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All of us tell stories about ourselves. Stories define us. To know someone well is to know her story—the experiences that have shaped her, the trials and turning points that have tested her. When we want someone to know us, we share stories of our childhoods, our families, our school years, our first loves, the development of our political views, and so on. I love meeting new people and over coffee have an unhurried session in sharing stories. I am a story person!
One of the greatest realizations of my life thus far was understanding and owning the fact that I am the writer of my own story. I am so thankful for that because truth is, if I would have allowed others to write my story, I would have only amounted to being a barefoot and pregnant Latina statistic from the Lower East Side. However, while that could have been a possible outcome and that possibility is still part of my story growing up in the Lower East Side raised by a single mom who was always working to feed and clothe her two daughters, it wasn't! Mischief was always present. The church and the eventual introduction to God was my saving grace.
I am now going through yet another transition in life. Boy am I the transition queen. But one of the things about when any of us go through transitions especially those we didn't plan for is that you get to write this next chapter in your story.That's important because we need stories especially in the time of transitions.
There probably is no greater time when a story is needed then when we are going through a major change of direction. When we are leaving A without yet having left it and moving toward B without yet having gotten there. In a time of such unsettling transition, telling a compelling story to coworkers, bosses, friends, or family—or strangers in a conference room—inspires belief in our motives, character, and capacity to reach the goals we’ve set.
Let’s be clear: In urging the use of effective narrative, I'm not opening the door to tall tales. By “story” I don’t mean, something made up to make a bad situation look good or you know that new thing going around right now, "alternative facts.” Rather, I'm talking about accounts that are deeply true and engaging that listeners feel they have a stake in our success and feel like they can survive their own shifts.
Creating and telling a story that resonates also helps us believe in ourselves. Most of us experience the transition to a new working life as a time of confusion, loss, insecurity, and uncertainty. We are scared. “Will I look back one day and think this was the best thing that ever happened?” we ask ourselves. “Or will I realize that this was the beginning of the end, that it was all downhill from here?” We oscillate between holding on to the past and embracing the future. Why? We have lost the narrative thread of our life. Without a compelling story that lends meaning, unity, and purpose to our lives, we feel lost and rudderless. We need a good story to reassure us that our plans make sense—that, in moving on, we are not discarding everything we have worked so hard to accomplish and selfishly putting family and livelihood at risk. It will give us motivation and help us endure frustration, suffering, and hard work.
A good story, then, is essential for making a successful transition in life. Yet most of us fail to use the power of storytelling to share the story of our life and how everything played a role to make us the person who we are right now. So, I urge you, go ahead, look at your life thus far, and start writing the narrative that has become you. Learn to embrace all the disappointments. I know in my life, some disappointments led to defining moments like meeting a person that changed my life or moving to a new job that open doors to me being able to do more good in the world.
We all have a story. Not all of us have really reflected on what that is. Not all of us have learned that we write how we transition to the next chapters. Not all of us have learned to put a semi-colon where others are trying to put a period. Make your story about being a love warrior, giving back, doing good, leaving a legacy. That will always be the true power of holding the pen. What will your story say?