Oddly Enough, Your Life Is Based On A True Story

Yesterday I read Duana Easley’s post The Comfort? Zone in which she discusses a conference that posited how the world better place if we lived our lives like a story.  She writes, “If we give the way we live our lives the same thought and importance that we would use on a story we are writing, the world would become a better place. Donald Miller, the conference speaker, said, ‘The best way to change the world is to tell a good story with your life.'” She continues her post by recounting a lesson she presented to her students about what it means to be “comfortable” and how ultimately, comfort holds us back.

The idea of living our lives as if they were stories resonated with me, for it boils down the messiness of life into literary terms: characters, setting, theme, conflict, plot, and tone (if you prefer your life to be a poem, then mood).  We are all characters, and we must ask, like Dicken’s David Copperfield, if we will “turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anyone else…?” We alone can only decide what kind of people we wish to be and determine if we are in control of our lives or give that power to others.  Much of the setting we find ourselves in, we cannot control.  We cannot control what year it is nor can we control the beliefs, customs, and rules in the area that we live in.  We can control our responses to them.  If we live in an ugly setting, we can beautify it.  Even To Kill A Mockingbird‘s Mayella Ewell attempted to add beauty to her junkyard house by planting geraniums.  But will the setting be the hero of your story?  Will you let it define you?   Mayella’s, unfortunately, defined her.  With theme, we can think about what message our lives should represent.  What lessons can be taken from our everyday actions or our eulogies?  For some us it’s about kindness; for others, perseverance.  But deciding on our life’s message can help in shaping our conflicts, plot, and tone.  Granted, we cannot always control the issues and events that life throws at us, but by having a theme, it can lead us to decide which battles we really want to fight and the things we want to participate in.  All of this boils down to the tone of your life.  What is the attitude your life will take?  Is life a journey or to be endured?

This philosophy of life as story makes a lot of sense, especially today when there is so much talk about being “present in the moment” and emphasis on living “the good life” and “having it all”.  But what does all of this mean?  What is “the” good life?  What does “all” encompass?  I have a home, a job, and a loving husband.  Is this good enough?  Is it “all” or am I missing something?  Isn’t more important to live “a” good life?  To compound this issue, there are a variety books, articles, and programs out there designed to make you happy with your life.  How many people have you heard about participating in “happiness projects”?  Does organizing family photos or bills really make one happy?  It may actually feel a bit stressful.  I once read an article that said that people who focused on their own happiness were less happy than those who didn’t. Happiness, or having it all, cannot be commodified and made into a product.  One cannot fill a happiness piggy-bank and expect it to gain interest, nor is there a guaranteed return on one’s investment.  Doing projects to make oneself happy or going after the ideal of “having it all” do not necessarily breed contentment; instead they make other things the hero of one’s life.

But thinking of your life as a story places you as the hero.  You can determine how your story will be written.  If you do not like the way your story is being written, you can change it. There’s a reason why plot twists exist.  Granted, this is easier said than done, which is why some people’s themes might be perseverance, but imagine how much happier we would be.  This doesn’t mean that your life would have a story book ending or that each day would be full of adventure and glory– to recount a discussion between two of my lit professors, one who claimed Dickens was episodic and the other who retorted, “Life is episodic!”.  But being in control of your own episodic life is much more satisfying than being a slave to other’s.

Easley’s second point was about comfort and how it holds us back.  We are often loathe to try new things because they are uncomfortable, or we stay in toxic situations because it’s what we know.  Comfort, though, weaves its spell and prevents us from being the hero of our own stories.  It gives us the illusion that we’re in control, but really it holds the reins.  Just like writing in real life is hard and challenging, if we wish to be authentic, we must challenge ourselves to move beyond what is comfortable if we wish to be our own heroes.

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13 thoughts on “Oddly Enough, Your Life Is Based On A True Story

    1. Yes, like riding the London Eye while you have the chance? (wink, wink). Living in a foreign country for four months is quite a challenge, and taking challenges like that are so rewarding b/c we learn so much.

  1. love this post! I agree that every once in a while we need to do things that just terrify us( that’s how I got through the door my 1st substitute teaching day 🙂 ) I tell my kids to “make a memory!” or “make it a great day!” instead of just have a great day. Did you see Avengers ? The villian says people want to ruled and would trade their freedom to be taken care of—interesting

    1. I totally saw the Avengers! (Missing RD Jr, Jeremy Renner, and Mark Ruffalo is not an option.). I remember thinking that the villain had a point– people will give up a lot to stay comfy. Anything that we can do that pushes our boundaries is a good thing— otherwise life passes us by.

      You go, girl! No way on earth would I be a sub!

  2. Being the daughter of a woman who dedicated much of her life to kids with disabilities and to her family, I think a good portion of happiness is borne on the shoulders of altruism. I try to lead by example with my son, taking him with me to volunteer. But I also notice how much of our happiness can be controlled by attitude. In situations where I can either laugh or get angry, I’m trying to make sure I laugh more often. It’s surprising how a little thing as small as a smile can transform a miserable experience into something else. And I can’t recall who said this, but I’m a fan of making a parachute after jumping out of the plane. It’s hard to be unhappy when you’re focused on succeeding.

    1. I agree– our attitude and helping others do a lot in making us more positive. It’s great that your son both sees you volunteer and volunteers. Learning that there are people outside of ourselves is so important in building empathy and awareness.

      As for jumping out of a plane– I’ve seen so many just fall without any thought of a parachute. One acquaintance of mine never finished college on account of repeatedly dropping out. I told him that he should finish his degree, and he asked, “what if I drop out again?”. I wanted to know if dropping out was an incurable disease. He just let things happen to him come what may. Needless to say, he wasn’t a very happy person.

      I always appreciate your comments!

      1. I guess I should have said you should jump out of the plane with the intent of making your parachute on the way down instead of waiting until you’ve made the perfect parachute with a seamless lining, brocade stitching etc. In other words, you’ll never jump if you wait until the chute’s perfect. Sounds like your friend has a fear of succeeding AND a fear of failing, so he’s stuck in limbo, one of those circles of hell that’s less than satisfying.

      2. Absolutely! Your point about the perfect parachute is apt b/c many people wait for the “right” time to act and really the time is now. Your point about my friend fearing failure too sheds new light on him and his actions– I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but it makes sense. Looking back I can see that he often selected things that neither guaranteed success or failure.

  3. Thanks for mentioning my blog in yours. That makes me smile :). Loved reading how my thoughts resonated and sparked some new thoughts for you. We put our heart, guts and soul out there. It’s wonderful to know someone not only reads it but “gets” it. You made my morning!
    Dauna Easley

  4. Brilliant! Simply brilliant – this was something I needed today (or this month, really) as I’ve been in a rut and my “plot” needs progression. I will be sharing this!

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