.

Meanwhile — glad to know the butt I discovered in my marmalade jar this morning wasn't yours. It had a slack, forlorn look to it, like it had been abandoned rather than worked off. I feel like I ought to complain — but to whom? The Mislaid Butt Squad? Or the Marmalade Penguin? Oh please don't let it be the Marmalade Penguin. I can't bear to go through that whole Tooth Fairy thing again...

Melissa said...

Thanks for posting this. I needed that reminder. I've expected too many things in life to just happen because that's the way things should happen. I am no longer living the narrative I once had pictured as a teenager. I'm living quite the opposite really. Thank you for pointing out while I may not always have the control of the story I want; it is still MY story to write.

Melanie Avila said...

I've never been able to verbalize my outlook on life, but you just said it perfectly. I've always believed that things will eventually work themselves out -- and they often do through no control of my own. I had some BIG upsets in 2009 and I think I was more surprised that things went so horribly wrong than I was upset about them. I'm still confident it will all work out.

pinksuedeshoe said...

So um I LOVE this post, and may or may not have printed it out and read it a gillion times in the past month. I wrote all about you and this post here.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksuedeshoe/4564823154/