The Stories We Tell Ourselves

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about stories recently. With their heroes and villains, plot lines and plot twists, stories create meaning and connect us. Stories give us a reason to love, a reason to loathe, and a reason to listen. However, not all stories serve us well.

How many times have you gotten caught up in a Pinocchio-esque story? Or found out that a story was told from a biased point of view, coloring the truth with all shades of grey? Or realizing – too late – that the story is actually harmful, perpetuating dangerous ideas or stereotypes or beliefs? Even worse, how many times have you done this to yourself without full awareness?

One more drink won’t hurt. I’ve got this.
Runner up for the third time. I am never going to find work.
I can’t believe how bad I messed up that presentation. I am so stupid!

We know these stories right? We all have our own fill-in-the-blank versions. The stories fueled with scarcity, fear and shame. These are the stories of disconnection we create and ruminate on when we are stuck and can’t find a way forward.

The stories we tell ourselves can be dangerous territory.

When I trained with Brené Brown in Texas last year (a two-part story: Part 1 and Part 2), I defined my call to courage: I help leaders Cultivate Insight and Influence Change so that they can transform their personal and professional relationships through courageous conversation. Ultimately, it is about the practice of slowing down, finding stillness, and listening – to ourselves and others – to get better results. Crystal clear, I knew where I was headed and spent the balance of 2019 preparing.

Well, if 2020 were a book, it would be an epic saga. To say that this year has been an endless bag of tricks is an understatement. Our tried and true storylines have been flipped on their head, and so it went for me. Plot twist! All of my carefully laid plans quietly imploded at the beginning of the year and I took a nose dive into a new and fantastic adventure (no regrets). It did, however, mean putting my own storyline on hold.

That holding pattern wasn’t pretty. I rumbled with it all year. I hemmed and hawed, ruminated and obsessed. The technicality of what was standing in my way was completely overridden by the story I was telling myself.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t done my research; I just couldn’t swallow what I was hearing. No matter which way I spun the story, I just couldn’t justify it. The only thing I didn’t do was follow up on a lead that everyone – and I mean EVERY ONE OF MY COLLEAGUES – was recommending. Why? Because I had written it off as an impossibility.

The real danger of stories we tell ourselves is this: convincing ourselves something is impossible or categorically false and then spinning fiction into non-fiction. In my case, this story revolved around obtaining professional liability insurance. I had convinced myself that I wasn’t qualified to be quoted for the insurance because I didn’t have a certain certification. However, after talking with a colleague and following her encouragement to just “call and see”, I found out the story I had been telling myself for the past 18 months was just that – a story. Not only was I able to be quoted, but I was quoted at 1/4 the cost of any other quote I received. Plot twist!

18 months. I spent 18 months of my life telling myself a story. A story that didn’t serve me well and wasn’t true. Exhausting. Life doesn’t give us do-overs, but it does give us valuable lessons: Just Ask. Profound.

Brené teaches: “When we deny the story it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending”. This investment is my brave new ending. Why is this storyline edit so important? This will allow me to bring Dare to Lead(TM) programming to people who are ready to Cultivate Insight and Influence Change in their personal and professional lives during 2021 and beyond. More to come!

Tell Me: Are there stories you have been telling yourself that aren’t true? Where have you gotten caught up in a storyline only to discover that it misled you? Where can you challenge the narrative, edit and write a brave new ending?

Want more? Want to join me at a 2021 Dare to Lead training, and/or want additional information? Reach out and sign up for my mailing list below to be among the first to know of upcoming events. Thanks for taking this journey with me.

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2 thoughts on “The Stories We Tell Ourselves”

  1. As someone who crafts stories for a living, I can tell you — revision is real and you hold the power to edit your story. I’m thrilled for you, Paula! You started writing the next chapter, the next story in the series.

    Liked by 1 person

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