Stop Telling Yourself (Unhelpful) Stories

September 17, 2019

“I feel like if I apply for the job, they’ll laugh at me.”

“There’s nothing interesting about my story.”

“This will never happen for me.”

Each of these statements has been expressed to me by clients struggling to find their Next.

What do these statements have in common?

Each is a LIE.

We so often tell ourselves stories – overarching, life-defining, unhelpful stories – that they become part of our personal narrative.

They Squash our Confidence and keep us stuck.

It’s like feeling ourselves a Daily Diet of Garbage.

In my workshops, I teach audiences full of high achievers like these clients – talented, skilled, but overly critical and overthinking – how to re-cast a faulty narrator.

But, can I be honest with you?

I’d be lying if I said this was easy.

I fall victim to it too. All the time.

Even as I wrote, “Fire Your Narrator! A Storyteller’s Guide to Getting Out of Your Head and Into Your Life,” I still struggled with that Squash-like voice on my shoulder, telling me it wasn’t very good and that no one would read it. (You can! It’s available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble!)

Despite knowing better, I often tell myself unhelpful stories and then run with them.

This happened following a webinar I led to more than 300 faceless attendees.

It’s sort of like speaking into a giant chasm and wondering if you’re being heard.

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Life On A Webinar

I much prefer presenting in front of a live audience. Besides the energy in the room, real-time feedback allows me to make adjustments as necessary to engage participants, react to their questions or quizzical looks and relate to them as real people, not just as limited identities via chat or polls.

Despite that, this webinar went pretty well, I thought. I sent a note to the organizers thanking them for the opportunity and asking for their general impression of the program.

And got in return….


Well, maybe a “read” receipt. But that’s it.

No “That was the best webinar ever!” (my hope). Not even “Thanks for being with us today” (suitable). Or even “Let us tell you how it could have been better” (I’d take it and learn from it).

Nope. Just nothing.

A giant chasm of… crickets.

Hello, is this thing on?

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Hello? Can Anyone Hear Me?

I figured they were busy. I’d give it a few days…

A very quiet few days.

I found myself surprisingly needy. Couldn’t they offer a quick pat on the back?

So, I started worrying, as I sometimes do, that maybe I had read it wrong. Maybe it hadn’t gone well. It’s hard to tell on a webinar whether people gathered in a conference room are enjoying it. Whether there is anyone even in the conference room. Did everyone leave?

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Is Anybody There?

A week later, I sent a follow-up email for feedback, both positive and constructive.

I’m open to all of it. Any of it. Acknowledgment you remember who I am. Proof of life.

And I find myself a little miffed to get no response. Perturbed. Demanding.

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Talk to me! See me! Tell me I’m awesome!

A month goes by.

Now I start to construct a story. A story that tells me this was the worst webinar ever. I should shelve it. Never offer it again. Because, clearly, this company hated it so much they are afraid to tell me so.

All this leads me to a thesis:

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I suck.

At this webinar.

In this line of work.

At everything.

That’s the story I tell myself.

And – to be clear – I run a workshop on HOW TO CONTROL AND RE-CAST YOUR INNER NARRATOR.

In this workshop, I clearly describe the “Unreliable narrator” (who makes up a story that might not be true) and the “Runaway narrator” who then runs with that story into the pits of self-loathing hell.

I should know better. A lot better. After all, I wrote a book about it!

Fire your narrator web stop telling yourself (unhelpful) stories

And, yet, in the absence of communication – any communication at all – we tend to make up our own stories. While we wait for reassurance all is well, we think anything but.

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I Need You To Tell Me I’M Great!

If, like me, you’re prone to want continual improvement, you might make up stories that suggest you aren’t good enough to begin with.

So, I’m running with this (awful) story: The workshop was so bad that no one from the company has the guts to tell me so and they are just trying to save me from the embarrassment.

Because, if they had loved it, wouldn’t they say so?

Well, maybe…

When I tell audiences how to tame a faulty inner narrator, we start by fact-checking.

I’ve got some questions. For me, for you, for anyone who has ever told herself she sucks or she’s unworthy or good things will never happen for her:

What makes that so?

What proof do you have that you blew it and they hated you?

What evidence can you point to that proves this is true?

What other reasons might there be for this behavior or circumstance?

Maybe they were… busy? Maybe they were waiting for late feedback from attendees? Maybe the head organizer had left the company?  Maybe she was trapped under something heavy?

Not long after that, one of the attendees sought me out for a private consultation. She introduced herself by letting me know she had attended one of my webinars. She then told me how much she and her colleagues loved it, how they walked out empowered, feeling (her words, not mine), “just like Beyoncé.

Funny. I hadn’t told myself that version of the story.

Suddenly I’m feeling great. Better than great. I’m feeling like Beyoncé.

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Clearly, I am awesome!

I run the world!

See how quickly that story turned around? Why jump on a rollercoaster of emotion without the facts? Why spend all that time telling myself an awful, unhelpful story in my head?

I was so sure that silence wasn’t golden. That silence meant I sucked. So sure that no news wasn’t good news at all, that I let my inner narrator run with the worst possible version of the story.

Sometime after that, I got my requested feedback from the organizers. They had been busy and it took some time to collect. Of course, there’s a reasonable explanation other than I suck at everything. And the feedback was all pretty darn good (there’s always room for improvement). They even opened the door for additional programming in future collaboration.

That’s a good story.

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Suddenly all is well in my world again.

A brief equilibrium following an emotional roller-coaster that, I will remind you, was ENTIRELY SELF-CREATED.

You never know what the true story is unless you have communication. In the absence of communication, we tend to make up our own stories. Often, it’s not the right story or the real story or a helpful story.

I hope you hear me loud and clear when I say I hear you in how hard it is to shut up that faulty narrator.

But you are worthy.

Your story is yours to own.

Take Command of it.

Beyoncé said, “We need to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves… Your self-worth is determined by you. You don’t have to depend on someone telling you who you are.”

Need to re-cast your inner narrator?

How about Beyoncé?

Put her voice in your head.

That’s a far better story.

Fire your narrator web2 stop telling yourself (unhelpful) stories

Valerie Gordon is a lifelong storyteller, award-winning producer, and the founder of career and communication firm The Storytelling Strategist. In addition to authoring “Fire Your Narrator!,” she blogs at, speaks at conferences and works with corporations on how to harness the power of story for success and satisfaction.  


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