I've been writing some op ed pieces this week about storytelling. Its a subject that fascinates me, not just as a writer, but also in the way narrative intersects with who we tell ourselves we are. Both my academic research works were on storytelling, or more formally narrative, gender and identity. They investigated how our identities are formed by how we describe ourselves, and more importantly, how our environment, beliefs and upbringing inform those narratives.
Our stories are critical to our personality and identity. While our always on, device in hand lifestyles might make us THINK we are contemporary folk, we are completely formed by oral tradition embedded in us as we learned language, and learned the subtleties of cultural mores and values through our parents or guardians. We learned all the good stuff that way, but also a lot of the limiting stuff. Our gender is strongly learned from language and the storytelling of what boys and girls do. Our cultural awareness of what is good and bad, safe and scary is learned through storytelling. Our self worth - you guessed it, from the brick bats and bouquets of our childhoods.
Most people I know are pretty adept at running a constant narrative of self critique, often disguised as judgement of others as I previously blogged about here. We tell ourselves we are not good enough, or we are not enough, or others are better, have more, are prettier, smarter, more loveable. Those narratives wear paths into our minds and behaviours, they move from stories to beliefs, and then actions. Bizarrely, we rarely question or challenge the stories we tell ourselves. We simply accept them as fact. The great thing about stories though, is that we can always change the ending.
As you move along though you lived narrative, listen in for the story. When you get to the part that says whatever your repetitive critical themes are, stop. Take yourself out of the role of storyteller and observe. Step in as narrator and say to yourself "oh look, there's me telling that story again." Name it up, but don't criticise. Just observe the action. No need to layer on positive affirmations that you don't personally believe which push you back into fear and self criticism. The more aware you are of your story, or your patterns or however you want to describe them, and that they are not fact, just a story, you can begin to consciously tell yourself a different story, one you write, where you are always enough, and the ending is within your control.
Dr Polly McGee is one part writer, and many parts assorted thinker, do-er, talker, eater, chef, explorer, yogi, kirtaneer and dog wrangler. She has worked in kitchens, bars and restaurants from frantic to fancy, managed multi-million dollar innovation grants programs, advised hundreds of start-ups on how to refine their business ideas and source funding, and championed causes from a variety of soapboxes, lecterns and stages. She is currently the Strategic Marketing Lead for Global Edtech Startup Prosper Education. Her new book, The Good Hustle, is coming out in February 2018