Before schools and tutors and universities there were stories.
Stories that shaped our beliefs.
Stories that taught us right from wrong.
Stories that moved us, inspired us to be brave, to follow our dreams.
For me stories have been and are the school for the human soul throughout the history of humanity. This week I had a powerful reminder of this at the Viborg Animation Festival.
Now I have always loved stories, I actively collect them. I love the folk tales and the legends of times gone by. And in a brief conversation with one of the writers of the Song of the Sea. I remembered something I had forgotten. That these legends, these tales that I love, are all somewhere once rooted in reality, in a real history, with real people, that have long been forgotten as the legend has grown and developed for new audiences. And that got me thinking.
We (as humans I mean) still love to tell stories today. We love to tell stories about ourselves, our adventures. We tell our children stories about our own childhoods as teaching tales. We love also to read about other people’s lives. And we love to share those stories, to the immense satisfaction of the tabloid press who would be out of business if we did not enjoy gossip. My point is that even though we have other institutions of learning stories are some of our prime fountains of learning. And equally, Stories define us.
They define us in the eyes of others. The stories we tell about ourselves are the people we become. And the legends that we pass on. Just take my Grannie for example. An amazing woman that lived to 103. She traveled the world throughout her life and had hundreds of tales to tell about the places she’d traveled, the people she met and often the food they had eaten. As a child, I would have sworn she knew the world not by a map but by restaurants. She drove through Barcelona in a taxi whilst Franco captured the city. Encouraged Portuguese women to be independent at a time when that was not the done thing. All of this made her to me and my cousins a fabulously elegant and interesting person with a kind of glamour about her. That is the legend we tell about her today. However, I wonder if that’s how she saw herself? I wonder if that was the truth she lived. I know for example that the death of her husband was something that affected her strongly. Yet as she chose to not share that tale, even that is shrouded in some mystery. She chose a way to present herself to the world and in our memories, that is who she became.
Now at the moment, I think alot about the legacy I will leave behind in the world often. (The after effects of hitting 40 and recently being dangerously ill in hospital). What will I leave behind me when I decide to shuffle off this mortal coil? What will my legends be? And as I was coaching a client today, who has a strong negative dialogue about himself, I remembered that it is actually up to me. Just as my Grannie created her legend through the stories she told about her life, I have the power, well we all do; to create the life and the legend through the tales we tell about ourselves.
Take my client today. He really believes that he is a bad person because he is “wasting his time and being nonproductive”. His entire narrative described him as a lazy good for nothing. And yet I know he is not this at all. He is a person who constantly seeks to improve himself, to get the best out of and enjoy the experience of life. Yet in his opinion that couldn’t be further from the truth, because of the stories he tells himself and others.
You see the stories we tell about ourselves are not just the anecdotes from our past. It is also in how we refer to ourselves and most importantly what we believe about ourselves.
I can remember for many years I would call myself dumb and silly. I said it to myself. I made jokes at my own expense around other people. And sure enough years later those people remember me as a silly person. (I think the exact description was about as grounded as Phoebe from friends…) However, after working on my internal dialogue, changing it, that is not the way I refer to myself today and it is not how people see me either.
And it is equally the same with the anecdotal stories we tell from our past. I am, in many respects, like my Grannie. I have 40 years of a life with rich and varied experiences. Not all of those are good. Not all of those are terrible. Yet in my past, I have often told the stories of my troubles, the things that I have been through. Until the day that someone pointed out that it didn’t portray me as a strong person rather it often made me seem as though I was trying to make people seem sorry for me. Now not that I don’t think we should share our sad stories. I think it’s unhealthy not too. However, there is a time and there is a place. The point is to not allow yourself to be caught in the trap where all your stories flap out of your mouth without a thought.
What I mean is that you can, through the stories you tell, create the life you want and the person you want to be. Whether it’s through the stories you tell yourself or the stories you tell others, you can choose what bits of you that you want to have woven into the story of the life you are living now so that these become legend of who you are and one day of the person you were.
Personally, I want my life and legend to be one of growth, strength, adventure, inspiration and abundant happiness. These are the stories I choose to tell. Take some time to notice the stories you tell yourself and others this weekend and ask yourself ‘Is this the legend of me I want to leave behind?’ And if it’s not, start telling yourself and the world a new story and watch how the power of a story will transform your world.
Have an amazing weekend