So your hours are long, your boss is demanding, and your coworkers are idiots... it's a great story, but how does it serve you?
Our lives are defined by the stories we tell ourselves. Stories about who we are, how hard we work and how much we are appreciated. These stories – positive or negative – help us make sense of a world which we have little control over, and give us certainty about our place in it.
But what would happen if we recognised these stories for what they are… stories. Stories that we have written for ourselves, and that are completely within our power to change.
There have been several moments in my work life where I have realised that I didn’t like the stories I was telling myself, and decided that they had to change.
The first was after a night out with colleagues, when I realised I’d spent the entire evening rattling on about how unhappy I was in my job. I blamed our industry. I blamed our company. I blamed my boss. I blamed our work environment. I blamed everyone and everything but myself. And the next morning I realised how flawed my story had become.
By creating a story where I was the poor blameless victim – my life and happiness completely at the mercy of factors beyond my control – I abdicated all responsibility for finding myself in this situation or for getting myself out of it. I was waiting impatiently for a shining knight to appear and save me from my situation. In that moment I realised that if I didn’t change my story, my life would never change.
In that moment I realised that if I didn’t change my story, my life would never change.
Thinking about it honestly, I realised that it was my own choices that had brought me to this place in my life. I had chosen my profession. I had applied for the job. I hadn’t made my feelings known when I was shifted to a project that bored me silly. I chose to arrive at work everyday tired and expecting the worst. And once I accepted that my choices had got me here, I realised that my choices could get me out.
I changed my story from one where I was a helpless victim of my circumstances, to one where I was the designer of my own life – always making something of the resources and constraints I had in front of me.
How to change your story
1. Recognise the stories you tell yourself
Your stories can surface anywhere at anytime, but when you notice them write them down. They might be along the lines of:
“I hate my job.”
“My work is pointless.”
“My boss never listens to me.”
“My coworkers are idiots.”
“Work isn’t supposed to be fun.”
“I’m too inexperienced to get a new job.”
“I can’t afford to change my career.”
2. Be honest about how these stories serve you
Why do you tell yourself this story? Does it make you feel powerful and in control? Or does it keep you feeling inferior and helpless?
It may seem counter-intuitive that we would tell ourselves a story that makes us feel bad. But if we are honest with ourselves, sometimes we can become addicted to our own problems. Having a problem can get us attention or sympathy. Abdicating control can mean that we never need to take that hard scary step.
There is no judgement here. We all do it!
3. Write a better story
We’re not talking about crafting some unachievable fairytale. But we are talking about being honest. We want you to see things as they really are, not worse than they are.
Or if you are really serious about change, why not try seeing them as they could be. Imagine what you could achieve if you believed things could be better?
4. Tell yourself the new story
Just because you’ve written a new story, does not mean your life is going to be all sunshine and lollipops. You’ve been telling your old stories for so long that when things get tough or stressful they will be the first thing to run through your head.
The trick is to recognise these old stories when they do pop up, and call them out for what they are, and repeat your new story.
It’s not always easy. Many years, jobs and even businesses later, I can still find myself in a situation that leaves me feeling uncertain or helpless. But it’s never long before my internal monologue kicks in with a big old…
“That’s bullshit! I’m the designer of my own life, and these are just constraints I have to work with.”
What stories have you been telling yourself? What stories would serve you better?