Someone recently said jokingly, “tell me about your life?” I responded “which story?” We all laughed and changed the subject but the exchange struck me as interesting. I responded so quickly to the question that I didn’t give my words much thought in the moment, but as I heard my response I was struck thoughtful.
Which story I tell about myself depends on which outcome I wish to achieve or which portrait of myself I wish to paint. A good example is a job interview where the interviewer asks, “what are your weaknesses?” I was always told to answer the question with a story. Retell a moment when my limits were stretched and perhaps I “failed” according to that moment’s standards. Then, I was to tell about how I learned from this moment and was growing into a stronger employee. This story has become one of strength not of weakness, of someone overcoming a challenge and rising to the challenge.
The outcome of that story was clear. I wanted a better job than my previous position so the narrative of the story had to create a character arc that pointed toward my inevitable employment.
How do we do this with our lives? How do we determine what the arc of our life is to point towards or is already pointing towards?
The simple answer is, that there is no simple answer. Our life, our character is more complex than even the most gifted writer can possibly retell.
The story of our life is less like a children’s book and more like the movie Crash or my favorite Love Actually, where there are multiple lines of development happening simultaneously. Every sub-story forms a part of our one story. Sometimes they overlap and sometimes they just run parallel, but they often have a connecting thread or theme. Our challenge then is to determine the theme of our life. And, like any good filmmaker doing our best to either stay on theme, or change themes if the story has become either unmanageable or has shifted.
So the question remains…tell me about your life?