Your story: will you consume it, or create it?
A friend of mine recently told me about a really interesting theory that the happiest people are those who spend less time consuming (buying, eating, watching, enjoying the creations of others), and more time creating (making art, cooking, tending a garden, putting something new into the world).
It's a very poignant message, one that has stuck with me.
What messages are you consuming about you?
Think about what messages you consume about who you are – or more importantly, who you’re “supposed” to be.
For example: Messages about what you’re supposed to look like. How much money you should make, or successful you should be. Where you should live. Whether you should be married, have kids, a home with a two-car garage. What you should eat, how you should move. How you should act, what social protocols to follow. Even how you should feel.
We can point to the usual culprits. Media, advertising, everyone else’s highlight reels on Facebook and Instagram.
Not all of these messages are subtle. Sometimes people tell them to our face. (As a Simpsons fan, the L.T. Smash approach of “Superliminal” messaging comes to mind.)
So we get all these messages all day long and it’s pretty easy to consume them. To let them get under your skin.
To let them, if I may, consume you.
But there’s an amazing counter-balance to consumption. One we rarely ever hear about.
Did you know that you can create a new story for yourself, at any time?
In a really, life-changing way?
Here are some examples from my own life.
For years I believed I was not athletic or physically capable. I was born with a heart condition that I thought defined me. One day I decided to change the story. I decided I would start acting as if I was indeed an athlete – and even more, I decided to believe it. That didn’t mean changing my past, or turning into a superstar overnight. But it gave me the freedom to play and practice and challenge myself and reap the physical and mental benefits of athletics. I created a new story, and it opened up my life.
For years I believed I was too sensitive. That I had to hide the range of feelings that were so alive under my skin. That only the strong survive. Over time I decided to embrace my nature and use my gifts like intuition, compassion, empathy and passion to grow as a person and hopefully help others. The story I write for myself now is about sensitivity and strength.
And this one may surprise you – for years I felt like it wasn’t enough to be “a writer.” I’ve spent a good decade in communications but since my humble start as a writer, I pursued work as a consultant, a manager, a director… roles that were valuable but never quite fit. For years I removed myself from what, as a younger person, I’d thought to be a calling. So finally I embraced a new story: I called myself a storyteller (something I know is true in my bones) and created a new business and brand for myself.
By this little list it might sound like I made some quick decisions. “One day I decided…”
Yes, there have been some flashes of insight. But the best, most-life changing work I’ve done has been through small, daily practice.
First, I collapsed.
Some years ago I started actively re-writing a whole big bunch of my stories, without even realizing what I was doing.
People talk about rock bottom moments and I’ve certainly had mine. At one point, I realized I was really unhappy. I wasn’t living my values. I felt really disconnected from myself. And things were kinda falling apart.
But after getting that clarity, I realized something.
I realized that I held the power to be who I wanted to be, to put good stuff into my life, and to work on re-writing my story, every day.
It might sound cheesy now, but it was gritty work.
I had to choose between collapsing into depression completely, or taking out a big blank notebook and a bunch of sharpies.
So I chose the Sharpies.
I started creating.
I got really intentional about who I wanted to be. I tapped into the deep-down stuff: the stuff that was there all along but needed to be pulled out, gently brought back to life.
I sought – and still seek – inspiration all over the place. Books, magazines, movies, comics, conversations. Nature, animals, my house, my neighbourhood, the city, the quiet. Coaches, teachers, therapists, experts, friends, family. Buffy.
Every failure. Every success. Lessons were everywhere.
It all became a breeding ground for creation.
I can’t express the empowerment and freedom that comes from knowing you can create yourself, for yourself.
You can’t stop consuming messages about you, not really. But you can stop letting them consume you. And instead you can start creating.
Here's how to start re-writing your story like it’s a great work of art.
Wondering how to do this? Like I said, it’s a practice. There are some things you can do every day.
Try these on for size.
1) Consume less. Everyone is competing for your attention. There are messages everywhere: which ones do you want to let in? You get to decided what content you actively seek out (what’s on your social media feeds, what are you looking at on Pinterest, what magazines or tv shows are you reading.) And you get to decide what messages to take in and dwell on. Hit the “reject” button on anything that tells you you’re not enough.
2) Imagine more. Day-dreaming is awesome. I actively seek out stuff that perks up my imagination and gets me dreaming about who I want to be, where I want to go, what kind of life I want to live. Collaging is a favourite. Call it a vision board if you want. I think it’s more fun to let your mind roam freely: pick out images, play around with colors, textures and pictures of stuff, and see what sticks. I usually discover something about what I’m seeking, deep down, that might not be on the service.
3) Set an intention. Most days, I write down an intention for the day. Just one. It can be something like “rest,” or “do one thing at a time,” or “have a creative day.” Whatever I choose sticks in my head all day long and helps guide my decisions.
4) What you think you cannot do – just go do it and let it suck. Grown-ups are really good at telling you what they “aren’t,” or what they “can’t” or what they “totally suck at.” Guys, it’s time to get over it. You think you’re not an artist (but you want to be)? Grab some paints or some markers and a canvas or a piece of paper. Make something. Let it suck. Boom – you’re an artist.
You want to experience running but you think you’re not a runner? But some running shoes on, move your feet just a little faster than walking. Take a break and walk when you’re tired. Then run again. Guess what – you just ran. You’re a runner.
Oh, and of course, you’re not a writer? Take a pen and a notebook. Write something, anything, whatever comes to your mind. Read it if you want, decide it sucks. Fine. You just wrote. Congratulations: writing something, reading it and deciding it sucks is basically the definition of a writer.
Bonus tip: the suck means it's working.
One thing I’ve learned is that it’s not doing the thing that matters. It’s not doing the thing that makes you a writer or artist or runner or anything else. It’s doing the thing through the suck.
So, really, if you’re sucking, you’re already there.
Get over it, and keep on creating.