Discussion: Is your life a story?

The importance of stories to humans cannot be overstated.  Well perhaps it can, but I’ve yet to see anybody succeed yet. 🙂  I’ve written about the importance of stories before.  My interest in the subject began when reading the novels Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss.  It is clear that we learn from stories.  In fact it is often suggested that as a method of pedagogy that we try to create narratives, try to use storytelling to teach.  I’ve yet to find a way to do this with fluid dynamics, but when I think about how I retain knowledge best, it is certainly the ability to think in terms of stories, rather than a lose collection of facts.  When teaching, even if you don’t have a story to tell, trying to create a common thread through your lessons does help.

A former student, and now friend, would often start a conversation with people she was just meeting and getting to know with the question “Tell me the story of your life.”  I think it’s pretty easy to see our lives as a story.  I am not sure though that this is something we do when we are adolescents.  Perhaps we haven’t lived long enough, and it is unclear when this process begins, but at some point you will look at the past and forecast into the future and there will seem to be this story you are playing out.

But is this a good way of thinking about our lives?  Sometimes I think we do this because it seems more interesting, and even though I still think there is a lot of values to stories, perhaps we shouldn’t be seeing our own life as a story.

Some philosophical meat to think about here is are you the same person in the past as you are in the future?  Stories tend to follow a particular character who may change, but rarely as much as actual humans do.  Is your 20 year old self the same as your 60 year old self?  Maybe at best we are a series of shorter stories instead of one long story.  Our desire for continuity and cause and effect perhaps extends the narrative for longer than it perhaps should.

More importantly when we think our life in terms of a story do we then sometimes predict the ending?  Do we limit ourselves by having expectations based on this narrative we have about our lives?  In a recent podcast I listened too, they profiled a family who had a story of their life.  They were beekeepers, and when tragedy struck and it all came to an end, they could see themselves any other way.  What they had been doing for 40 years was who they were.  Their house decorated with bees.  How do you change the story when life takes an unexpected turn?  It can be very difficult to find happiness or contentedness when expectations do not match the reality of your situation.  This podcast also did another episode where they talked about changing your story and how doing that can help us move on.  We might find inspiration in others who have changed the story of their lives, we may also become limited by others who assume that we can’t change our story.  Perhaps we have no choice but to see our lives as a story, and if we are going to do that, perhaps we just need to learn how to better hijack that process to write those new chapters that can take the story into a different direction.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject?  Do you think of your life as a story?  Do you think it’s good or bad that you do?  Have you had to change your story unexpectedly?  Was it difficult?

There is a nice discussion on the topic on another podcast I listen to if you are interested in thinking about this subject more.

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37 thoughts on “Discussion: Is your life a story?

    1. Thank you for your comment! I also love stories and reading. I wonder if we see our lives as stories because of reading stories, or is it that we see our lives as stories and thus we are drawn to other stories?

      I am not sure how old you are, but do you think that as we age thinking of our lives as stories might become more limiting. I was thinking that, when we are young, it’s like we are only at the beginning of a story and so the possibilities of where the story can go seem more endless, but I can imagine at the age of 60 seeing life as being closer to an inevitable conclusion. Which could be kind of sad given that there is still a lot of life left in this day and age.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I have an Akamba (Kenyan) saying pinned to the wall above my desk: “Only stories have the power to change the human heart”. Also traditionally these same people held that stories could not be told unless children were also present. Stories were the means for everyone to learn to become and be good community members from birth to death.

    I think we all know that we respond best to specific contexts and narratives ( rather than generalities). This is a great teaching aid as you say. But it can have disadvantages if we do not scrutinise/know the storytellers. There are the advertising yarn spinners for one. And then of course we have the mass media and politicians who have learned how very easy it is to play us with endless versions of the ‘big bad wolf’ story. The human mind has a great capacity to take one case study, especially if it is continuously repeated, and turn it into some absolute truth. And there are too many very bad stories being touted by the powerful at the present time.

    I think too the stories we tell to ourselves about ourselves can at times be very limiting and self-sabotaging. But having said all that, on the whole I’m right with the Akamba. Stories that have the ring of truth, told without some self-serving intention to manipulate, can open our eyes and our hearts and minds.

    Another thought-provoking post, Swarn. Thank you.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you Tish for your kind words and sharing your thoughts on the topic. I agree with you quite a bit. I like to sort of think about this, in the same way I do about scientific facts. Like I can pretty certain about many things, but the story of science is one in which we discover new things and things change and I have to be accepting of that possibility. Similarly, I try to think that way with the story of my life. It seems to have a narrative, but I try not assume too much about the ending, and also accept that my interpretation of the past might also be faulty.

      There is something to learn in every story, Maybe even in the story of a conman, but perhaps most importantly we should remember that it’s just a story and not necessarily truth. Maybe that’s how we end up not taking ourselves too seriously when we think of our own story.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I think of my life as a story for sure. I have four distinct segments, and hope to have a couple more at least. As an adventurous sort, I have sought new experiences to live several times, from being a wrangler, guide, and packer for an outfitter 5 years, to being a cowboy on the range for another 5. I homesteaded off the grid in the Panama jungle, became a paramedic, at 38, radio host on a morning show, public speaker 10 years, lived in places that were vacation spots, carpenter, rock climber, sold all my possessions —all of them, traveled to every state, scuba dive, skydive, trained a world class quarter horse, and had a few businesses that interest me. Life is my only chance to live, and where I’ve been is who I am. It does take about 20-30 years after the fact to put these segments in writing. But they’re pretty cool stories for me, and I’ve brought my kids along for the ride. Can’t imagine any other way, but decided to stay out of debt and live life in my own terms as much as possible. That In itself can be a struggle with the way the world is set up. But doable.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you Jim for sharing. So you talk about these 4 distinct segments. What was your think as you made this transition? In a way your story is one in which you accept that nothing is written and thus, in a way, you didn’t see your life as a story, until you look back and say, “wow…that’s a great story.” Perhaps one’s answer to this question depends on how fatalistic one is. I wonder how one’s religious inclination makes one feel like they are just part of some unfolding story with very little control of the wheel.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. The transition can be easy or very difficult. Sheer will at some points to make it happen. To homestead Panama we sold everything. House cars tools, all if it. We each went with a suitcases each, took a taxi in Panama to a dealership and bought a truck. Then traveled 5 hours into the interior. That was the easy part. Getting out of the system was the hardest part. Two years later I was back in the states for a couple of weeks and the local tv station contacted me to do a story. They wanted me to write a bio before the segment so they knew what to ask. When I proofed the bio, only then did I realized how cool it was. But living it was just something I wanted to do. Nothing is written except the way I want it to be, but the stories don’t come together until after the fact. I went up in the mountains on a day ride and the owners of the outfit asked if we wanted to stay and work. We stayed on and went home two weeks later to get some gear, then stayed for five years up in the mountains off grid. That’s the story I’m working on right now. Sometimes you have to be ready to roll with it. Break away. Say yes!! Write your own obituary. Then write it again! There is nothing to fear for me, and I am not crazy or take physical risk like a death wish, I just want to see it all and experience the things everyone else just talks about.

        Liked by 6 people

          1. Hey, Number one thing. Debt kills this whole thing. People give up experiences to live a form of slavery. I couldn’t have done any of this with a debt load. I’ve taken a total of 7 years off regular work in my adult life. Never happen with payments. I’m not wealthy by any means. Just figure out a way.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. This is a good point. A lot of students say that they are going to delay going to grad school because they just want to take a break and work for a bit because they are tired with school. They end up working a job they aren’t really crazy about and then they get car payments, house payments, and then they are in a trap they can never get out of. Of course student debt is a huge problem now as well with the cost of tuition. So it’s harder for a lot of young people to get off the grid. I always tell students, well if you do want to take a break from school…live like a pauper, squirrel away money, and don’t incur any debt!

              Liked by 3 people

        1. You were extremely fortunate that the “we” saw the adventure of homesteading in the same vein as you. Not many would be so accommodating.

          In any event, sounds like you’re lived (to-date) a very full and exciting life. Hope it continues for many years to come. 🙂

          Liked by 4 people

  3. Interesting post, Swarn. I don’t think of my life as a story but as the sum of myriad experiences. They are life lessons that could be shared with others as stories.

    Our stories, even when they focus on one individual, are a composite of our lives in relation to others and the world in which we live.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you Rosaleine. I think you have a really healthy way of looking at it. I think that’s how I feel as well, but often when I reflect on my past, I try understand how I got from here to there and sort of see myself as the same character throughout. Is there an essence to “me” that carries through all these experiences, thus making me a character to be followed in some sort of narrative? For a solid year or so, my son would ask me, after reading a bedtime story, to tell me a story of “when I was little”. I found it hard to do. In some ways it was comforting because it made me think, perhaps I am someone who really lives in the moment, and that after I learn from some past experience I just take what I’ve learned and moved on. But that there was the part of me that felt sad, that I didn’t have interesting stories to share. My childhood almost seemed to be this sort of blurred set of experiences where I had an understanding of my emotional and intellectual journey, but not a lot of specifics about experiences. Maybe this is true for everybody when they reach my age. lol

      Liked by 3 people

    1. I like your take on the golden rule. That’s good.

      I’d be happy to meet just one JZ, but all the difference JZ’s would be fascinating. I’d start with bright-eyed and bushy-tailed JZ 2 minute prior to kangaroo. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I have two life stories. One that is quite predictable, quite common, and EXTREMELY American. And another that means a LOT more to me, my family, and a small inner-circle of very dear friends.

    The former, that first story is in all truth my American dollar value as seen and assessed by all aspects of American public life and my American work-career/occupation which sadly makes up a HUGE chunk of my American life past, present, and future… until I am (maybe?) old enough to barely enjoy full TRUE retirement. 🇺🇸 💲,💲💲💲

    And the latter story is EVERYTHING in my personal social life, past, present, and future involving immediate family and dearest friends (the inner-circle) that for the most part has nothing to do with a dollar value because 90% – 95% of this VERY precious rare parts cannot be equated to a dollar value… which makes it the most VALUABLE parts of my life story. 💕💞

    And there you have it. My American life stories. 😁

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I am a writer, among other things, but I do not think of my life as a story. Rather I think of it as an adventure, and I remain as open to possibilities as possible. perhaps that’s why, despite having had a really interesting past, I have no compulsion to write it down. Additionally, memory is subjective, and when one starts delving into the memory of a child, it becomes even more so. again for me, I would rather grasp soundbites and weave them into snippets, employing them in a creative way. since you asked ☺️

    Liked by 5 people

            1. Thanks Bela…I’m certainly not saying it’s that impactful, but just doesn’t necessarily make for good storytelling…especially to a 4 year old at bedtime. And thanks for the link. I would agree with Siegel. I’ve said it before myself. We’re all addicted to something…so the best we can do is to try to make it something good. 🙂

              Liked by 2 people

  6. Our lives are not stories. Parts of our lives, the events, can be made into stories. Narratives are hard-wired into our psyches at this point because they provide glue that connects one occurrence with another. So, if someone asks you about your day and you say: I went shopping and then had lunch out. Those are two events that are just part of a time line and there is nothing linking them together. If, instead, you will in a few details: I went shopping and met an old friend, so we went to lunch to catch up …” now it is a story.

    Our lives are our lives. I cannot remember the bulk of what I have done and have had happen to me. Most of my life no longer exists in my memory or the memories of others, really. But my life is still what it was and is, whether I want to tell a story about it or not.

    So, is my life a story? No.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Steve for your perspectives. I tend to agree, but I do think that a lot of people see their lives in a fashion of continuity and narratives. I don’t think everybody does, but for many people this seems to be a normal psychological pattern sometimes for better or for worse.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Everyone’s life is a story of some description.
    Most would fall into a similar genre,the one we know as – Pretty Ordinary – very few would emulate Jim’s story, the book of which would likely find its way to the shelf in the library where the librarian struggled to find a specific genre. Oddities & One of a Kind
    Sometimes I feel my story looked as if it might have developed into a very minor Wilbur Smith novel, then for a time a bit of Chariots of Fire, after that a touch of Bridget Jones’ Diary – I’m leaning toward the Hugh Grant character – and for a while it devolved into a Dear Auntie Jane agony column.

    At the moment it seems like a manuscript I am holding onto and one that I spend a little too much time proof reading!

    I sometimes have a feeling I will end up being much like a character in an Enid Blyton story… probably the dog, knowing my luck! Or maybe even Walter Mitty.

    However, we’ll just have to wait and see. There is still plenty of time to add a chapter or three, not so?

    😉

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Claire Hogue

    Hi Swarn! Thank you for the post.

    One of my family members lovingly and honestly told me that, when using spoken word, I am terrible at telling stories. I can be very tangential, much like Mark Twain’s Jim Blaine in the telling of the story of his grandfather’s old ram.

    Your post has me thinking that perhaps I’ve viewed my life story in much the same way – millions of parts that veer off here and there and somehow loop back together to form the whole of my 39 years on earth.

    For the past few years, I’ve been working to see how the parts are connected, rather than just isolated points in time. It’s been an interesting and important journey, especially since I found that much of my story, as I understood it, came from other people telling it for me. I’ve had to own my story. As a consequence, I think that story is becoming much more coherent.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for reading Claire, and lovely to see you on the blog. I hope you are doing well. 🙂

      It’s been interesting the responses to this post, as there seems to be a range of attitudes towards how one views their life in terms of narratives. I’m with you in wanted to connect dots and see how moments of the past lead into each following moment. This seems hard to track down though as, at least for me, I tend to not remember a lot of details. I often wonder how I became the person that I am exactly. Maybe it’s not true for others, but I’ll always, I think feel, that there is no way to outline what were the really important events in the story. I can remember lines teachers have said that are seemingly meaningless, and yet entire years of hard work in graduate school seem a blur. lol This always has me wondering how much of that narrative is imagined by me to make a coherent story. It’s interesting to think about for sure. But I do think there are times where having that story still has value, especially when we aren’t sure where to go next.

      Liked by 1 person

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