How to Live the Brave Story You Must Write
Cognitive tools give business artists creative courage.
Posted Jul 14, 2014
That’s the question that rattled inside Carl Jung at age 37, months after breaking away from his mentor, Freud. He writes that when he examined the hero stories and myths he had amassed, he held them up like mirrors and wondered about his own life. He wasn’t, as far as he could see, the hero of his own story.
When that voice calls and says, “Look at how you’re living your life. How are you walking the talk?,” most of us reply with, “You’ve got the wrong number,” hang up, and turn up the volume on Downton Abby.
But when Jung got challenged on his own soul stuff, he didn’t hang up. He kept the line open. Listening to that profound doubt prompted Jung to muster the courage to create the Story he knew he must write into and live out.
That's the Story we're talking about.
So let's consider this: A consultant has a book to write. A father has a memoir to write. A journalist has her first young adult novel to write.
Behind every book is a Story. A Story burns inside a writer. And that Story is not the stories that buzz inside her head.
How does she listen to the true voice of doubt beyond the buzz, and how does she muster the courage to create because of that voice?
Those are questions worth living.
Creative courage happens with ordinary choices amidst extraordinary circumstances.
Consider this scenario. "I don't have time to write these days, not even for fifteen minutes," a writer says. Her daughter's ill. Her son has special needs. Her job demands most of her focus when she's not giving it to her ailing mother or children. Her family divides time between a winter home and a summer home, and transitioning to the summer home demands considerable time and toil and prep.
She's smart. She's self-aware.
But the stories that buzz inside our heads have distinct patterns. They often start with "I don't have time to…" or "I can't…" followed by a list of reasons bolstering the stories for why we cannot advance, even incrementally, on the Story we must tell. Those "reasons" seemingly fall into the category of immutable circumstances - what other people demand, the natural disaster that ensued, the ailments and illnesses and aging, our own disposition.
Buzzing stories obfuscate. Buzzing stories bury choice amidst the rationalizations, the seeming circumstances.
If we were to ask this same writer above how else she has chosen to spend fifteen, thirty, even forty-five minutes in a day - despite her many challenging circumstances - she might at first claim she doesn't have time to make a choice. But with gentle re-direction, she might realize she does. She daily makes choices as to which people she's responsible to. The responsibilities she chooses to uphold. The job she chooses to keep to care for her children. The summer home she chooses to transition to. The online articles she chooses to read. The conversations she chooses to have.
No judgment in making any of these choices, but buzzing stories tell you that you have no choice. The voice of your Brave Story reminds you that you have choices to be brave with your time every single day. If you can see the choices you daily make in responding to circumstances, maybe you can start to make more intentional choices to write the Brave Story you must tell.
Devote yourself to your Brave Story.
Here's another way of viewing the stories versus the Story you must tell:
What are you devoted to?
It's a scary question, the kind that woke up Jung. It's scary because it shows up in your choices.
Your choices show you're devoted to your kids. Your job. Your livelihood. And you make good choices accordingly. No judgment.
But devote yourself to your Brave Story, too. Let your daily choices for how you act, speak, and imagine show it. My pal Jen Louden elaborates on a practice I do every morning along these lines and that we do at the author's intensive Your Brave New Story as well. What are you devoted to? Reply in the comments below.
Create with integrity, not in battle.
Our life is a battle between "writing my book" and "the rest of life" if we make it that way. Buzzing stories will make it that way. No wonder buzzing stories breed resentment, self-defeat, and learned powerlessness.
I wrote The Compass of Wonder as a set of reminders to keep business artists, professionals, and artists "on-track" with what matters amidst inevitable challenge and distraction. One of those reminders is, "Create in integrity, not in battle. The rest of your life outside of your creative project is part of your creative quest, too."
"You mean," someone asked me recently, "that my creative quest includes all of that stuff?" All of it.
You're not supposed to know everything about writing or Story Architecture.
A corporate consultant wants to write a children's book. She's drafted parts of it. But she recognizes her limits in knowledge.
She also, by the way, has two ailing parents and with shifts in the economy has met with hard times. Still, she didn't succumb to the buzzing stories.
Buzzing stories tell us not only that we don't know what we're doing, but also that we're dumb and fooling ourselves. That we should've figured out this writing thing in college.
That our MFA or the fact that we're a professor or professional or published author already means that we should "get" Story Architecture–the art of shaping and sequencing a captivating story–by now.
What bunk that buzz is.
That buzz sends you into a soldier-like mentality of "Do It Yourself"-dom. Or "Figure-It-Out-Yourself"-dom. FIOY might also stand for Fatiguing, Isolating, and Overwhelming Yourself.
When you hear that buzzing story of self-doubt, replace it with curiosity about what you can learn. List the skills you want to learn. Then find the models and mentors to help you learn them.
For the corporate consultant, we laid out the skills and attributes of children's books she wanted to cultivate. We quickly identified seven traits of writing well-suited to her disposition, intention, and audience. Then we found mentor books for her to study for express purposes.
There is joy in cultivating an Apprentice's Mindset. You get to step into the wizard's lab of Story-making.
She attended Your Brave New Story last year and now has a bank of Story Architecture knowledge to draw from as well. She also recently landed a seed investor for her media project in part because she has learned how to speak with integrity about the Story of her business.
The voice of her Brave Story reminds her that she can learn, that the middle-aged brain loves to learn, and can learn deeply - more so than many of the younger, speedier processors.
Leave the Waiting Room.
Your time to write your Brave Story does not begin when the semester is over and summer starts. When the teenager leaves for college. When the aging parent stops aging. When you get healthy. When your business is stable.
One June, a late-night phone call called me away from my wife and daughter for a few weeks to tend to my father who had fallen, broken his hip, and was found straddled on his living room floor, out of reach of the phone, near-unconscious for 6 days. A weak immunity and a weakened memory coupled with the hospital's unhealthy environment worsened his condition. Each day I futilely tried to navigate the labyrinths of medical care and hospitals and assisted living units while my father vacillated between holding on and wanting to go.
At one point, even with his fading memory, his sad eyes caught mine, and he said, "Jeffrey, I don't want you to be here. You have the rest of your life to live." But I was living it then. Every day. Being with him was part and parcel of this quest.
And every morning I ran alongside the Trinity River and wept. And then I wrote. Because I had to. Because it burned in me. Because we just don't have much time. Because the Waiting Room is not a place to live. Because the Waiting Room is a place where something true and brave in us can die.
Stop listening to the voices buzzing inside your head.
Stand up for the Story that burns inside your body.
Be brave (Here's a poem-film I and my videographer collaborator created).
You'll give the rest of us courage to do so, too. And that's no small gift.
How does what I offer here resonate or land with you? Add to the conversation below.