Be careful about narrating your life

There’s a tendency among creative, daydreamy people to narrate their lives to themselves as they live them.

When something good and interesting happens it feels like the start of something, the begin of a chapter, a turning point.

Which is never true and usually not helpful.

People prone to catastrophic thinking and unable to handle set backs are projecting everything forward like you would for an event in a movie.

And using a story arc as a metric for success is really bad.

In stories, anyone who loses 3 times is a loser period.

In stories everything gets to a final confrontation immediately after things look the worst. Whereas in life we tend to get better slowly, we lose at things for years before we pivot and get good at something else. No victorious final confrontations, just realizing you moved on.

In story things happen to the protagonist at first, something unexpected kicks off events. Even in biography we frame things that way. Springsteen dedicates 8 pages to the miracle of seeing Elvis and the Beatles on Sullivan and 2 paragraphs to how much he sucked when he first tried to play guitar. An entire chapter to the hopeful struggle of getting out to California and one page to coming home tail between legs.

We love potential, we love single turning points, people who find religion later in life tend to find it really strongly because they’re tired of slowly struggling to build an identity and religion gives them one ready-made.

I wrote a long time ago when I discovered the concept of resume virtues and eulogy virtues. We’ll I also think there’s narrative events and character events in one’s life.

In story an act change comes when a character makes an irreversible decision. Character is developed when a character is tested and doesn’t change.

We live in a time obsessed with meaning because everything is so clearly meaningless and we try to create meaning by making strong, irreversible choices. Everyone wants to quit their job and do Europe, do yoga, fuck someone half or twice their age, get tattooed, become a chef, and golf with Bagger Vance.

It fits our love of immediacy.

What we can’t fathom is that you can be living your story, becoming someone great, by adapting to flourish where you are. That’s what back ground characters do.

The thing is, you are a background character in life. When you die all you are is described. In fact, in life most of what you are is described because you are telling yourself the story of yourself 10 times more than anyone else is talking about you.

And background characters aren’t less. All the best characters are background. Good back ground characters have to grab you in 2 seconds and never fully explain themselves.

People think they don’t matter because they don’t arc, they don’t beginning middle end so we can love them but we won’t identify with them.

Everyone tricks themselves into wanting to be a good story instead of wanting to be a good person all along, we’re taught that goodness is something that comes after, comes at the end of trial.

But the turning points don’t really come, we don’t change by revelation, everyone falls off the wagon. And the story you’re telling yourself about the future starting now isn’t going to jive with the story you tell yourself about the past when you look back.

Keep a journal for a while. When you read it back years later it won’t tell a story, each entry will be written by a different self part way through a different story.

This will feel like everything is meaningless. Because it is. The plot points of life only make arbitrary sense looking backward, while the character tests of life are happening all around us and we’re failing them.

So stop trying to live the story of your life and start being the character you hope other people think you are, let the narration take care of itself.


Singer/songwriter, jerk.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism
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