Everyone is a storyteller and has a unique perspective of his or her own private tale. Every storyteller is an expert on the details of his or her life. But If we listen carefully to a person and observe that individual’s behavior, over time we may see something very interesting. What has become clear to me is that many people are not always aware of the contradictions that exist between the stories they tell themselves to justify their daily life choices and the underlying motivations they reveal in their words and behavior. They bury the true motivation for their actions in a web of tales that make those actions and decisions seem right to them. But they are not cognizant of what truly drives their behaviors and life choices because they tell themselves stories to mask the original intentions. They behave, tell their story to explain that behavior to justify it, and continue to do so over and over, with layer after layer of story, eventually losing sight of the original motivation. Someone who listens carefully will be able to see the contrast and contradictions that arise but the storyteller may not. If questioned or challenged on a point, the storyteller will most often wrap yet another layer over as an explanation and simply reinforce the web.
To clarify this I will describe a conversation I had with an individual. This person was sharing her dilemma about choosing to change jobs. She had been employed for a year with a company that is providing her with decent benefits, including medical and dental, paid time off for sick leave and vacation, and free meals while working. Her employer is providing her with a stable, supportive environment to learn and grow both personally and professionally. There are drawbacks of course, as most jobs have, such as frequent turnover of employees and a high demand from the client, but the job she was considering had those same pitfalls. At the outset of our conversation about her pending job offer she said, “It’s not the money, I don’t really care about that, but they are offering almost one third more than I am making now!” She then described the position to me and outlined all of the reasons she was considering it – commenting on the increase in pay at least three times but each time discounting that sum as unimportant. As the listener I heard the amount mentioned many times and in my mind I saw it in red, but when I brought it up as something that sounded important to her she denied it, dismissed it even, and insisted that that was not what what intrigued her about the job. She was telling a story, when I challenged her on it she reinforced it with a a denial and more explanation, but her past actions and choices belied that denial for me. This is a pattern in her behavior. She gets excited about something, throws all her effort and passions into it and soon grows restless and turns her eye elsewhere. From all she has told me, it is clear why she does this but she seems unaware of that deeper motivation. She turned down the job but to date does not understand what motivated her to search in the first place. She is committed to her story and will continue to have a roving eye because the story she tells herself keeps her from seeing.
What I have learned in my life is to listen carefully to people, observe their behaviors and question them about the details. In my relationships with my children, spouse, family, friends and colleagues I have come to understand that humans tell themselves stories that help them to make sense of their world but that the stories sometimes become obstacles for change. People become attached to the story and don’t like to undo or rewrite what they have come to believe as the truth, even when clearly challenged by the proof of their own words and past actions.
I have learned that most storytellers need to see the contradictions through their own eyes and rewrite their stories themselves. A listener to the story cannot point out the problem directly most times because the storyteller will simply reword and rearrange the details to make the story true. They reinforce their own beliefs and strengthen their commitment to the original tale. It isn’t exactly a lie, it is simply the way the human mind seems to work.
What story or stories do you tell yourself? What patterns do you see in your life choices? What truly motivates you?