Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Making Interesting Stories

Sometime in my twenties, I had a realization that has helped me cope with challenging situations, even as they are unfolding in the present moment. That realization was that difficulties give us more interesting stories to tell. What we call a “normal” day is about as boring a story as you could tell. Indeed, if someone has had what she considers a normal day, she might well say something like, “Got up, got ready, went to work, came home, ate dinner, watched TV.” Ten hours of life are reduced to a series of macro events communicated in less than 30 seconds. 

A "normal" day is about as interesting as watching toast in a toaster.

But when challenges come in, such as a flat tire, an accident, an illness, or any other difficulty that interrupts this routine, suddenly, we have more to say. And the more challenging a situation, the longer of a story we have to tell because it is these experiences that help make a good narrative. I’ve often been in very trying and challenging situations in my life, both in this country and abroad, and these have afforded me the oft repeated reaction to renditions of my life-story, “You’ve lived quite an interesting life.” Indeed, there have been many occasions along this route that I have said to myself or others with me, “This is going to make an interesting story later.”

I lived and worked in Ethiopia a few years ago and a colleague of mine at that time used to say as I’d be leaving for a trip somewhere in the country, “May you have a boring trip.” And what he meant was a wish that nothing would happen that would later make an interesting story. It was a funny way of wishing a “normal” experience upon me as I traveled the country.

All blocks and challenges ultimately have their source within ourselves.

All challenges ultimately have their source within ourselves. This is provable in the very fact that what some people consider complete drudgery, such as hauling one’s carcass up the side of a mountain, someone else finds invigorating, inspiring, and fun. Whatever challenges we face, it isn’t so much the event and circumstances as our reaction to them that creates the difficulty. This is a tough pill to swallow. It suggests that we create our own misery and likewise that we have far more control in our disposition and attitudes than we believe and have been led to believe.

What for one person is absolute drudgery, for another person is invigorating and fun.