If our stories no longer serve us they have to change.
Some people think our stories are carved in stone. This is who I am. This is what I do. This is what has meaning in my life. This is what I like and don’t like. This is what’s behind and ahead. This is my story.
None of it is true.
Our stories are inventions. We make them up. I know that sounds heretical to many people, but there’s no getting around it. Our stories are interpretations — selective choosing of narrative lines — that we stitch together to remain sane and hold on to life.
And if our stories are causing us pain?
I’ll give you a quick example of a painful story. “I am a professional. I trained for years to get skilled at this work. I do it well. It’s what I like to do. In fact, I love my job. I love the people at work. I love the challenges and the energy. I know I should retire eventually, but I can’t imagine how I will occupy myself. Retired people are a sad lot. They drift around aimlessly. They lose their life’s meaning, their friends, and their reason for getting up in the morning. I’m terrified of that picture. I will not do well in retirement.”
Repeat that enough and it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it’s just a prophecy.
A good coach or psychotherapist would counsel a change in the narrative, a shift in self-talk away from the negative prophecies toward another set of perfectly viable thoughts that point upward rather than downward.
For example: “I’m a professional who’s really good at this work. I’ve had a great run of three decades. I still have a lot of life ahead of me. I’m healthy and ready to discover what else awaits. Retired people these days are changing the definition of this phase of life. The stereotypes are exploding. The opportunities for personal fulfillment await anyone willing to try new things, meet new people, and continue growing. And why not? Like any other challenge I’ve faced, this one needs to be stepped into one day at a time. I’m excited about experiencing freedom for the first time since I was a kid. What an amazing privilege.”
Is this a form of false engineering? Is it empty boosterism destined to crash on the rocks of reality? Or is it just as true as any other narrative manufactured in our heads? And if that’s the case, why default to one that hinders when the other viable option is one that helps?