“What’s Your Story?!” Make it a Good One. ©
NOVEMBER 24, 2008David J. Pollay, HappyNews Columnist“What’s your story?!” We used to ask that question when I was growing up in Wisconsin. We didn’t know what the question really meant; it was more of an expression. We just wanted to know why people were acting the way they were.
More than “facts”
Freshmen year in college I was asked to play a simple game in my Introduction to Psychology class. Professor Judith Rodin, future president of the University of Pennsylvania, asked us to be an “eye-witness” to a staged event, and afterwards describe what we saw. You could guess the results. Our descriptions of the same event differed from student to student, sometimes dramatically. The “facts” were not as obvious as we thought they would be.
Our life is not just a series of facts. It is mostly a set of interpretations we have made about events in our life. These interpretations add up to a story – a story of who we think we are, what we have experienced, and what we’re likely to do in the future.
An “adventure” story
Last semester I went with my Mom to an art history class at Florida Atlantic University. The room was packed to hear professor David Courtney. His message that day was captured in his question to the class, “Are you taking an adventure every day of your life?” He challenged us to immerse ourselves in something we love, something that challenges us every day.
Each day is an opportunity to build our positive life story. Our story guides our actions; it is the link to realizing our best possible life.
A limiting story
Years ago I was sitting in a conference room with one of my employees. He had once again offended a customer and half my department. I was trying to help him realize that his approach to communication was not helping our business, and it wasn’t helping him. And then in a moment of frustration he yelled out proudly, “My way has gotten me this far!” I paused. I looked at him. I felt sad. He was right. He wanted to be a director, yet he was a second level customer service representative. His “way” – his story – was not working.
Dan McAdams, professor of Psychology at Northwestern University, refers to our stories as our personal myths. McAdams said in his book The Stories We Live By, “If you feel that your myth is stagnant, if you sense that you are not moving forward in life with purpose, if you believe that you are falling behind in some sense with respect to the growth of your personal identity, then what you are looking for is developmental change in personal myth.” In other words, you need to change your story.
A story of opportunity
I recently called Ray Fowler, former CEO of the American Psychological Association; I was considering a significant opportunity in my life and I wanted his advice. Fowler told me, “For forty years my philosophy has been, if you’re presented with an ‘outrageous’ opportunity, take it. I have never regretted doing something; I have only regretted not doing something.”
Consider Fowler’s advice. Consider Courtney’s advice. Make your life story about adventure, meaning, and growth.
So, what’s your story?!
David J. Pollay’s book, Beware of Garbage Trucks!™, is due out in 2009. Mr. Pollay is the creator of The Law of the Garbage Truck™. He is a syndicated columnist with the North Star Writers Group, creator and host of The Happiness Answer™ television program, and an internationally sought after speaker. Mr. Pollay is the founder and president of the personal coaching and seminar organization, The Momentum Project. You can read his Monday Morning Momentum Blog here.