I’m a practical person. My focus usually is on action plans, lists with tasks, getting things done and planning for the future. In coaching sessions with my clients, we look forward, identify limiting beliefs that might hold them back and prioritise positive change – and the emphasis is always on how to implement it. I like it, and my clients like it.
However, last week I saw the value in balancing it with looking back at the past. I was fortunate to attend a narrative coaching workshop. On the last day (when I joined) the organisers gave the participants the opportunity to share how their original stories of their lives shaped who they are. It was such a powerful experience to listen to people’s stories – the narrative we hold in ourselves, that shape us as people and direct (to a large degree) our choices. The story you hold in you has the power to shape your future, and it’s something that I had not really considered too much before. We so seldom examine our own stories – I know that I don’t! – and doing so can be a tremendous source of self-insight.
I’d like to quote a couple of stories that I found quite moving. A member of the group spoke about his parents’ generation being immigrants. He told of their struggle to fit into a new country where they didn’t speak the language or even understood many of the customs. They had to leave other family members behind, and this still causes pain. The fact that they had their names changed by the authorities created even more the feeling that they didn’t belong. But it is also a story of perseverance, of courage and hope, and of new beginnings. This family story shaped the story that he tells his kids.
Questions to consider: What is your family’s story and how does that shape you? What can you learn from it, and what parts of the story do you want to give to the next generation?
Another person shared the story of her ancestry. Her parentage includes a mix of Native American and Mexican cultures. But because much of the Native American cultures have been assimilated into Western culture, she grieves for the culture that is lost. She longs to get closer to the beliefs and habits of her ancestors, but that culture does not exist anymore. Sometimes she struggles to figure out where she fits in.
Questions to consider: Where do you come from? What do you value? What have you lost that you grieve for?
A third story was about trying to fit in. A member of the group shared that she feels torn between her native South African tribal culture and the values of the Western world in which she lives and works. She values both but often the values seem to be in direct opposition. She told the story of needing to figure out her true identity – which one is the real person?
Questions to consider: Who are you? Which parts make up the whole? What truth can you take from the many places that make up your identity?
Having the courage to tell our stories, and ask others about theirs, is the first step to create understanding that can lead to insight. And insight can lead to positive change. Stories are powerful, and that power can either help us to direct our lives better, or they can hold us back. Stories can uncover things that are hidden or shine a light on assumptions that might never have been questioned.
It started me thinking about my own story. I was born into a culture in which I felt ill at ease, not sharing the major political outlook or the religious beliefs. I always felt like a foreigner born into the wrong group. My story is about accepting that this is where I come from and letting go of this to forge my own path.
Of course, we do not choose where we come from, nor do we choose many of the experiences that we have. But that’s part of our stories, whether we want them to be or not. We have the power to choose the stories that we hand over to the next generation. Our choices every day shape the story of our future. In this we are the author of our own lives.
Questions to consider: In 5 years from now, what do you want your story to be? Which choices will bring you there? What do you need to change today to make that story true?