“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”
As Orson Welles said, happy endings depend on where we choose to stop the story. But they also depend on the story that we choose to tell. Because isn’t all of life, really, just one big multi-volume anthology, with each year a chapter, each day a new story?
The key, I think, lies in the stories that we choose to tell – both the stories that we tell the world about ourselves and the stories that we tell ourselves about the world. Do we tell stories of a cold and lonely world, filled with fear, violence, and despair? Or do we tell stories of love, mercy, resilience, and hope despite the incredibly bleak odds? Do we tell our real and true stories? Or do we tell stories in which we paint a façade of false personas, wear a coat of armor, or wield a shield of protection?
The real and true stories – our human story – so easily get lost in daily struggles and everyday monotony, in assumptions and hypotheses, and in misunderstandings and miscommunications. It takes hard work and intentional awareness, guts and grit, faith and confidence to tell the stories we are meant to tell. But those are the ones worth telling.
Trust me when I say that this is an ongoing work in progress for me, but here are five tips for telling your real and true story.
1. Manage your expectations. When I started writing my first book, I had visions of stardom, of book advances and my name in print. This story that I told myself was built on daydreams, ideas of grandeur and celebrity. Then the rejections started coming in and my stories of recognition and praise quickly turned to tales of despair, inadequacy, and hopelessness. In reality, neither story is the real and true story.
The real and true story, when striped of idealizations and cynicism, is that I have written a book, am working on a second book, and continue to write publicly here (and elsewhere). That is it; nothing more, nothing less. I may never publish a book, or I could publish a book next year. In the meantime, I am creating something that I am proud of and, occasionally, my stories seem to resonate with someone, to touch the heart of another person, which is really what it’s all about, in the end.
2. Remove the shame to own your stories. This is, perhaps, my biggest obstacle. Many of my real and true stories lie buried, hidden, under a deep layer of shame and embarrassment where they fester until they have morphed into something that hardly resembles the truth. Slowly and painfully, as I try to peel back the layers, through conversation and self-acceptance, I am starting to see what is at the heart of these stories – youthful mistakes and human weakness, as well as personal growth and redemption.
3. Share your stories. When I first became a mom, I had this idea in my head of what motherhood should be like. Motherhood meant knowing what to do, not a constant feeling of doubt and clumsiness. Motherhood meant intuition and self-reliance, not desperation and dependence. Motherhood meant fulfillment and purpose, not inadequacy and tedium.
Needless to say, motherhood was nothing like I had expected. Motherhood was not something that I slid into easily, like a pair of soft cotton/spandex yoga pants. Motherhood was more like pulling on a pair of skinny jeans that I hadn’t fit into since before my wedding. I yanked, I wiggled. I held my breath, I contorted my body. And I cried. A lot.
But this was not the story I told. Instead, I told a story in which I was doing just fine, in which I didn’t need help because I could handle it on my own. Through sins of omission, I told the story that I was capable, competent, and independent. Eventually, though, my fictional story unraveled and my real and true story came out. What a liberating, albeit scary and vulnerable, story that was to tell because it brought me closer to so many important people in my life. Our truth really is so much better than our fiction.
4. Give others the chance to tell their stories. It might take listening without saying a word or asking the tough questions or calling someone out on their false stories. Or it might take all of those things – and then waiting and waiting and waiting until the person is ready to tell their real and true story. Always, though, it takes empathy and compassion, without judgment, and then maybe some more waiting.
5. Recognize the inherent worth of every true and real story. There are no insignificant or boring stories, no shameful stories or unforgiveable stories, for everyone’s story is a piece of the sacred human story: unique yet familiar, compelling yet relatable, personal yet unifying. Each story – every real and true story – has inherent worth, intrinsic value, and immeasurable significance simply because it has the ability to connect, the potential to build bridges, and the opportunity to create a happy ending.
Are you ready to tell your real and true stories? What obstacles do you have to overcome?
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