I have a confession to make.
I’m an expert in my field. And also my best subject matter to study.
Though I wrote Fire Your Narrator! A Storyteller’s Guide to Getting Out of Your Head and Into Your Life to help readers rewrite old or unhelpful inner stories, I still get stuck in mine, more often than I’d like to admit.
During the entire writing process, I had my narrator – appropriately named “Squash” – sitting on my shoulder, letting me know I wasn’t smart enough, creative enough, or disciplined enough to finish a book.
And if I did in fact finish it, who would read it?
I wrote the book about Squash and for anyone else who has that Squash-like voice in their head, filling their days with a consistent stream of overly critical or overly questioning thoughts, like an ever-present unhelpful monologue.
Through my research, I found key tools from psychology, leadership, and communication studies to help turn down the volume on our Squash-like tendencies that tend to Squash us.
But that doesn’t mean I always take my own advice or that I don’t need a refresher of my own materials.
Squash re-emerges at the most inopportune times to remind me she’s still with me.
Not long ago, I had completed a workshop and felt great. Everything ran better than expected. I was on top of the world.
Two weeks passed while I awaited the anticipated event survey feedback that I know would validate my sense it had all gone well.
I waited. And waited.
While I waited, a speaking engagement I had anticipated fell through. Around that time, I reached out to reconnect with several former colleagues. One sent a perfunctory reply: “Sure, let’s stay in touch…” Another was too busy: “Crazed this week, another time!” Two others didn’t reply at all.
A friend had to postpone lunch plans, an unexpected dental bill arrived, I tweaked my back at the gym.
Suddenly that high perch I had been sitting on gave way.
I plummeted back into the depths of despair. Why am I such a mess?
That’s where Squash took over with a truly unhelpful story played to the soundtrack of a tiny violin.
Maybe the workshop I thought went so well actually sucked and that’s why they weren’t sending the feedback. They didn’t want to share just how poor it was. The speaking engagement fell through because the organizers booked someone bigger and better. The former work colleagues don’t find me worthwhile, the friend must not like my company, and now I have to pull from my savings to pay the dental bill and won’t have much left over for a much-needed massage or round of PT.
Might as well just give up now and sit on the couch with some cookies!
There she is again, the dreaded Squash. She finds misery a reason to throw a party.
We are so often our own worst enemy.
This is the power of the inner narrator. Who is telling your story? How do you keep a pesky narrator in check? It’s why I tell attendees to “Be a Journalist” and check the facts and reframe, rewrite, or recast your narrator for a different, more positive voice.
A more rational narrator would say the client is busy post-event and you’ll need to be patient for the promised feedback. A positive narrator would know it’s unfortunate to have lost the next speaking engagement but there will be others, keep trying. And both would agree: y our colleagues are not avoiding you but are busy with their own lives, the friend was sorry to have had to cancel the lunch date but she’s looking forward to rescheduling, and dental bills and backaches are the pains of life but you can weather them.
So, why do I not take my own advice, the very rational approach I espouse in my presentations? It’s the same challenge for me as it is for my readers. It’s hard!
It’s hard to retrain a brain that has for years responded to external events in a very internalized way. It is so ingrained in us that it happens without us even realizing it. A string of unfortunate events can cause us to fall down the rabbit hole of uncertainty and self-pity.
And there we’ll stay until we can pull ourselves out with a safety line.
Thankfully, someone threw me a rope. A week later I heard back from the event organizers now that their official post-conference survey was complete. My instinct that day was right – it HAD gone well. The feedback was positive. The delay was in gathering it.
The extended silence had nothing to do with me. Just like the lack of follow-through from former colleagues is about them and their busy schedules and not their feelings about me.
Suddenly, despite my sore back, I’m soaring again, riding the roller coaster as it chugs to a high point.
It will fall again at some point because that’s how rollercoasters work. No one said this is going to be easy. It’s certainly not with Squash as my co-pilot.
I tell attendees to hold their narrator accountable. So I remind her to buckle up for the ride. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down and the ride isn’t anywhere near over.
So let’s try to help each other through it. It’s a much better story that way.
Valerie Gordon is a former Emmy-winning television producer, author, and the founder of career and communication firm The Storytelling Strategist. She speaks at conferences and partners with corporations to develop future leaders and build strong, collaborative teams through the power of storytelling. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her Facebook page for additional content.