You either choose your story for yourself or let others choose it for you. As Don Miguel Ruiz reminded us: we can become domesticated into our stories. This means that they’re often not of our own making. As I say, they are gifted to us. Often these stories are so familiar to us that we’re unaware that they even exist. They can affect us both good and bad for a lifetime.
It took a revealing experience in my mid-thirties which caused me to become an independent thinker. In a workshop, I had the highest winning score ever in a betting game designed to teach win/win thinking. The only instruction they gave, or would give, was to win as much as you can. There was a guy in the corner with a megaphone continually barking out this instruction to the participants.
I dutifully manipulated the game (as instructed) and won more than anyone else by a large measure. Heck, being a lawyer, the game of manipulation came natural. Of course, this meant I helped generate a number of really bad…and upset… losers. During a group de-briefing afterwards, I was asked if I could see that I could have played a win/win game where all participants could prosper. I said sure I could see that, right away in fact, yet I justified my high score by saying “I was only following instruction! Those were the game rules and we lawyers are trained to follow rules. In addition I was raised by a 6’3” Marine Corps Sergeant. (I felt like his last soldier at times.) You better believe I learned about following rules early on in life!”
The facilitator then asked me an insanely powerful question: He said “Do you always listen to the noise?” My brain stopped dead in its tracks! Wow. The noise. Why did I blindly follow instruction? What other “rules” am I following that aren’t of my own making? Do they really make sense? As Gurdjieff might ask, “Am I truly an automaton?”
From that day on, I determined to think for myself; to become 100% responsible for my lot in life. I decided that I could no longer do the safe thing, the thing I had trained myself to do, the thing I did so well; but rather to evolve and do what I should do. For 17 years as a plaintiff’s attorney, I had been feeding off the story that litigation was how I could make a difference. When I stopped listening to the noise and reality hit, I had a midlife crisis. I couldn’t live my passion using litigation to actualize it. Nobody wins a lawsuit. There had to be a better way!
Sometimes we question our sanity when reinventing ourselves. Change is fearful even if it’s exciting. Will they let me champion this idea I have? Is this new career or business going to survive? Am I going to go bankrupt – again? Will a competitor come along to put me out of business? Do I really want to do this anymore? Am I too inexperienced to do it? Am I nuts?
If you try to do the exact same thing, the exact same way for the next three – or 30 – years, you’ll be guaranteed to turn into that automaton and regret missed opportunities.
Don’t listen to the noise. Don’t let others decide what your story will be. Think for yourself.