How is your story serving you? By which I mean the story that you are telling yourself, in this case, the one about your career. We all tell ourselves stories. The ones where we are rescued, the ones where we rescue someone else; the ones with the happy ending and of course, the ones without the happy ending. We craft our stories for job interviews, social gatherings and for our own purpose.
We tell ourselves (subconsciously) a story throughout the day as we organise our thoughts and our experiences. Each of these stories serves us in some way, even if we don’t realise it at first. They have an impact on our choices, how we see ourselves and how we feel. Our stories define us.
Where do our stories come from?
I hear so many stories from people that aren’t serving them well. They come to me because they know that something isn’t working and together we sort through the chapters and they decide whether or not they want to keep, edit or rewrite. Let me explain…
As humans, we want to thrive and survive, but we also have this innate desire to protect ourselves. That’s why we fight, flight, fawn or freeze. These responses, behaviours and thoughts keep us safe. These responses can be learned, they can come from our experiences and our beliefs.
We also have a natural capacity and need to tell stories in order to understand and to be understood. Our stories are central to how we see and understand ourselves, the world we live in and how we connect with others.
They are often formed early on and are so ingrained we don’t see the chapter that’s forming our story. When we take a look deeper into our story, we can explore what’s going on and get an honest account of why believe and behave the way we do. This isn’t always easy. In fact, often it is very painful, but it is worth it.
How our story serves us
When we look at the stories people tell, there are common themes. Our stories make us feel:
- We belong
They also give us a sense of certainty, understanding, predictability, control and a feeling that all is right in the world. When we formulated many of our stories, we did so without the tools and experiences that we have now, so it makes sense that they no longer serve us in the same way. This allows us to view them with compassion, without judgement and to acknowledge and recognise how they have helped us in the past. But we don’t need to be stuck in our stories, we can rewrite them.
What is your story?
What is the story you have been telling yourself to overcome obstacles and be successful in your career? How can that story serve and support you as you move forward in your career (and your life)? Perhaps you have a story you have been using as your reason and excuse for staying where you are, avoiding discomfort, uncertainty or the unknown and so not allowing yourself to grow?
Do you have a story you keep telling yourself that is holding you back from being who you truly long to be or doing what you yearn to do? Look deep and listen. Only you know! Is there a whisper of impatience? Do you find yourself wanting something different? Do you find yourself listing up all the valid and good reasons for not moving forward?
We all have our internal stories that shape how we see ourselves, good and bad. These stories have a huge impact on our behaviour and how we present ourselves to the world. Stop for a moment and listen. What do you keep telling yourself again or again? Does your inner narrative make you feel strong and empowered? If yes: great! If not: pay attention to what you are telling yourself.
Let me tell you a story that I am rewriting
I am a people pleaser, I fear being rejected and abandoned. I aim to make people feel special, to feel loved, I am kind and generous - so far, so good right? But there is a darker side, which means I put other people’s needs above my own, I burn myself out and I hide what I really think and feel in case other people don’t like me. Owning my voice and being authentic push me right out of my comfort zone and yet I truly believe that’s where the magic happens. As I have gotten older I am more open to putting myself out there but it’s still scary. When I explore it further, my story is rooted in my reaction to abandonment.
In order to be loved and respected, I must make sure that I make sure everyone around me is happy and comfortable. In order to do that I must not be myself or share my opinions, I must comply. This is because if they are unhappy with me or my actions they will leave.
(I know, right?!)
This story plays out in my professional and personal life and leaves me conflicted internally. I want to be myself but if I am, no-one will like me. So in order to avoid this fear of abandonment, I avoid being myself. I tell myself that it’s OK to go along with a plan because it makes it easier, there’s less chance of me offending anyone by pointing out a different idea/way forward. I tell myself that this will make me more likeable and will make the relationship smoother and more sustainable. Ironically this separates me from those I crave connecting with.
It has been hard to let go of the story of ‘people pleasing equals acceptance’ and when I think I am done with it, it pops up again. Why? Because it is still serving me in some way. I am going to share with you how I think the story is serving me. These aren’t easy to admit, I feel vulnerable, embarrassed and weak…but that's the whole point. I ask you to do this and so I must be willing to face my story too.
How my story serves me
- It keeps me from the discomfort I feel when someone doesn’t like me
- It allows me to think that I am a positive influence in other people’s lives
- I feel a ‘good’ person when I worry more about other people’s feelings and opinions
- It keeps me feeling like a martyr, which in turn gives me a sense of being the hero
(Complicated isn’t it?!)
If you were to ask me what I want in my relationships, I would say that I want meaningful, authentic connections. You have even heard me say this and it is something I truly believe. I really do want those kinds of relationships. However, my story tells a different tale.
Happily, I have done the work of taking a deeper look into why my words and behaviours don’t add up and although I recognise that I am getting something from my story of ‘people pleasing equals acceptance’, I also realise that the story is not serving me well. It’s not the story I want to hear any longer. I want to change my story (and for the most part, I have).
How to change your story
Since this is your story, you get to change it, or even add a few more chapters. You can choose a new perspective, change the words and create a more compelling story, one that will empower you to grow into your potential and face your challenges.
- Be honest about your story. Acknowledge the part it has played until now to keep you safe/loved/worthy etc. Are there any parts you keep repeating?
- Explore if and how the story serves you. If this feels hard, get some help from a friend or a coach
- Decide if this is the story you want. If not, start crafting your new story. Choose to align your words and behaviours with your core values. This may take time and a few edits - that’s OK
- Practice telling your story to yourself and other people. Speak from your heart because this will help you believe in yourself. The way we tell a story is important to how we feel and how we are perceived.
- Be kind to yourself. You will likely slip back into the old story a few times, stop and restart from the new chapter.
You have the power to write and rewrite your story until it aligns with who you want to be. Create a story that empowers you to be your best self. You — and only you — have the power and ability to create a story that serves you well.