March 28, 2011

Unsticking Stuck Stories

Yesterday my sister Marlene and I chatted briefly about how people can get stuck on their "stories" and that she herself must have some stuck stories. That got me thinking about my own stuck stories. I would frame these as the running litany of narratives that we've written as our limiting self-beliefs and from which we are afraid to stray. Sometimes these are the stories we tell others, unwittingly, about ourselves when we are getting to know someone - meant to be an introduction but just as often sent as a warning.

I often say that my non-profit clients wear their mission on their sleeves and must relay that tale, in full, to every person they meet. It becomes a monologue that can not be interrupted until finished and once completed the person sits back and closes their mind - often to themselves as well as the person to which they are speaking. Sure, we all have our stories and some are ones we love to tell because they make people laugh, frame us as brave, creative, adventurous. But what happens when a story paints us into a corner and we are only that story, not living in the now but rather the "back when".

This morning, as I laid in bed and listened to the cars with loudspeakers projecting the morning prayers along the streets before sunrise, I started to think about my stuck stories. Even now, I was about to say, "since returning to the US..." which is how I frame one of my stuck narratives. It was a monumental moment in my life, to live in London and then return to the US. Layered within this tale are so many other stuck stories and lately I've been saying that some are not my story but someone else's in which I was a key character or perhaps an accomplice.

Now, as a teacher, I help my students articulate their stories, guiding them in conveying their growing strengths as they articulate their aspirations. This past quarter I revealed more of myself to my students as I shared my war stories of former employers and clients. But afterwards I would often find myself feeling uncomfortable with how the chronicle had been relayed. I came across as a victim - a device of my own telling. This next quarter it is my intention to retell these tales as objective lessons learned instead of plays in which I am a secondary character beholden to the nasty king or queen.

Being on my own...yet the opening for another of my stuck actually an opportunity to examine my running-narratives without being encased in a dance with another person, or people, who require that my steps remain consistent. My girlfriends and I often talk about our self-framing; being clear about the paths we have taken and the new ones we are now forging. As we explore relationships we notice that either we or the other person are carrying "baggage" - preconceived notions, assumptions and fears - that have us admonishing ourselves as we analyze, assess and shed our stuck stories.

Being the most stuck in a story is when you develop thick walls that keep you from connecting with others or even yourself, and blocking your dreams. Perhaps these stories even prevent you from envisioning a possibility, and now you can only regret. The bravest moments are when you examine the narratives, recognizing that they are so old and have become tall tales by which you exist in the present, holding onto a ghost of the past. This is what I frame as "evolving" and often use this wording with my students and clients when we talk about personal and organizational evolution.

Recently I was talking with various friends about how in life you can ride the wave, deny there is a wave or avoid the wave. Riding the wave is intentional, taking time to reflect on old blockages that need flushing, allowing for new possibilities. On occasion we develop friendships, old and new, with people who encourage our bravery, offering their hand or heart in support as we crest the wave and find balance. Recognizing and trusting these people, being open to them, not pushing them away, is the first step in unsticking our stuck stories. In return, they must accept that finding balance takes practice.