What if you got to write your own life as a story? Would it have less of something? Maybe more? How would you respond to conflict as a character in your story? Would you cower in the face of danger? Or would you courageously strive toward your goal in the face of any obstacle? Would you fight to the bitter end and sacrifice all in the hope that it was for something greater than yourself? Or would you just be an extra, living on the sidelines of other peoples stories?
I have been thinking a lot about story structure lately. In fact, I am taking a class on story structure over the summer. Shout-out to Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid! An interesting thing is happening as I learn more about story structure. Namely that I have started to notice the story events of my own life. In the story grid, Shawn outlines five commandments of storytelling. They are Inciting Incident, Progressive Complication/Turning Point, Crisis, Climax, and Resolution.
Mostly those are fancy words to say that something happens to get a story moving, then things get complex until the character faces a pivotal choice. Then they make the choice and move on. I think the reason that stories in this progression speak to us is that this pattern happens multiple times every day. Something so trivial as picking a shirt follows this pattern. The need for clothing leads to a complication of there being more than one good option, which inevitably leads to a crisis choice, and ultimately resolves in having a shirt on.
So what? Our lives are like stories. What’s the big deal? Well for me, the big deal is that I have started to see some of my choices as character choices in a story. In some ways, I am a protagonist in my own story. Or at least I hope I am. It is entirely possible that I am the villain in someone else’s story, though I sincerely hope not. But the result is that my sight has extended a little further in some hard situations.
Just the other day I found out about a mistake I made in my day job that will probably cost tens of thousands of dollars to fix. Not a great day overall. The email got the story moving, then it got more complicated when I realized the implications. Then I had a choice. I could ignore the situation a little longer because I was ashamed and didn’t want to admit the mistake to anyone, or I could suck it up and call the project lead and tell him what happened. I was well on my way to ignoring the problem for as long as I could when I realized that I was at the crisis moment of this scene in my life. I could either play the cowardly victim, or I could play at being the hero.
Somehow, when viewed in that light, I was able to shift the scales just a tiny bit toward wanting to be the hero over the victim. So I picked up the phone and made the call. It was awful. I felt ashamed and embarrassed, but I acted professionally and got through the call. I’m still waiting on the resolution of the situation as a whole so I may not be done with that subplot of my life just yet. But at least for that one shining moment, I got to make a courageous choice instead of a cowardly one. And I don’t think I would have done that if I hadn’t realized that I was facing a crisis moment.
Are you playing the role you want to play in your life? If not, examine the choices you make in your moments of crisis. Do you make the choices you would want a hero in a story to make? Or do you make the choices of a victim? Or maybe you even act as the villain of your own story, turning your life into less of what you want at every turn. Wherever you find yourself, think about it like a story. What kind of story do you want your life to tell?