We all have different stories we love. Maybe for you, it’s the “rags to riches” tale, where someone gets rich because of a combination of hard work and luck, and finally gets to live an extravagant (and happy?) life. Or perhaps you love Taiwanese dramas, because the goofy girl always ends up with the dreamy guy, who sees her true beauty when no one else can.
What I’ve realised is that stories and narratives that captivate your thoughts will infiltrate your life. The narratives you listen to on a regular basis will affect your thoughts, and your thoughts in turn affect the way you live.
For me, there was a period when I watched and read many romantic comedies and novels about the perfect guy, cute dates, and happy endings. Inevitably, those thoughts circulated in my mind and whenever I went someplace new I couldn’t help but think about a dozen different ways a love story could start. My conversations with friends started to revolve around romance, and my life became about doing things so others could see and appreciate who I was.
Letters from the dorm: learning new skills, running a business, and making new friends at Management Conference
There came a point where I realised this wasn’t adding any value to my life. In fact, it was actually turning my story into one I didn’t want.
Stories like these can give you an inaccurate view of the process that takes a person from A to B. They also set unrealistic expectations of the end result. And it’s not just the books you read or the movies you watch, but it’s also about the narratives of success or love or wealth that you hear from your friends, from music, or from the workplace.
Love takes time to develop, hardship to mature, and patience to grow, and dramas or songs don’t always reflect that. One chanced encounter and a great night out doesn’t always lead to happily-ever-after.
Even if things work out, the result may not be what you imagined. A person infatuated with “rags to riches” might work hard because others have told them that wealth will bring stability and happiness, only to find that at the end of the day they’ve sacrificed their own true happiness. Then there’s the narrative of beauty – as popular media portrays it – that wreaks havoc on self-esteem. The list goes on.
Whatever story it is, the more you dwell on it and allow it to permeate your thoughts, the more you will start to believe it and live it.
But don’t forget that you have a choice: to intentionally choose what stories you regularly think about. We don’t need to throw out all our movies and books and stop listening to our friends, but we should be aware of and evaluate their influence on our lives.
The first step to living a life that you’re happy with is understanding the things that have shaped the way you live. Is there is a certain type of story you gravitate to? Does it have values that you admire and hope to live out? If you follow the actions of the heros, will that take you where you want to go? And if you finally achieve what the story promises, will that give you the joy and life that you want?
The reality is that our world glorifies some stories more than others – but your story doesn’t have to mindlessly imitate someone else’s: create and live your own story.