Creating Empowering Stories
"Our life is a series of defining moments, strung together by passing time. Surrender fully to this moment, because it is not the moment itself that defines us, but how we choose to live in it." Jill Hanna
We all have had defining moments in our lives, and it has always been up to us what exactly these moments define – that is to say, we decide the story that these moments create about us. We decide the meaning behind these events.
First, the bad news: Many of these moments happened during our developmental period as children or young adults, before we knew that we could choose our story. So we’d usually take the fear route: If the experiences were negative, we’d begin to fear them happening again. And if the experiences seemed positive, we’d fear them not happening again, or we’d fear losing the feeling that they gave us.
The good news is that not only can we choose the story that all the defining moments yet to come give us, but we can also rewrite the stories we’ve already accepted from the past! We can draw up a memory of one of these defining moments, remember how we felt, explore how we incorporated that story into our lives afterwards, and choose another path. We can ask ourselves, “Has this story been empowering me, or disempowering me?”
For example, when I was six years old I was very much into my ballet class. It didn’t matter that I am so uncoordinated that I had to stand for a whole hour by myself in the corner, holding the barre and learning how to skip while the rest of the class floated and danced across the room (true story). My best friend was also in the class with me, and we loved feeling like ballerinas. One fall day, my best friend told me that the class that week was our Halloween class and we were supposed to come in costume. I didn’t think twice about it, and my super crafty mom whipped up a bumblebee costume, complete with wings and a huge stinger on the back. I marched into class that day like I owned the place, only to find that it was not, in fact, dress up day, and all the other little ballerinas (my best friend included) were wearing their normal perfect pink leotards, and staring slack-jawed at the insect that just waddled into the room. I kid you not – I turned around and ran out of that room crying, and never went back to ballet class. Now, for whatever reason my brain decided not to remember the logistics of why my friend told me the wrong date, but I did remember that feeling of standing out and being judged. I’m naturally an introverted person, but can I really assume that experiences like that didn’t shape the part of my personality that prefers to watch the action from the sidelines?
And it’s not just the negative experiences that we embed into our psyches – sometimes we create disempowering stories surrounding some of our happiest moments. For example, let’s say you finally muster up the courage to ask out the cute girl at your gym. Let’s also assume she says yes… because you go to meditation class so you’re obviously awesome and who wouldn’t say yes to that? So while that is a positive experience on the surface, you could still conjure up any variety of stories about it and carry them with you. If you happened to have been 10 pounds lighter then, maybe you created an unspoken story about yourself that good things happen to you when you weigh less.
The point here is – every moment has the potential to be a defining moment, depending on the meaning we choose to give it. And who are we really, but those stories that we tell ourselves, about ourselves, and that we choose to believe?
Carl Jung said it well: “I am not what happened to me; I am what I choose to become.”