Every one of us has a story we tell about who we think we are.
Something I’ve learned first-hand through my own experience that can also be seen in my work with clients as a transformational coach, is this:
The story you tell about who you think you are is not the truth–it’s a perspective, and there is more than one perspective available to you at any given time.
Which means that the story you tell about who you are is a choice...and...
your story is keeping you stuck.
To illustrate this concept I will use my experience:
I started community college at age 18, and graduated with my Bachelor’s of Science in Health at age 27.
Already from that single sentence, you might see how much perspective will shape how my story is told.
You may be wondering:
Why did it take her 9 years to get a 4-year degree? What happened during that time frame? What does she think or feel about it and how does it impact her today?
I can answer these questions in 3 ways: factually, with my original story that kept me stuck, and with my revised story that propels me forward.
At 18 my mental health was not stable.
At 19 I entered a residential treatment facility for an eating disorder and was there for 6 months.
At 20 I attended community college while relapsing resulting in dropping and failing classes.
At 22 I took a break from college and got a full time job.
At 24 I went back to community college to complete my AA so I could move on to study something I was interested in.
At 25 I was studying nutrition at the University of North Florida and found myself unable to stay awake in my classes regardless of how much they interested me.
At 27, right after I graduated, I had a sleep study done and was diagnosed with narcolepsy.
My Original Story (that kept me stuck):
It’s embarrassing that it took me so long to get a degree. There's no excuse for it and I am behind in life because of it. I am starting my adult life and career older than most people. No one will understand why it took me so long to get a degree and why I am starting my career so late. I am going to have to do a lot of explaining so people don’t think I’m stupid. My life is hard. Why is my life so hard? No one can understand how hard my life is. I am ashamed that it took me so long to get a degree and I still don’t even know what to do. What a loser I am. I expected so much more from myself. I’ve failed in life.
Now before I tell you the 3rd version of my story, I want to shine a light on some key elements of my original story:
The Harsh Inner Critic aka The Judge: My story was told through this distinct voice.
I’m Special/Different (in a bad way): My story had this classic victimhood element.
Poor Me: My story made me feel defeated and held me in a state of self-pity.
The Shame Train: My story was told in a way that made me believe there was something wrong with me and generated a lot of shame.
When I told the original version of my story I felt terrible about myself…and when I felt terrible about myself, I engaged in various self-destructive behaviors which then reinforced and affirmed my story.
It was a hamster wheel of my own creation.
The dissatisfying results I was creating in my career were my evidence that I was right. Had you told me my story is a choice during this time I would have instantly rejected it as a possibility. To me it was simply the truth.
Enter life coaching:
One day I told my coach my story about who I was and she reflected it back to me–although when she did, she gave the facts of my story a different meaning. She said it sounded like I had overcome adversity and persevered through many challenges.
That statement stunned me and rendered me speechless for several moments. To this day it remains one of the most memorable ah-ha moments I have had.
Whoa, I said, I have never thought of it that way…but you’re not wrong…I HAVE overcome a lot…and I have persevered despite EVERY challenge I’ve been faced with...
...it’s actually kind of amazing when you think of it that way…in fact, I might even be kind of amazing when you think of it that way.
That was it. That single coaching moment was all it took for me to recognize that my story was a choice.
It became crystal clear to me that I could continue to tell my story in a way that made me feel terrible about myself, or that I could begin telling it in a way that made me feel proud of myself–in a way that made me feel powerful and resilient.
Now that my friend, is the power of coaching. I learned that my story was a choice through the subtle yet powerful art of reflection.
My Revised Story (that propels me forward):
When I started college at 18, I had a debilitating eating disorder and could barely make it to class let alone focus. Then I lived the majority of my 20s attempting to attend college with narcolepsy. The fact that I was able to graduate college while falling asleep in class is an astonishing accomplishment. I started my career later in life than those who get through college in 4 years–and that’s okay. I am proud of my path. It’s filled with obstacles, tenacity, growth, and wisdom. It shaped me into the person I am today and informs my coaching in a unique and meaningful way. I am grateful for my journey. It prepared me well. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t change a thing. I love my story and who I get to be with it.
Since shifting my story about who I think I am to be one of victory not victimhood, I have experienced profound shifts in both my inner and outer worlds.
My inner world has shifted from being a cold and scary place that I frequently tried to escape, to a warm safe place that I feel at home in. My outer world has shifted from a series of dissatisfying misfit jobs into a challenging and rewarding purpose-driven career.
My original story kept me stuck for nearly a decade, and today I am thriving because I was willing to let it go.
Now let me tell you something not everyone will--it takes courage to be willing to be wrong about your story. The thought of being wrong can feel threatening to the ego. But here’s the thing:
There’s actually nothing more threatening to you than telling yourself a story that keeps you stuck.
Please take a moment and let that sink in.
If you are feeling stuck in your life, I want to invite you to try something…write down your current story and look for these elements:
The Harsh Inner Critic aka The Judge
I’m Special/Different (in a bad way)
The Shame Train
Identify how many of these elements your current story has. Now ask yourself:
What does my story create for me in my life?
Who could I be without my story?
What is the "hamster wheel" that my story has me on?
Am I willing to be wrong about my story in order to see what else is possible for me?
If you are willing to be wrong about your story, coaching could serve you well.
Transformation starts with the idea that something else is possible for you, and if you feel called to find out what that could mean for you, I invite you to book an exploration call with me. Let’s find out.
When you become aware that your story is keeping you stuck, then being willing to be wrong about it is the most impactful step you can take.
The story you tell about who you are is a choice. It's time to choose a useful version.