"Where There are Friends, There is Wealth"
- Plautas (3rd century)
When people ask you about your story, what do you tell them? How does it go? Give some thought to this, because it matters greatly how you see and tell your story. It says so much about who you are, and either draws people to you, or pushes them away.
When I went through divorce, I told the story until I was sick of hearing myself talk about it. That was part of getting over it. But what concerned me was that the more I shared this story, I realized it was the story I live from, and how I tell this story was more important than the content of the story. Let me explain what I mean.
We all know someone who has been through divorce or any number of tough things in life. Examples are everywhere. In that sense, I’m nothing special. In fact, it makes me normal and human. But one day, I realized that since I get to tell the story, I had certain choices in the telling of it, which dramatically affect the kind of person I become.
And so I asked myself, “what kind of person do you want to be at the end of all of this? Do you want to be the victim of the story, or do you want to be master of it? Do you want to be the ship, blown by the wind, or do you want to be the captain, who works with the wind to get somewhere?” And I worked backwards from there.
You see, I can tell you what happened when things fell apart in my first marriage, and I could tell you the low blows and the hurts, and all that junk. But, I can tell you the same story from two different vantage points; one of the victim, and one of the captain. And when I sat back and listened to myself as if I were some outside observer listening to the story, I realized that I didn’t like the kind of person I was becoming in the the victim version of the story, and I did like the person I would become as the captain in the story. And so I made a conscious choice to tell the story, not as the victim but as the captain. Sure, many things happened that I did not control, but I learned to accept that as a given in life. Life is, after all, unpredictable.
An example from my life
I am from southern California. I love it there. I love the sunshine. I love the ocean. I grew up surfing there and still go surfing every time I go back and visit. I am currently living in the midwest. Since divorce was filed in this midwest state, it has jurisdiction over the divorce case, making it nearly impossible to move back to California with my children. Now I considered moving back home and licking my wounds and starting over when it all went down. But I didn’t want to abandon my children, since I knew they would not be able to go with me and I made a commitment to never abandon my children. I had and still have a choice in how I interpret this situation.
Option #1: Woe is me (sigh). I wish I could move back home to California, “where the grass is green and the girls are pretty”- so to speak, and go surfing all the time, and see my family more often. But since I can’t, I’ll just stay here and feel sorry for myself and complain about it to myself all the time, especially in the snowy winter where I lament missing the ocean and being outdoors and going hiking in the mountains or going skiing. There’s not even a good place to ski around here. If they are going to have snow, they should at least have a mountain to ski on or something!
Option #2: You know what? It’s really expensive to live in southern California. I could probably barely afford a garage, let alone a house out there. We live in a lovely community here that is far safer than where I grew up (gangs in my schools then and worse now). The school system here is amazing, ranking in the top of the state with enormous opportunity for a great education, and we can actually afford to live in a nice home that backs up to a horse property. The kids all have their own bedroom and they have plenty of space to run around in a yard and neighborhood. Plus we have so many valuable relationships here that I wouldn’t want to leave. I feel blessed to raise my family here!
Now, if you are the listener, a potential friend of mine who I’m telling this story to, which version is more pleasant to listen to? Which is more inspiring? Which one makes you want to run away, and which one makes you want to move in closer and hear more? The interesting thing here is that they are both true, but from different vantage points.
The same is true with you. When you are making relational requests to connect with people (see previous post here), the way you present yourself, and the way you tell your story has a huge impact on the kind of person you become, and the kind of response you get from your requests. You’ve heard the old adage, “misery loves company.” Well the opposite is true too. Happy people love the company of other happy people. Successful people gravitate toward and network with other successful people. Like attracts like.
What about you?
I am confident that like most people, you have had some difficult things happen to you. But how do you tell your story? Maybe you lost someone close to you, or you were abused as a child. Maybe you were in an abusive relationship even recently or your spouse just left you. Maybe you were diagnosed with a disease, like a friend of mine who is currently struggling with ALS. I know it's hard to think of things differently when your emotions are swirling around and fear has gripped your hear. I have been there. But take a moment... To be the captain takes courage. Think about how you could tell this story as the victim, and then rethink the same exact story from the vantage of the captain. Which is more inspiring? Can you find the good that you experienced from that situation? Can you see how that seemingly bad thing had some sort of silver lining or valuable lesson that you wouldn’t trade for the world?
I decided not to be the victim and I urge you to do the same. I am extremely grateful for the wisdom I gained about myself and about relationships as a result of the journey I walked. Ultimately the lessons I learned in that journey made me into a better man and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. I challenge you to become consciously aware of the stories you share regarding your experiences in life. Are you the captain of the ship in the story, or are you the boat being tossed around by the wind and waves?
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Joel is a husband, father, musician, and lover of life; especially life that is shared with the wealth of amazing friends and family he is blessed to have near.