chaNge: Narrate Your Own Story is the fifth in a series of 7 blog posts on managing your fear of change or transitions.
In my blog post – “Why do we Fear Change if it is Just Part of Life” – I wrote about how the brain tries to control your fear of change. I also introduced you to the skills I encourage you to use to help you manage that fear of change – these are my essential CHANGE skills. In this post I will discuss the fourth skill in the method. N – Narrate your own story.
I have a confession to make: I often behave like a commercial airline pilot: I need to follow the manual, know the plan, and only accomplish tasks on my detailed (mental) to-do lists. Does that sound like you, too? This kind of thinking leads us to believe we’ll live more efficiently and effectively, yet we often end up drowning in all the rules. Did you know you can still be a captain without all that control? It is possible to stop following the manual and narrate your own story. Let me share my experiences with you.
Following the Manual Only Allows for Limited Possibilities
When I was struggling to make a decision about changing my life in a big way, the manual I believed I had to follow stood in my way, like a bookend made of cement. Do you remember the old children’s song Goin’ on a Lion Hunt? I couldn’t get over that bookend, and I certainly wasn’t going to dig under it. I had to go around it.
Only it was really wide and there was no FAQ question in my Manual of How to Live Rosalind Keith’s Life that explained the steps necessary of going around a cement bookend.
When you are attached to an idea of how things are supposed to go, you close down possibilities. By staying open to possibilities or changes you actually may find something better. When we dwell on the past or worry about our future, we stop moving freely through our lives.
What It Means to Stop Following the Manual
When I talk about not following a manual, I mean stop living your life according to “shoulds.” We’ve often created our manuals from a list of shoulds, of expectations we perceive our family and friends have for us.
- You should always smile at your rude boss, because you’ll need a reference from them if you switch.
- You should not open your own business, because staying employed offers you more options in case something goes wrong.
- You should keep your house clean at all times, because you never know who might drop by.
- You should make sure it is perfect before you share it with anyone.
- You should be working on completing your to do list so that you can achieve your goals.
But following this list can lead to a great amount of anxiety and unclear thinking. Instead, try to practise accepting things as they are and use that place of acceptance as your platform for planning your change.
- My boss is rude. I’ll stop smiling, which will help me feel empowered while I consider my options.
- I am employed right now. I’ll learn everything I can from my employer while I begin planning my own business.
- My house is a mess right now. I’ve been too busy planning my own business while looking after family. I’ll teach my kids to help me with the laundry.
- It’s not perfect to me but it is the best I can do.
- I have a long to do list to meet my goal. It feels overwhelming so I will choose just one thing I can do to move towards reaching my goals. Even baby steps are forward movement.
What’s Right? What’s Wrong? You Decide
Write your own story
Stop accepting other people’s evaluations of right or wrong. Describing actions as right or wrong is completely dependent on context, your context. Let’s say you want to have a career in the arts. One person may tell you that’s wrong because you’ll never earn enough money to support your family. Another may say that’s right because they’ve seen you hide your talent for years and have been bugging you all this time to show it to others.
But what works for you?
As you inquire about your options, you may realize that you want to save your art just for you and loved ones; you don’t want to share it with the world, because it’s too precious and private for you. That is your decision.
Maybe you realize that now is not the best time to change careers, but you’ve identified steps you can take now so you can have your dream arts career in a few years. That is your decision.
What’s right or wrong for you depends on your situation and what will open up more possibilities for you. If you believe what you are doing is wrong, you’ll experience uneasiness, fear, and anxiety. Maybe you’re scared that friends and family will judge you harshly for making the decision that is right for you.
Although making the decision that is right for you can be scary, it’ll help you get around that bookend created by the manual you’ve been following to live your life.
Here is a great anecdote that describes what this can look like on a real everyday level.
Be an Unwritten Book
To let go of that perceived life manual, live more in the now, but in a practical way that suits today’s society. Let me explain what I mean.
We have schedules we need to follow, daily commitments we need to keep. Living in the now doesn’t mean throwing out your daytimer. Instead, it means embracing challenges with a curious, open mind and treating them as learning opportunities.
When you drive somewhere, you know exactly how you’re going to get there before you leave your house. But when a detour shows up, you have to correct course. Living in the now while you’re in the driver’s seat doesn’t mean getting into your car and deciding only when an intersection appears if you should turn, your final destination remaining a mystery until you arrive. It means paying attention to obstacles and opportunities that show up while you’re en route to your destination.
Or imagine yourself the captain of not an airplane but of a canoe. You set the canoe on a path in the water, cresting along as the water ebbs and flows, with river banks supporting you all the way.
Your days should unfold in a similar fashion.
That’s What Friends (and Family) Are For
Don’t make this mindset shift alone: Find a support network of friends and confidantes who will allow you to be yourself—not the self you have fashioned according to that manual—as you learn to live with the flow.
Or put another way: find a support network who will allow you to be authentic as you learn to reconnect with your inner guide.
Share your vulnerability with this group of confidantes and be emotionally honest and clear about your experience. This isn’t a time to pretend you’re feeling great and invincible. You will be pleasantly surprised by the emotional support you can find if you simply admit that things are not going as planned.
After all, this is your story, and no story is only about happiness. Courage doesn’t come from hiding vulnerability; it comes from showing it. Admit that you fear the outcome of your decisions, but don’t give into the fear.
Keep moving forward.
Expressing your vulnerability makes you feel more authentic, and when you feel more authentic you can confidently toss that manual and narrate your own story.
Letting go Opens Possibilities
Sure – I still depend on my need to have a manual sometimes. It can be essential to completing some unpleasant tasks. But by learning to live in the now and to let the story unfold naturally, I found the inner peace and confidence I needed in order to make a major life transition. The change I made was still scary but I embraced the unknown instead of looking for answers that weren’t available in a manual. The freedom from life’s perceived manual opened my mind to many possibilities.