How Do You Explain Your Life?

Author: Dick Bolles

We Are, By Nature, Storytellers. 

Most of us, anyway. Day by day, we love to tell stories to our family, friends, coworkers, clients, and phone pals: stories about what's happening to those around us, and to our partner, and our children, and how things are going at our job, and what happened to us over the weekend, and what happened to us on our last trip – not to mention the latest fascinating gossip that we've heard somewhere, about somebody. We are storytellers, but we are more.

The sum and total of our life is that, from our birth until our death, we are walking stories, here upon the earth.

Of course we cannot tell the whole story of our life to everyone we meet (though some have been known to try), but most of us pick and choose random bits. And it is always interesting to notice, for ourselves, which stories about our life we choose to tell to others: the everyday stories, or the funny stories or the joyous stories, or the sad, even tragic, stories.

The Story We Tell Ourselves

But, more important than the stories we tell others, is the overarching story we choose to tell ourselves, about our own life.

We choose this overarching story in order to make sense out of all the little stories – this time dealing not with the 'what,' but with the 'why." Why we think 'all this' has happened to us.

Here we enter into the land of fable, myth, philosophy and faith. Here we choose from a menu that the universe has offered to everyman or everywoman, down through the ages.

We get to choose between: our life as a story with ultimate purpose running beneath all that happens to us, like some great underground river; or our life as a string of meaningless events, without rhyme or reason.

We also get to choose between: the story of our life as one where the chief actor on the stage is God, or coincidence is, or some horrific event, that (as we tell it).has crippled our life forever.  

The Victim Mentality

All these stories we may choose between, boil down in essence to just two basic categories. Passive or active.

Active stories are where we portray ourselves (to ourselves) as basically in charge of our own life, and responsible – in whole or part – for how our life is turning out.

On the other hand, passive stories are where we portray ourselves (to ourselves) as having been basically the victim of other people's actions, or some tragic event(s) or outside force(s) over which we had no control, so now we are responsible not at all for how our life has turned out.

Which of these two basic categories we choose – to explain our life – is of great consequence, because which we choose, determines whether our life is ever going to change or not. No, that's not overstating the case. 

Work on the 10 Percent

Lots of us like to think that if we ever want to change our lives, all we need are some practical tips, some helpful exercises, and a little nod or push, in order to get going. 

I thought this myself, once upon a time. But now, many years and ten million job-hunters later, I have learned this just isn't true.

I have learned the most important question you can ask of someone, when they 'say' they want to change their life is, "Do you believe that you have had a lot to do with how your life has turned out thus far? Good and bad? Do you believe that with respect to any problem in your life, no matter how desperate, no matter how much power seems to lie in other's hands, you still have a least 2 percent that is in your control and power? And you can work on that 2 percent?"

Heaven waits for their answer. If they say "No," if the story they cry out is "Victim," then all the tools for change will be useless in their hands.

On the other hand, if they say "Yes," then great change can happen to their lives in the future; indeed, they can turn their lives around.

So, no matter how much of your life you think you cannot change, in every problem area there is always a part of it that can be changed. To look for that part, to find that part, and to work on that part, is the secret of finding the life you want.

What story are you telling about your life?