Life Is Not What Happens to You
Life is like a story, and you are the main character, the Hero. Or, are you?
Are you taking an active role in your own life, or are you just living day to day with people and events that happen to you? When things happen, that's called Plot. But, when the Hero takes action on something he wants, that's what drives a story - and his personal growth.
Why do you care about Story versus Plot? Because our stories have power. Telling stories about our experiences amplifies the energy behind them every time we tell them.
So, let's say you have my rapt attention, and this is a story that you tell me:
I woke up this morning.
A happened to me.
B showed up unexpectedly, and I reacted.
C said something to me.
Traffic delayed me, and I was late for D.
I went to sleep.
Do you notice something about this list? Yep, it reads like a list of Plot Points. There you were, and these things happened to you. Some were maybe good things, some bad. But, is the energy behind this list something you want to amplify - that Things Happen to You?
Nothing in the list above reads like it's a story underscored by anything you want for yourself. In it, you're not driving any of the action. And, you know what?
You can drive action (or deliberate inaction) in your life, if you've identified what you want.
That's where thinking of yourself as the Hero in your life's story can help.
Do you know the story, "The Jungle Book" by Rudyard Kipling? In it, a young boy, Mowgli, has grown up in the jungle with a pack of wolves as his family. When his and the pack's safety are threatened by the return of Shere Kahn, the tiger, his animal family decides Mowgli must go live in the Man village. But, that's not what Mowgli, the Hero, wants. He wants to stay in the jungle.
Over the next couple days, Mowgli is nearly trampled by a herd of elephants, almost constricted to death by the python Kaa, kidnapped by monkeys for King Louie, the crazy orangutan, and stalked by Shere Kahn, who wants to kill him.
Talk about Plot Points!
Mowgli keeps taking action toward his want, and here's the twister: Things Happen to Him because of his actions. But, every Thing That Happens to Mowgli shapes his pursuit and understanding of what he wants.
Mowgli wants to stay in the jungle, the home with the only family he's ever known.
Oh ho! Did you catch that? Our Hero has an overt want - to stay in the jungle - AND an underlying want - to stay with the only family he's ever known.
This is classic storytelling by Kipling. And, you can use it to your advantage in your life.
Our Hero wants X in order to Y.
Let's get back to you. I could ask, 'What do you want?' and you could say, "I want a million dollars."
Alrighty. But, do you think this want is active enough for all your days as the Hero in your life story?
I think it's likely you'd spend a lot of time running around like a chicken with your head cut off, reacting to every possibility of having a million dollars. Lottery tickets! That job! That other job! No, no, that investment! Oooh, this guy is killing it playing videos on YouTube!
Plus, if and when you didn't win the lottery, get that job, make money from that investment, or "kill it" playing videos, the failure would be something that Happened to You without advancing you toward what you want.
Wanting a million dollars is your intention; what is your motivation? You WANT a million dollars IN ORDER TO what?
This question is deceptively simple. You might say, "I want a million dollars in order to leave my job."
Okay, good. Then I'd say back to you, 'You want to leave your job in order to what?'
"In order to do what I want."
'And, that is...?'
Keep asking yourself. Keep digging. Many times, digging into the whys will help you further clarify your wants.
And, why again?
Because your stories about yourself, your day, what you want, and why you want it have POWER.
Unlike Mowgli, a fictional character, you can step back from your day-to-day Hero mode and put on your Author hat instead. Look at yourself from an Author's distance, and examine what motivates your Hero (you). After you've identified your underlying motivation, you can take off the Author hat and use that insight to make more active choices in your day-to-day Hero life.
Try on different whys. Brainstorm and list answers willy-nilly. Record thoughts on your mobile phone. Bounce ideas with a friend.
List things you've done in the past to get what you wanted. Is there a pattern to discern? Have you always been keen to: help others be healthy, foster acceptance of others, create understanding where there's confusion, defend the powerless, embrace and promote self-love...?
It may take some time to uncover your primary motivation. And, yes, wants and whys can change over time. Absolutely.
But, if you feel that Life is happening to you like a list of Plot Points, keep asking, 'I want what in order to what?'
Let's take another look at the opening story as if it were mine. When I put on my Author hat, I've determined that my Hero (me) wants to make art that reaches people in order to feel like she's serving others with her gifts.
I woke up this morning. -- I only hit the Snooze button twice. Progress! I'm such a night person, I'm just not sleepy before midnight. Plus, I get a second wind of creativity at night...
A happened. -- When I checked email this morning, I saw that I had 10 new subscriptions for my email list - Yay! But, Ack! too. I've gotta keep up with my content goals.
B showed up unexpectedly, and I reacted. -- I really wanted to dive in to writing some notes right then and there, but the Kiddo came back from her friend's house early and announced she's bored. Why must I always be Cruise Director? I say, 'Boredom during childhood is character building. Go read a book.' and try to go back to my train of thought. (Ten minutes later, I reconsider and decide to ask the Kiddo to go outside with me to pick tomatoes for our lunch.)
C said something to me. -- Husband called to remind me he was going to the gym after work. He'll get his own dinner. Good, take that off the list!
Traffic delayed me, and I was late for D. -- I was late getting the Kiddo to swimming class, because there was traffic I didn't expect. I cut it too close, though, too. I really wanted to finish creating an image before we left. Not quite.
E happened. -- So, I'm watching the Kiddo in the pool kicking away - she's a fish, really - and, bam! This idea about flow came to me. I feel like I'd been forcing things a bit earlier in the day, but here I was, surrounded by noise, splashing, and excited kids, and I had an unexpected "a ha moment." I wrote a note on the back of an envelope in my purse, so I wouldn't forget it.
I went to sleep at my usual hour, midnight. I finished creating a new draft, though. I'll sleep on it and look it over with fresh eyes tomorrow.
Given my what and why, I actively choose to frame my perception of things that happen during the day in service to my intention and motivation, and that framing informs my stories.
In my story about my day above, I wanted to amplify the energies behind creating new content to serve a growing audience and making time for my Kiddo when plans suddenly changed.
So, how about you?
Ready to move beyond Things-That-Happen-to-You stories to Things That Happen to You Help You Clarify Your Wants and Whys stories?
Awesome! Hit me with some wants and whys in the comments!