We live in a success oriented society. On the whole, we highly value perfection, excellence, progress and achievement.
We’re encouraged to plan and organise our lives at every juncture and in every respect to best place ourselves for this success we value so highly, as well as for efficiency and effectiveness. “Fail to plan, plan to fail” they say, and we believe it.
Because failing at something is the worst thing that could ever happen. Right?
We are compelled to dream our most wonderful life whilst at the same time subjugating it into a rigid, formulaic and logical narrative, as if our whole human experience could be simply lined up and trotted out neatly like chapters in a book.
In fact, whole books, programs and seminars have been designed around the premise we should, and can, “write our life like a story”.
But what happens when our story takes an unexpected and very unpleasant turn? What happens when that marvellous plot, good organisation, superb administration, meticulous planning and logical order is thwarted by something random and uncontrollable?
The “worst thing that could ever happen” happens, that’s what.
The “f” word.
The problem with thinking you can plan your life like a story is the fact nobody in their right mind is ever going to write in any shitty parts if they actually have to live that story.
Would you write cancer, or a car accident or a miscarriage or a divorce for that matter, into your own story? Of course not.
Do people in the real world – not in super-amazing-rainbows-and-unicorns-plan-your-life-like-a-story world – get cancer?
Statistics say one in two folks in the general population do.
Are the rest just very well organised?
An awful lot of people who find out they have cancer are walking around feeling as though they’ve been very poorly organised.
In fact, they feel like failures.
They think they and their stories are flawed, imperfect and broken.
But this isn’t true. You see, a story without any expected turns, without risk or tension or threat or failures isn’t actually a story.
It’s a filing system.
Your life isn’t an exam to be passed.
It isn’t a menu to be perused and chosen from, with only excellent choices available.
It isn’t the road you’re travelling down, the gravel and the tar and the white lines painted down the middle to tell you which side to keep on. Life is the journey you make while you’re on that road, with all the turns and the scenery, the stops, starts and yes, the turns, expected and unexpected alike.
You can’t plan your life like you write a story. Nobody wants a life with any of the things in it that make a good story interesting. If we had to live the kinds of stories we actually have the stomach to write for ourselves, we’d find ourselves constantly falling asleep at the wheel.
I believe in the power of story. Not “story” the militant life-coaching regime, or “story” the magical-thinking formula for perfection, or “story” the nothing-to-see-here, all-the-bad-parts-written-out movie script. I believe in story, the real thing.
Story. You talking about the stuff that really happens to real people in the real world, regardless of how well-organised we are - the stuff which happened to you.
Story. The imperfections and the flaws, the scars and the wounds tenderly revealed and gently touched upon with compassion and acceptance, instead of with judgement, distaste and disdain.
Story. All the things which connect you to others, and they to you, instead of setting us all up against one other in a kind of competition for impossible perfection.
Story. Reflecting on the past and dreaming of the future knowing we only have so much control, and there is bittersweetness in the chaos, as well as in the order.
Your story has value simply because it’s yours. It doesn’t have to be perfect, or need a moral or message to matter, or to be powerful.
Stories let us know we’re not alone in our frailties, imperfections and flaws, and even more than we need to feel perfect, successful and less like failures, we need to know we’re not alone.
Your story matters. Mostly to the other folks out there who feel their stories are flawed, and they are failures, because of cancer.
Tell your story. Your real story.
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