Marc Graham

Transforming Lives Through Story

The Power of Story: 3 simple steps toward empowerment

Photo credit: J.K. York/shutterstock.com

Happy Autumn!

It’s hard to believe we’re three quarters through 2017 already. This is my favorite time of the year, and as we move into the fall and winter seasons of introspection and withdrawal it’s a good opportunity to pause, take stock, and reflect.

I’ve been struck recently by the power of Story. Whether inherited or chosen, Story shapes our lives and our view of the world and our place in it. For good or ill, empowered or dispirited, Story defines how we show up in life.

Like running water, Story shapes the landscape of our lives. It can provide a quiet pond where we can rest and rejuvenate. It can also gouge out a deep canyon from which there seems no escape.

Earlier this month I had the privilege to attend my niece’s wedding. She, like me, was raised in a fairly conservative home, with very specific stories relating to gender roles, family life, and how love ought to look. So it was with great pride and admiration that I witnessed her exchange vows with her new bride, discarding a legacy story that no longer served her, and creating a new story for herself.

Nearly four years ago, after 52 years of marriage, my dad passed away and my mother lost the man she had loved all her adult life. The story she inherited was that she should accept widowhood, take comfort in her children and grandchildren, and look back on the life she’d had. Instead, the story she created was one of new love, of new opportunities, of looking forward. Just this past weekend I was honored to walk her down the aisle and present her to her new husband.

Perhaps the greatest master of reframing Story that I know is my dear friend and soul-sister, Jeanette Schneider. Jeanette was raised within a story of poverty, abuse, stern religion, and women-as-property. By the dictates of this story, she should be living within ten miles of her childhood home, in an abusive marriage, and with no hope but that maybe one day a child or grandchild of hers might escape the cycle. Instead, Jeanette has created a story of abundance, empowerment, joy, and freedom. She’s teaching her daughter to create her own story, and she’s inspiring women and girls around the world to do the same. Check out what she’s doing at LORE and Little Things.

Each of us has certain stories we’ve inherited. Our upbringing, our social circles, even our DNA reflect the stories handed down to us by our families and those around us. Many of those stories are good and helpful. Many of those stories can be limiting, stifling, and even dangerous. The good news is that each of us has the power to choose which stories we accept for our lives.

This is not revisionist history or some dissociative disorder. The facts around our life are just that. Events, choices, circumstances are exactly what they are. But they are only elements of an infinite number of stories.

Five witnesses to an event can provide a half dozen different accounts of what happened. None of them is necessarily wrong or false, but they reflect the differing perspectives and a focus on different aspects of that event.

So with Life.

We are both witnesses and creators of our own life stories. I daresay the vast majority of people accept the stories provided by their family and peers. For many, these are stories of comfort and safety, and there’s no impetus to choose another. Many others may feel trapped in the cycle of stories handed down through their generations, hopeless and despairing.

The fact is that, whatever the stories we’ve inherited, however limiting circumstances may seem, each of us has the opportunity to weave a new story from the facts of our lives. The steps are simple, if not always easy.

Identify

The obvious first step is to identify the stories that shape and inform your life. Simple, right? But like fish in a pond, we’re so immersed in our stories it’s hard to know if the water we’re swimming in is pure glacial water or toxic runoff.

The very act of introspection, of looking within, can be daunting at best. Most people live on the surface of their lives, only rarely delving into the shallows. It is the intrepid life-diver, the one who can explore the depths of her being, who can find the wellspring of Story that has defined her.

Meditation, journaling, free-writing–these are some of the tools to help identify those defining stories. Any time we can silence the noise of our increasingly raucous world, when we can allow the still, small voice within us to speak, that is when we have the chance to hear Truth.

Choose

Once the stories have been identified (and this is a continual process), it’s time to choose which stories serve us, and which hold us back. Is a story liberating, inspiring, empowering? Or is it confining, diminishing, crippling?

When confusing stories and external messaging enter the pciture, Jeanette of LORE and Little Things works with her young daughter who intuitively asks the question, “Is it True?” True stories are the ones that connect us with the best and the highest in life. True stories are the ones that set us free.

And the truth is, we all get to choose which stories to keep. Whether they’re stories handed to us by our parents or teachers or society at large. Whether they’re stories passed along for generations in our DNA. Whether they’re stories we’ve created for ourselves to help explain specific events. Whatever the source, we’re free every moment to accept or reject them.

Choose wisely.

Create

We are not bystanders in life. We create in every moment the kind of life we live, the kind of experiences we have, the kind of people we are and are becoming. No set of circumstances is in itself a story. Circumstances and events are simply things that are. Story is what we do with those.

A childhood of abuse and neglect can be fodder for a story entitled I Am Unworthy. It could also spawn the story I Have the Stength To Endure, or I Am Enough, or an infinite number of empowering and inspiring stories.

As a historical novelist, in my craft I’m always looking for inspiration among the facts of history to weave into a new story with compelling characters, engaging plot, and (hopefully) an uplifting ending. A single set of events can be the basis for countless stories, and my job as a novelist is to sift through the facts to find the kernel of Story and create my own story around that.

In the same way, we’re empowered to create from the facts of our upbringing, our family situations, our experiences to create a story that is liberating and inspiring. More than empowered–we have an obligation to ourselves and to all in our spheres of influence to create the best and highest stories.

It’s not always easy. In the case of especially traumatic events, it may require professional assistance. But the power and the ability to create a story of Yes from circumstances that would seem to say No–that power is within each of us.


What are some of the stories you choose, or choose to leave behind?

What is a story you’d prefer to create?

Share below if you’re willing. If not, share with a trusted loved one. Story has power, and the more inspiring and uplifting stories we put out into the world, the better we can make it.

Slainte!

Marc

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About Marc

I help writers use the power of Story to change their readers' lives.

6 Replies

  1. Maren Blind

    Marc,
    I need more of your stories! And only pure glacier water to swim in…

    1. Thanks, friend. Working on it!

  2. In many cases I write about the remarkable experience of marrying into an immigrant Chinese family. There are rich stories of their financially trying backgrounds, their adjustment to the U.S. and their acceptance of the first Caucasian in the family. Tears and laughter.

    1. What rich stories those must be. Thanks, Karen!

  3. I seldom read other people’s blog posts. Just not enough time. But I am a passionate believer in the power of story–that is writing/creating stories–and the title caught my eye. But you are talking about another kind of story, but one that has meaning for anyone, not just writers. Thanks for a great and inspiring post on the power of the mind to not only create fiction but change our lives for the better. Slainte back at you.

    1. Thank you, Mary. I appreciate that!