The Trouble with Storytelling

Storytelling is a huge trend right now in marketing and brand building. I hear about the importance of telling great stories with great content all the time – it’s what makes brands human, what makes them relatable and interesting.

But storytelling can get us into a lot of trouble.

I recently fell into the trap of telling myself a story that while my friend had all the time in the world for her other buddies, she had only one evening every few weeks for me. I told myself she had much better friends to associate with and I ended up feeling bitter and disinclined to meet up with her. When I finally did, it came up: was she really spending all her time hanging out with other people? No. In fact, I was one of the few people she even had time to visit with. Her wedding is close to mine, so she’s been in the throes of planning alongside a high-pressure (yet incredibly rewarding) job. My story was dead wrong.

I told myself a story that seemed to resolve the problem in my head, so I stuck with it. I let it simmer until it boiled over in a great big glob of wasted energy and self-pity.

We do it every day

A fine example of this is what many of us do every day: with every excuse, every complaint, every snarky comment – we’re convincing ourselves of something that we have little to no supporting proof of.

Most often, I notice it when people aren’t in a career that they see themselves doing for the rest of their lives (which is so many of us young vagabonds), or when they’re stuck in a creative rut. Excuses pop up; things like bosses that aren’t receptive, financial or personal situations that are just out of my control. We weave an intricate back story for people we don’t actually take the time to get to know, and situations we don’t actually take the time to control.

I recently read the book Crucial Conversations and found it extraordinarily helpful (especially when I read it alongside my colleagues with a safe space to discuss the issues). The main takeaway for me was identifying when I tell myself stories. It’s surprising – I recommend focusing on what stories you tell yourself daily, and you’ll see you do so more than you would like to. The principle, “master my stories” has been on my mind ever since reading the book:

Master My Stories—A principle that help us control the emotions that drive our actions. We do this by challenging the stories we tell ourselves—we ask questions. One such question is “Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person act this way?” Posing the question is NOT making an assumption that all people are reasonable, rational, and decent; rather, posing the question IS an effort to consider other possibilities. This increases the probability of getting what we really want.

Effort is what matters: it’s easy to construct a whole world of would-be scenarios, but if we don’t make the effort to find out what’s really going on, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. If we can learn to control the emotions behind our behavior, we’ll be able to see more objectively what we want.

You’re not the victim, so stop it

These stories usually are sympathetic towards the teller – we make ourselves the victim or exaggerate the hopelessness of the situation. In the situation above, it turned out I was definitely not the victim. In fact, I was the more of the villain: I added to the stress my dear friend had about distributing her small pieces of spare time evenly and appropriately.

And once we start telling ourselves stories, we tell others those same stories – who wants to hear about how unsupported, unheard, mistreated and miserable I am? No one, and especially since those are all very untrue. These stories become a hindrance to our communications, our relationships and our professional lives.

Here’s my challenge to you this week: keep an eye out for stories you’re telling to yourself, your colleagues and your friends. If you find yourself having 24-straight hours of a pity party, then it’s time to reevaluate. Are you really being oppressed? Or, is it just your inability to assert and motivate yourself that’s holding you back?

I’m going to bet that more often than not, it’s the second. I know it is for me.

What stories are you telling yourself?

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The Impostor Syndrome

I have 7 or 8 dresses. I have various musical instruments that I do not play, nor do I have time to learn them. I’m a fake. An impostor.

It is true, yes, that I have more dresses than there are days in the week, and that I have a strange affinity for instruments and typewriters that doesn’t exactly fall in line with the simple living ideas I present on this blog (although, to my defense, I consider all these things very beautiful and inspiring). However, it’s this strange fear of being found out as an impostor that hampers my progress with this blog.

The impostor syndrome is rampant among my friends, all incredibly smart and talented people I am proud to be in regular communication with. It’s also widespread in the professional world, and has been holding people back from recognizing their remarkable skills.

I’m an impostor all the time.

But really, am I? Are you?

We tend to belittle our achievements, and fail to recognize (even silently to ourselves) the work we’ve accomplished. This impostor syndrome causes unnecessary anxiety. And anxiety, as Seth Godin reminds us “is nothing but repeatedly re-experiencing failure in advance. What a waste.”

This mindset is a waste of our time. It makes us do things, say things, hold back things that we wouldn’t usually (how’s that for an impostor?) and I imagine it has a strong negative impact on what we decide to contribute. I know it impacts what I write here, and what I don’t (my “drafts” tab is about as long as my “published”).

Although humility is one of the traits I hold in high regard (especially with the path towards minimalism and since I’m a young, rather inexperienced person in the ways of the massive world we live in), I think it’s time we start giving ourselves more credit and bragging a bit.

I think it’s time to give ourselves more pep talks in the car, to project our ideas in the midst of fast-paced meetings, and to share what we find as valuable and interesting. Because you know what? It is valuable and interesting.

How are you fighting this beast?

I would love to know if, and how, you’re fighting this monster of a mentality. Not unlike a victim mentality, it’s affecting our well being and may be sabotaging our relationships and professional standing. I’m working on a few rules for myself to keep my confidence high.

Impostor Monster

You’re not an impostor.

First, realize what you are doing. You are exaggerating your averageness. And you’re not average. Then, create some rules for yourself:

Seek feedback and criticism – honest, non-filtered constructive criticism. Be more vocal, risk embarrassing yourself (note: you probably will embarrass yourself, and that can often be fun, creative or productive). View everything as an opportunity. Encourage others. Share your ideas. Even the baby ones that haven’t yet started to walk on their own.

I think we all convince ourselves that our friends, colleagues and mentors are superheroes, and I’m not suggesting that they’re not in some capacity. What we need to realize, though, is that they also have dirty kitchens, feel shy in meetings, and worry just like us.

Is this something you struggle with too? I’d love to hear your thoughts, as well as challenge you to embolden yourself and beat this creature once and for all.

My Alternative to New Year’s Resolutions

2014

I think most of us do it. 2014 is the year we finally fit working out, blogging, and crafting into our daily routines. It’s the year we really stick to our resolutions. Just like last year, and the year before.

This year, I’m taking a different angle on resolutions. I’m looking into the future at December 31st, 2014, and imagining my ideal self. My journey this year is to become that self.

I suppose what makes this different is that I’m putting the pressure on the whole year rather than just the beginning. I’m allowing for missteps, alternate routes, and leaving room for the possibility that my ideal self now might not be my ideal self in six months.

My challenge for myself this week is to sit down quietly and outline exactly what I want to see myself doing a year from now. Then, I’ll work backwards (like creating an outline before writing a paper). I already have some ideas about where I’d like to see myself, but I’m planning on keeping many of my goals to myself and close friends – lest I announce it on social media and begin to feel that I’ve already accomplished it.

For those of us that are resolution-challenged like me, I think viewing the whole idea of change through this lens is going to be helpful. Now, instead of berating myself for losing grip on my resolutions from January 1, I can simply realign myself to the values I began seeking. I now have questions to ask myself – would my ideal self do this? Would my ideal self prefer that I beat myself up over this, or that I stand up and move forward?

Stand up and move forward this year. Hold yourself accountable to future you, not past you.

This blog will continue to be an examination of my progress as well as hold a strong focus on simple living, and I’m so excited about what this year is going to bring. I hope your 2014 is off to a beautiful start, and cheers to a creative, productive new year.

How to Like Mondays More

Say Yes to Mondays

I am about to be that person. You know, the one who loudly and cheerfully says “Good morning, sunshine!” to people who have yet to fully awake. The one who tells you it’s a good day even when it’s raining and all you want to do ever is go home and curl up in all the fluffiest, home-madiest blankets that you own.

I’m talking about Mondays. And how they can be–gasp–good?

While I’ve been gloomy and generally lackluster today, I think this post will be a good reminder to me to stop making Mondays so hard on myself.  Because honestly, today could have been better had I just chosen to view it a little differently. And that’s the thing about Mondays. They have such a bad rap that people love to perpetuate amongst friends, family, and coworkers.

How are you today?”

“It’s Monday. What can I say?”

“I feel you there. The weekend was too short. Always is.”

^ This is me. And this is you, too. (Maybe).

So let’s make it a goal next, week and the weeks after, to practice some Monday-improving moves that might just help us out of the gunk-filled rut that we like to call the first day of the week. In addition, these ideas don’t cost a dime. I’ve been reading lists where every other suggestion is akin to “treat yo’self” – they often include unhealthy eating or costly lattes.

While these things would be lovely to do every day, this list may help you and I start small and address the largest problem. And yes. I’m going to tuck these away myself and work on my own Mondays.

Having a Positive – and Happy – Monday

Get good sleep. This one is so simple, but it’s essential. No more of the mindset that we can milk our weekend by staying up super late on Sunday. It’s really only going to end poorly.

Reflect. Before you get to work on Monday, look back at your weekend. Pick a couple of things that you are proud of/excited about that you did over the weekend. Prepare one or two happy accomplishments/memories/events from the weekend and you’ll have a pleasant answer for anyone who asks you “How was your weekend?”

Be prepared. Be sure that you come to work and take some time to outline your priorities for the week. Identify larger projects that you need to make headway on and acknowledge anything that’s not urgent, but still needs attention. Do everything you can from feeling the Monday overwhelm that seems to hit me hard each week.

Call someone you love. I talk to my mother often and find that sharing news about our weekends puts me in a much more positive mindset. If you can’t make a call, grab a coworker and go for a walk or eat lunch together. Share happy vibes.

Coffee and music work, too. Put on your Friday playlist and make room for just one more little cup of coffee and trick your body into thinking it’s Friday. There’s nothing wrong with that! Right?

Ultimately, productivity and positivity are the goals on Monday. And they both start with what you think and what you say – no more “it’s Monday. Nothing good can come from that.” Find a balance, and start your week off a little better.

What do you do to make Mondays a little more bearable?

 

At Any Given Moment

Sailboat

I had coffee with my 18-year old cousin today, and it was so nice to catch up with her and find out about her plans for college. I realized that she has so many experiences still ahead of her and I couldn’t help but express my excitement for her. She has a whole world in front of her, just waiting for her to make of it what she will.

And then I realized that I, too have a whole world in front of me. At any given moment, we all have our entire lives in front of us. Whether it’s a few more months or 80 more years, we still have time to make the most of the rest of our lives. At any given moment, there are hundreds of choices we could make to help forge our own path.

Choices that could change our day a little for the better. Choices that could alter the entire direction of our life.

Sometimes we feel stuck and only see a singular path for ourselves. It takes some introspection, but soon you’ll realize that what you are doing at this very moment doesn’t have to be what you are doing a year from now. Look at all the choices available to you right here, right now.

Here’s a hint: there are more than you think.

Kindness is Key

Kindness EmersonEarlier this week, I was mentioned on a list on the blog Be More With Less, and ever since then, I’ve experienced massive amounts of traffic to my blog. What I’ve most enjoyed about this is that I’ve received many comments on posts that are incredibly encouraging and I just wanted to say thank you! I hope that I can continue to inspire and excited people about simplifying their lives – it’s something I am so passionate about.

That being said, I want to reflect on kindness. Kindness is an essential element of living a happy life. Not only does it help us be happy people, but it also helps deepen relationships, improve our health, and even lengthen our lifespan.

In the age of the internet and anonymity, it seems that kindness is fading away. However, as I delve further into these simple living and minimalist communities, I find that there’s an abundance of kindness and gratitude floating around. And it’s not because we own nothing that we are turning to kindness. It’s because we’re developing a stronger awareness of what we do own, and how we own it.

Simple Ways to be Kind

Kindness doesn’t always have to be random and target a stranger. It’s one of the most inexpensive and effective ways to make a permanent impression upon someone’s life. Most of us know about these “tricks” already, but why don’t we start incorporating them more regularly?

  • Say I love you to a parent, friend, or significant other when saying goodbye on the telephone. I would say that 1 in 7 or 8 conversations I have end this way. Why can’t more?
  • Say good morning – and mean it. Don’t groggily say good morning and proceed to complain about how you haven’t had your coffee yet. Learning to be kind when you’re too tired to function is a difficult, yet rewarding, skill.
  • Next time you disagree with a partner about a meal, a movie, an activity, or something rather insignificant, hand over the choice to them. Be gracious and don’t pout; the more they see you exhibiting this behavior, the more apt they’ll be to return the favor.
  • Clean up after yourself. I’m guilty of this – I tend to leave my dishes out, my clothes on the floor instead of the hamper, and my few cosmetics lying out on the bathroom counter. While I compensate by scouring the apartment about once a week, this is still something I could do without being told that my fiancé would greatly appreciate.
  • Offer to help, in any way you can. Be genuine about this, and be honest with the person you are offering to help. Maybe you can help by cooking a meal for them, cleaning their home, or if you can’t be there to help physically, maybe you can send a few words of encouragement via snail mail. Be reliable, and you’ll reap the rewards of a loyal and strengthened relationship.

Of course, being kind isn’t always about the rewards. Be kind without seeking reward. Challenge yourself to being kind unconditionally.

Avoid Being a Complainypants

One of my favorite bloggers to follow is Mr. Money Mustache. He’s a posterchild and an advocate for early retirement/financial independence, and I find him to be smart, inspiring, and incredibly entertaining. One of the posts that has stuck with me since the day I read it is How to Tell If You’re a Complainypants.

He focuses on internet trolls and readers who viciously oppose his life choices by questioning his health and wellness, his college fund for his child, and even his entire veracity. He points out that these people are so afraid of the unknown, that they find his adaptability and openness to change unsettling (for example, many are critics of the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Money Mustache retired when they were 30).

He defines Complainypants as the following:

A Complainypants looks only at results – seeing the external trappings or the successes of a particular role model’s life, and justifies why he can’t have those things. And then makes himself unhappy because of not having those results.

So, how can you avoid being a Complainypants?

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know a few things about keeping my head about me. I think this is a very common mentality in this generation (and, in fact, for many others as well), and I think there are a few keys to staying out of it.

  • Read some inspiring stories, not all of them. If you spend your time reading every inspirational story available, not only will you not have time to live out your own, but you’ll begin to develop the mentality that everyone is doing these things every day.
  • Learn to reflect. When you read an inspiring story or hear from a role model, don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that they’re better, stronger, or more financially savvy than you. Look at your own life and point out things you can change for the better, and more importantly, places where you’re already doing okay. Being proud of what you’re doing is essential.
  • If you don’t agree, ask questions instead of fighting. Instead of immediately lashing out at someone because they’re different, pause for a moment and ask them a question instead. One of MMM’s common attacks is about how he’s not saving for his child’s college education. Instead, why not simply ask about his tips on saving for college? He answered with this great post.
  • Create baby steps for yourself. If someone has something that you desperately wish you had, take some time to identify baby steps that will help you move toward that goal. This goes hand in hand with reflecting – basically, just think for yourself.
  • Don’t turn it into a fight. Healthy debate? Yes. All-out brawl? Maybe not. Don’t push inspiring people out of your life just because you think you’re far too right for them to even understand.

Ultimately, just relax. Take stories that you can use, and leave ones that you cannot.