It’s important to take a step back and look at the reasons why things turned out as they did. They are seldom simple, nor black and white. They seldom fit into the ‘personal quality lack’ or ‘inevitable fate’-explanations that we seem to be so attracted to.
While I did a project at university about attitudes towards foreigners (immigrants) I read a paper (one of a truckload) about human psychology.
Its conclusions were that we all have a tendency to fit people into little ‘boxes’. They are also called stereotypes. That makes it easier for us to navigate the complexity of life, ya know. Sounds about right. And very human.
Even learned scholars do it – maybe not with their favorite topic but then something else, usually something they don’t know jack about. I’ve heard horrific stereotypes being spewed out by the most highly educated people.
I’ve done it myself. And to some extent this bullshit is not problem, as long as we only let it out once in a while.
It becomes a real problem, though, once we turn it towards ourselves. Once we berate ourselves for not fitting into a stereotype, such as one of the four classic stories.
You see, that’s the dark side of storytelling – and of all the stories that could empower our lives, by simplifying the complex and charting a course for us, like:
‘If you work hard, eventually you will succeed at whatever you want to’.
That’s like a social meme or a saying, but it’s got a grain of truth – despite all exceptions to the rule. A real good grain.
And we can see this grain become a whole field when we investigate the life stories of successful people – whatever their expertise, from religious leaders to secular leaders, from business-people to sports starts.
But if you turn these simple guiding stories around they become hammers with which to knock yourself out.
Take the story about getting the successful career AND family – which seems to be one most people really want to see come through.
Depending on where you look that story seems to have some dangerous pitfalls built in, like assumptions.
For example, if you are attracted to stories about seemingly perfect royalty and their families, spouted in glittering magazines, the pitfall is right there: You can’t ever become part of that bliss because you were not born royal.
As for successful business-persons, lifestyle gurus, movie stars or other famous people who seemingly have it all together, you might get tempted to think that it’s because of some extra special personal quality that they have, but you don’t – or can never achieve.
Or worse: That it’s just pure luck and that’s why you should play the lottery, right? You might become one of them overnight! He …
I have fallen into these pits from time to time – hell, more often than I care to admit.
My only real salvation has been that banal, but very powerful, realization that I only achieved some kind of peace, meaning and coherence in my story when I allowed myself to love it more.
I had to see why I took 10 years to get an education – all the little and big things that caused this delay.
I was ill for a time. Maybe not my fault, but still, it’s an important factor.
More important was that I was interested in many things – social stuff, communications, arts. I could not decide where to specialize.
So I waffled back and forth. Is that a personal weakness? It might be a story about that – about some internal defect of indecisiveness that I just could never get rid off and which gave me the eternal ‘mark’ of a Cain with a 10 year education.
But what if the real story is that I am really good at many different things, and that it’s a boon that I am so interested in everything from the humanities, to arts, to economic to people?
Sure, I have to focus at some point to gain headway, but is that broadness of interests inherently ‘bad’?
Only if I allow the troll to tell my story.