Have you ever been sitting around a holiday table, chatting about someone’s work and someone’s prize-winning tomatoes and someone else’s kids, when everyone turns to you and says: “So, what’s your story?”
My instincts tell me that this is a good time to choke on my salad.
Your stories weave and tangle together to make you.
And your story is always changing. It’s poetry in the morning, it’s a comedy at noon and a tragedy by dinnertime. It all belongs.
Telling just one story, pretending you’re a narrative with one goal, one arc, one plot—well, that would be clearer, but it wouldn’t necessarily be truer, would it?
But you have to tell yourself something.
You have to tell other people something. You have to live your story and you have to tell your story. So how do you decide what story to tell?
(I don’t recommend the choke-on-your-salad strategy. It’s only a temporary distraction, and it involves coughing up lettuce. Please don’t try it at home. There are better ways.)
As you go into the world and live your story this week, a few things to remember.
It doesn’t have to be a tidy story.
You don’t have to clean it up. You don’t have to make it pretty. You don’t have to pretend like everything makes sense.
You’re allowed to have messy stories. You’re allowed to have loose ends and contradictions and confusing plot holes. Everyone does, you know. Oh well.
What you thought was the end might not be.
That painful thing, that failure, that natural ending place… it might be the end of one story, but it might not be.
This might be the launching pad for the next phase. This might be the messy middle. This might be the dark night of the soul, where all seems lost—until you find your deepest reserves and move into a new day. You can’t really know until you know. Stay open in the meantime.
You can tell a different story.
You decide what you tell yourself, and you decide what you believe about your own story.
Do mistakes mean you shouldn’t trust yourself, or do they mean you’re a work in progress? Does failure mean you should give up, or that you’ve been brave and tried something new?
No matter what story you used to tell, you can see it in a new light. You can tell it from a new angle, starting right now.
You decide which character you are.
You decide who you are in this story. Are you brave? Are you kind? Are you true? Do you take yourself seriously? Do you trust yourself?
Do you love this version of yourself? Do you listen to this version of yourself? Do you want to? Are you going to?
You can move into the future.
When the person in front of you wants you to keep living in the story of who-you-were-years-ago, you get to choose whether to play that part or not.
You can shift the narrative. You can be the self who is living a newer, truer story than the one they’re telling. Your story, your choice.
(And the more difficult part: if you want to live in a new part of your story, you have to let everyone else move on, too. No holding other people back in chapter two when life has moved on to chapter six.)
Your story is complex, and so is everyone else’s.
Your story is made up of so many threads—and so is the story of the person sitting across from you, the one with whom you cannot find one topic of conversation to share.
(You tried steering the conversation toward kitties and rainbows just to see what would happen, and now they are talking about fur allergies and the death of illusions. That person.)
Give them grace—maybe you can’t see their whole story from here. Maybe there’s something in there that explains where they are now.
And even if not, try to believe the best. Maybe they’re about to turn the page. Anything is possible. You aren’t stuck in your story, and neither are they.
Breathe in truth, breathe out grace.
Grace for you and for your stories. Grace for the people you’re sharing your stories with this week. Grace for the people whose stories you hear.
Tell the story you need to tell, with all the pieces that add up to you.
And go ahead and set down the salad fork in the meantime. I hear pie is way less of a choking hazard anyway.