At the end, we are the stories we remember.
Someone once said that life is mostly made up of unmemorable blurs, accented by a few significant moments that we remember. These moments are important because our past helps inform how we see and identify ourselves. We recall these moments as stories in our minds, whether as comedy, tragedy, thriller, etc. or a mix of all of them.
If you don’t remember something, did it really happen?
As I think back on my life, I find that my days aren’t particularly memorable. I remember enjoying pizza and eating xiao long bao over the past week. I also learned a few things like Appreciative Coaching and what Twitch is. But most of these memories kind of blend into each other and fade over time. In another day or two, I won’t remember much details of what I did this past week.
We remember the significant moments of our lives in stories and I don’t have many stories to tell. I’d like to think of myself as adventurous, fun, humorous, loving. Yet, at the same time, I have very few stories about me being adventurous, fun or many of these other qualities I’d like for myself. So, who am I really, if my history does not corroborate with the person I think I am?
Yes, there have been moments when I felt alive and I do have exciting stories to tell about getting married, preparing a company for IPO, or leaving high-tech to start my own firm. However, most of the rest of my life are composed of blank spaces that remind me, operationally, I live a life of routine, safety-first, and emotional calmness.
Aspirationally, I want to be someone aligned with purpose, to have courage to go after my dreams, and to feel passion for the things I love. I want to be happy with what I have today but also to do more, feel more, and learn more each day. To grow as a person, I want to do things I haven’t done, experience new things, move out of my comfort zone, and take risks to fail.
So, I decided to design moments for myself. By incorporating the question, “Will I have an interesting story to tell?” in my life, things have gotten scarier but also more fun and memorable. I took on responsibility to run a simulcast for a professional association and sweated bullets when technology didn’t work as expected. I co-coordinated a 60-person retreat and scrambled to solve rookie mistakes as attendees showed up confused. I TA’ed a coaching class at a university and needed to address grading challenge from a student who disagreed with the grades I assigned.
As I experimented, screwed up and figured things out, I realized that the world doesn’t end when things go awry. Yes, there were stressful and hectic situations but few screw ups were nearly as bad as I imagined they might be. Conversely, I’m having fun, learning a lot, and feeling better about myself.
“Memory is profoundly important in retrospectively defining ourselves, but we don’t approach new events in the world with the primary goal of remembering them. We appreciate, manage, enjoy, negotiate, confront, praise, love, argue, get through — all ways of understanding.” – Kraft, Robert. Why We Forget. Psychology Today. June 23, 2017. http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/defining-memories/201706/why-we-forget
And then, something unexpected hit me. Even as I experienced more varieties in my life, I still don’t recall these events easily or take pride in my actions. I don’t tell my stories about running a retreat or teaching a class – not to others and not to myself. So, while I feel more positive about life in general, I don’t see myself any differently. Like the Pixar movie, Inside Out (2015), what I forget also informs who I am.
As I thought deeply about this, I realized the importance of intention. I am the observer and interpreter of my life; I have agency over what stories to tell. And, through the life I live and the stories I choose to tell, I define myself. If I want to be more adventurous, I talk about my adventures. If I want to be funnier, I recall moments when I crack people up. If I want to be more resilient, I tell stories about how I got through crazy situations.
Now, I have new, interesting stories that represent who I am and who I want to be. With these stories, I see myself as a more interesting person and I look forward to new experiences tomorrow. I trust more in my resourcefulness and have expanded my zone of comfort to take on more – more projects, more relationships, more opportunities. More importantly, I approach life with greater confidence and joy. What interesting stories will you create for yourself?