Taking Control Of Our Narrative: Lessons From Caitlyn Jenner

How we can all learn to live from our truth and tell our authentic story

Posted Jun 02, 2015

@VanityFair/Twitter

Yesterday Vanity Fair introduced Caitlyn Jenner via images from her Annie Leibovitz photo shoot. Shortly after, Caitlyn introduced herself on Twitter, with her account becoming the fastest ever to gain a million followers. Her first tweet, "I'm so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self. Welcome to the world Caitlyn. Can't wait for you to get to know her/me."

I've written before about changing our identity. In fact, it was the subject of my very first blog for Psychology Today and it's a topic we all face at various stages in life. But few of us can relate to Bruce Jenner's particular inner turmoil and ultimate decision to publicly announce in April 2015 that, "For all intents and purposes, I am a woman." Then again, we don't have to. We don't have to identify with Bruce's pain or Caitlyn's liberation. Ours is to show basic compassion and kindness as humans who have all experienced inner turmoil of our own kind.

When I was struggling with my sexuality, and in the early days of coming out to a few trusted people, it felt right at the time to tell people I was bisexual. In that moment, it felt like my truth. I had girlfriends in high school, had not yet dated a man, so bisexuality felt like both a possibility and a safe zone—and boy did I ever need a safe zone during those scary times. Most people were incredibly supportive, but I'll never forget the time when a couple peers said to my face, "Bi now, gay later!" I thought, "How dare you? " How dare you tell my story before I've even turned that page? I know they were making a harmless joke. It was a catty way of showing their full on support. I pride myself on having a good sense of humor, but they had poor comic timing. And timing is everything.

In the end, people just want to be able to say, "I did it! Thank you for being patient and supportive while I struggled and triumphed." Not, "Why did you steal my moment for your own selfish needs?" Caitlyn Jenner's triumph is not our story, but we can relate to the essence of what it's like to want to live more honestly and authentically.

We relate to the world around us by comparing what we don't understand to our inner captain's log of experiences. Our volumes of stories, in concert with our instincts, are our only way of making sense out of the outside world. There is no possible way for me to know what Bruce felt or how Caitlyn is feeling, but I can compare her story to mine and what it's been like in my life to be hurt or misunderstood or to take a scary step that others didn't understand. We can all make sense of suffering and compassion.

I must admit, I kind of wonder what it would be like to have the cover of Vanity Fair. Not to show off my dashing good looks, but to announce to the world how I want to be known. Leaving the old me behind for the new and improved me. I may not have news like Caitlyn's—her news will, without any doubt in my mind, save lives of people struggling with their identity. But I sometimes fantasize about changing my narrative and making a big announcement. Maybe I would apologize for mistakes, mend relationships, right some wrongs. Maybe I'd announce a bold career move that challenges me beyond my imagination and inspires others to do the same. Maybe. I haven't turned that page yet.

Questioning our identity and our truth doesn't have to compare to the enormity of Caitlyn's intensely private yet very public journey of self-discovery. But we all reach turning points. Many of us decide to change our narrative as we tiptoe closer to our truth, and make intentional decisions on how we want to be seen and understood. For Bruce Jenner, that decision came at age 65. And his ability to take control of his narrative—despite all the unknowns he was facing—has been a powerful lesson on how to live from our truth.

It teaches us that we can ask ourselves how we want to intentionally live the rest our lives. That we don't have to remain stuck in a persona that has developed over the years and is no longer reflective of what's inside. And it reminds us that only we control our narrative—not other people's perceptions or expectations of us. Paradoxically, we can only control our narrative once we learn how to relinquish control. To tear down the floodgates we've built that hold back the impractical dream or the outrageous act. When we can openly accept what is our truth and what we can't control, then we have creative freedom to tell our story with honesty and empowerment.

We thank you for sharing these lessons with us, Caitlyn. The honor is ours and we can't wait to get to know you.