The Stories We Tell Ourselves

I was recently honored as one of 29 published authors in scholarly or creative writing at the university where I work. In my brief presentation on how my books came about, I used one of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes: “There is no greater agony than to bear an untold story inside you.” The quote, as well as my journey to becoming a published author, touched several other authors in the audience who shared my belief that we all have an untold story that needs to be heard. I even made a new fan who asked for directions to the next author event and book signing in the local area. Perhaps it was the quote itself or the solidarity of my fellow writers in the group that brought out the discussion of how we see the world. In my brief five-minute presentation, I talked about how I wove the life stories of others into my writing and blended the tales into relevant writing worth reading. My characters (as my publisher once wrote) struggle, fail, and eventually triumph in the end, and what person does not want to see that?

When I first began writing, I asked myself if, as a reader, I would want to read my work. Initially, I quickly answered, “Yes, I would.” Taking a closer look at what I wrote, I then asked myself, “Is this the kind of story I would want to SHARE with current and future generations of readers?” This brought me back to a point that Maria Popova so eloquently noted in her article “Some Thoughts on Hope, Cynicism, and The Stories We Tell Ourselves” (see According to Popova (2015) “The stories that we tell ourselves, whether they be false or true, are always real… We act out of those stories, reacting to their realness.” She also cited a wonderful quote from William Faulkner who asserted that a writer’s duty is “to help man endure by lifting his heart.” Both Popova and Faulkner agreed that we shape our world view based on the stories we are not just TOLD, but that we tell ourselves. We live in an age where all forms of media (i.e., print, television, radio, social media websites, internet news and opinion pieces, etc.) have a tendency to report what is wrong in our world. It seems our focus on the negative has bred a generation of cynics, indifference toward varying levels of injustice, or complacency toward the future. What is most concerning to me, is that there does not appear to be a generation “gap” when it comes to this evolution of Gen Cynics – they span all age groups.

One of my favorite Catholic Christian authors when I was in college was Matthew Kelly, who firmly believed that young people’s lives were affected by the stories they heard, were told, and eventually learned to tell themselves. Popova, Faulkner, and Kelly were onto something. If we as a society were to look at both sides of a “story,” I believe we would have less biased information reported and broadcast out into the world. By focusing on possible solutions to a problem that exists, perhaps we can begin to fix the unhappy endings we find in some of our modern day self storytelling. Call me a dreamer, an optimist, or a fool, but I would rather live in a way where change for the better is possible and we can be saved from self destruction, instead of a world where the prevailing wisdom tells us “We’re all going to hell in a hand basket, so just do what you want.” I can only speak for myself, but I prefer to focus on sharing and telling stories to others and to myself that uplift, encourage, and resolve or solve an issue.

In my book series, The Last Prophet, the main character, a clinical psychologist and practicing therapist, helps her clients focus on solutions to unresolved issues or current concerns they may have. This is called “solution-focused” counseling. We already know what the problems are, so why not focus on solutions and finding those solutions. Such an approach would do wonders today when it comes to modern political, environmental, economic, societal (including cultural) problems painted across the computer or television screens, and perhaps even the few print media still out there. Tell the kind of stories that show triumph over adversity, rather than focus on the defeat. Listen to those stories and repeat them once, twice, maybe even three times over until the will and conviction to act with triumph already under your belt rather than doubts about possible failure. Project into the universe and into the wind that which you hope to attain and achieve. The story you tell yourself should be a reflection of what you want or need, not what you regret.

What do you think? Do the stories we tell ourselves – the stories we read and believe as our reality – shape our world view? Do these stories have the ability to manifest that which we hope to materialize? In other words, do the stories we believe become our reality? Please comment in the space provided.

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Meet the Author Upland event 4-25-15

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