When you look at your life, you’re really looking at it through a narrative that you craft for yourself. Stories are solely dependent on their narrative.
Harry Potter is a completely different story, such as, if its written from the perspective of a powerful wizard whose plans to be alive again are thwarted by three meddling children year after year. That is because the narrative has changed with the point of view.
It’s quite similar when it comes to how you look at your life.
My favourite quote from Leonardo da Vinci goes,
It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
This statement is less about the actions of accomplished people and more about their mindset. If, in your mind, things happen to you then you’ve already surrendered control to the unpredictable.
That Is Where Narrative Comes In
The way you tell people about your problems also clearly shows what you’re willing to do about them. The first step toward solving an issue is accepting that it exists and to do that you need to take responsibility.
However, most narration of stories comes in a passive voice where the word “I” is seldom seen. No one begins telling about their series of bad and botched interviews with the word “I”.
I had the same habit until recently. I’d tell people about grandiose problems and petty ones but never once did I start with, such as, “I had too much to drink that night and the mess that happened afterwards would’ve been avoided”.
A Story Of Internships
We had to do a mandatory internship in the summer. I secured two wonderful internships. However, both had one common issue. None of them were directly related to my field and were in fact, somewhat diagonal practices. My internship guide disapproved. In a confusion filled conversation with her, I had to turn both internships down and begin pursuing a project. Afterwards, she announced that projects were not allowed and that I needed to find an internship. I was furious because she made me decline two internships first. Ultimately, I found an internship and well, the problem was somewhat solved.
I’m sure when you read the above paragraph you felt a little sorry for me being stuck in that situation. That was because my narrative makes me feel like a victim. However, there were certain mistakes on my part as well.
If I were to narrate my story with responsibility, I’d go about it as follows.
We had to do a mandatory internship in the summer. I secured two wonderful internships in fields that were not exactly related to my discipline despite guidelines being issued to us. My guide disapproved, naturally. I did not take my stand when I had a conversation with her because I was too unsure of my abilities and reluctantly took a project and turned the internships down. It was later announced that projects weren’t entertained. So, I had to look for internships again which I would’ve done anyway because I didn’t choose to obey the guidelines in the first place. Ultimately, I did find an internship within my domain and the problem was solved.
The second narration clearly states that there were various problems from my end as well. The tone of it allows me to take responsibility for my faults.
However, I ran around with the first narrative for months. It was only recently that I started using the second one.
A Story of Wasted Time
Last winter, my friends and I started spending a lot of time in a cafe. We’d play Monopoly Deal, a card game, over coffee. It was extremely fun and we laughed a lot. However, as days passed and we started spending more time there, I realised I stopped doing anything productive at all. So, I stopped almost abruptly and scheduled my days for the rest of the semester. I stuck to my schedule and ended up doing way too much than I would’ve done had we continued playing.
Last winter, my friends and I started spending a lot of time in a cafe. We’d play Monopoly Deal, a card game, over coffee. It was extremely fun and we laughed a lot. However, I couldn’t manage time as efficiently as I thought I could. As a result, I stopped doing anything productive during those days. I was unable to lay my issue on the table filled with cards because I didn’t know how to so I just stopped and scheduled my days for the rest of the semester. I stuck to the schedule and ended up doing way too much however, we didn’t play after that.
Narrative A makes it look like I was at the behest of my friends and that they were taking all of my time. Narrative B goes on to point out how I was at fault for being unable to manage time and not being as transparent about it as one should be with their friends. The outcome was not one of balance either because even though I became extremely productive, I stopped spending time with my friends. A realisation that haunted me for a while until I explicitly asked everyone to spend more time as a group in the following semester.
Change Your Narrative To Change Your Life
A good story needs a good narrative. A true story needs the honest one. Thing is, we often talk to people by putting our utmost honesty on the back-pedal. We shy away from a few details, hide some others, use the right words and there everyone is patting our backs and telling us, “It’ll be fine”. It is only when we go way down in that endless spiral of making the same mistakes that we realise it will never be fine until we change something. The first step is to change how we look at what we do and to do that we have to change our narrative.