“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.” ~Virginia Woolf
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about identity. About how we box ourselves into identities by repeatedly telling ourselves stories that are, perhaps, more than a little outdated at this point in our lives.
I know I do this. Tell myself the same stories about who I am even though the version of me that is reflected in those stories is not a version of me I would like to continue being.
Why do we do this? What’s in it for us?
Convenience. Comfort. Ease. A lot of excuses to stay the same because, Hey! This is just who I am, okay?
Nope. It’s who you are choosing to be. Every single day for as long as you keep repeating and believing your own well-crafted narratives about the kind of person you are and the kinds of things you do — and don’t do — because you are that kind of person.
Having spent much of the past week ruminating over this particular topic and working to identify stories I’ve been telling that I would like to burn, Burn, BURN, I was pleasantly surprised to pick up (and by “pick up” I, of course, mean “read on my computer screen”) this week’s Ask Polly column to find that it was all about this notion of identity and story and getting stuck in an outdated narrative.
You should absolutely read the whole column here. Heather Havrilesky — who writes this advice column and who I have mentioned before on this site — is brilliant and direct and does not beat around the bush even a little bit.
Which I love.
In this week’s letter, the writer is trying to figure out why she’s so lazy. Heather basically tells her that she’s not actually lazy but is just attached to this idea of laziness because she has allowed it to become such a deeply engrained part of how she self-identifies. So she’s telling herself a story about how she’s lazy which just perpetuates her own laziness and means she avoids getting done the things she would actually really like to get done.
Does this resonate with anyone? You’re not alone. I promise you.
But whether it’s laziness or something else that you’re secretly attached to being, the truth is this:
You are allowed to change your story at any time. Whenever you want.
As Heather says, “I know this sounds taxing, but you have to put every single thing that you think you are on the table and reexamine it. That’s what it takes to become an adult and start making active, organic, thoughtful choices about how you want to live. You have to dare to see that these things that you’ve come to view as FUNDAMENTAL TO WHO YOU ARE aren’t actually that profound or deep or rooted in anything that you care about that much. You CAN live in a completely different way, starting tomorrow, if you want to.”
Amen and WHOA.
This process isn’t easy, folks. Changing your story takes work and a willingness to look at some pretty unpleasant shit along the way, to recognize the ways you’ve been holding yourself back by digging your heels into an identity of convenience.
And it means acknowledging that it’s often fear that keeps you stuck.
Because you can always, ALWAYS write a different story. But change is scary and shedding old identities is hard because even when they keep you from becoming the version of yourself you want to become, they are familiar and comfortable.
And they totally let you off the hook when it comes to challenging your beliefs and pushing past your own limitations.
I believe that we continue to shed stories throughout out lives. I know I’ve left a handful of outdated narratives behind me at this point, though I am continually uncovering stories that still require some rewriting. Stories that surprise me with how small they think I am, stories that are stubborn, stories I know I must shed if I am to move forward in the ways I would like to move forward this year.
And while I am not yet ready to talk publicly about the specifics of these stories, please know that if you have been living in accordance with a narrative that doesn’t paint you in a particularly flattering light, you are 1) absolutely not alone, and 2) 100% capable of changing that story in any way you want.
Let’s make 2018 the year we start telling a better story, huh? Who’s in?
P.s. If you want to hear more about this topic, check out Episode 12 of Curious & Curiouser. And if you need help with the business of rewriting your story, give my podcast cohost, Tracey, a call. She’s an expert on this stuff.