With relatively few variations, heroes and heroines tell stories about basically five major subjects.
By asking yourself basic questions about how you feel about what you do and how you conduct yourself – and by trying honestly to answer them, of course – you begin to identify the dynamics of your story.
Madness! Madness! – Major Clipton (James Donald)
Your Story around your Business
You have a story to tell about your passion for your work and what it means for you. And because more than half our waking life is consumed by working at your business, how we frame this story is critical to our chance for passion and happiness.
How do you characterize your relationship to your work? Is it a burden or a joy? Deep fulfillment or an addiction? What compels you to get up every day and go to work? The money? Is the driving force increased prestige, power, social status? A sense of intrinsic fulfillment? The contribution you are making? Is it an end in itself or a means to something else? Do you feel forced to work or called to work? Are you completely engaged at work? How much of your talent and skill are fully ignited?
What is the dominant tone of your story – inspired? challenged? disappointed? trapped? overwhelmed?
The last words in David Lean’s “The Bridge on the River Kwai” are “Madness! Madness … madness!” Although the film’s two most important characters are both mad, the hero more than the villain, we’re not quite certain what is intended by that final dialogue. Part of the puzzle is caused by the film’s shifting points of view.
Seen through the eyes of Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness), commanding officer of a battalion of British war prisoners, the war narrows to a single task, building a bridge across the Kwai. For Shears (William Holden), an American who escapes from the camp, madness would be returning to the jungle. For Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), the Japanese commandant of the camp, madness and suicide are never far away as the British build a better bridge than his own men could. And to Clipton (James Donald), the army doctor who says the final words, they could simply mean that the final violent confusion led to unnecessary death.
Does the story you currently tell about work take you where you want to go in life? If your story about work is not working, what story do you tell yourself to justify it, especially given the tens of thousands of hours it consumes?
Suppose you did not need the money: Would you continue to go to work every day? Write down five things about working at your business that, if money were no issue, you would like to continue.
Your Story Around Family
What is your story about your family life? In the grand scheme, how important is family to you? So … is your current story about family working? Is the relationship with your husband, wife, or significant other where you want it to be? Is it even close to where you want it to be? Or is there an unbridgeable gap between the level of intimacy, connection and intensity you feel with him or her and the level you would like to experience?
Is your story with your children working? How about your parents? Your sibblings? Other family members?
If you continue on your same path, what is the relationship you are likely to have, years from now with each of your family members? If your story is not working with one or more key individuals, then what is the story you tell yourself to allow this pattern to persist? To what extent do you blame your business for keeping you from fully engaging with your family? (really?) Your business is the reason you are disengaged from the most important thing in your life, the people who matter most to you? How does that happen? According to your current story, is it even possible to be fully engaged at work and also with your family?
Your Story Around Health
What is your story about your health? What kind of job have you done taking care of yourself? What value do you place on your health, and why? If you continue on your same path, then what will be the likely health consequences? If you are not fully engaged with your health, then what is the story you tell yourself and others – particularly your spouse, your kids, your doctor, your colleagues and anyone who might look up to you – that allows you to persist in this way? If suddenly you awoke to the reality that your health was gone, what would be the consequences for you and all those you care about? How would you feel if the end of your story was dominated by one fact – that you had needlessly died young?
Do you consider your health just one of several important stories about yourself but hardly toward the top? Does it crack the top three? top five? If you have been overweight, or consistently putting on weight the last several years; if you smoke; if you eat poorly; if you rest infrequently and never deeply; if you rarely, if ever, exercise; what is the story you tell yourself that explains how you deal, or don’t deal, with these issues? Is it a story with a rhyme or reason? Do you believe that spending time exercising or otherwise taking care of yourself, particularly during the workday, sets a negative example for others?
Given your physical being and the way you present yourself, do you think the story you are telling is the same one that others are hearing? Could it be vastly different, when seen through their eyes?
Your Story about Friends
What is your story about friendship? According to your story, how important are friends? How fully engaged are your with them? (that is don’t calculate in your mind simply how often you see them but what you do and how you are when you’re together). If close friendships are important to you, yet they are clearly not happening in your life, what is the story you tell yourself that obstructs this from happening?
To what extent are friendships important to your realizing what you need and want from life? If you have few or no friends, why is that? Is this a relatively recent development – that is, something that happened since you got married for example, or had a family, or got more consumed by work, or got promoted, or got divorced, or experienced a significant loss, or moved away from your hometown?
When you think of your closest friendships over the last five years, can you say any of them has grown and deepened? People who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work, get more done in less time, have fewer accidents and are more likely to innovate and share new ideas.
Suppose you had no friends – what would that be like? This may seem like a morbid exercise but write down three ways in which being completely friendless might make your life poorer (no one to turn to in times of crisis and celebration, no one to mourn your passing, etc.)