There's more than one narrative out there, more than one story we buy into because we chase an ideal that someone else constructed for a mass audience. They're designed for a conglomerate of people, not each of us as individuals with unique values, desires, and abilities.
The problem with all the narratives we know by heart is that they assume we're all the same.
At best, we can segment ourselves, or group together with others who seem to share things in common. Each of these groups receives -- or creates -- its own version of the story, and that will generally fit most members.
This isn't a bad thing. Groups can be helpful. They can help us discover communities, a sense of place, a feeling of belonging.
Even once we manage to find our place in a specific community alongside people who are similar, we're still individuals with our own sense of what works and what doesn't. The stories we tell in our groups may get closer to mapping out a step-by-step instruction guide for living a life that will finally make us happy. But they share the same problem with more general narratives that say "go to school, continue on to college at any cost, land your dream job, get married, have babies and it will all be okay and you will be happy and nothing will hurt."
Any narrative accepted by a group still assumes there can be a set formula for happiness (or at least, it-will-all-be-okay-ness).
The group of artists and creatives are encouraged to believe if they aren't suffering for their art they're not legitimate. If they're working a traditional day job because they enjoy the work, while keeping their creative endeavors on the side, they're not real. The innovator or the freelancer who does not strike out on their own is a fraud. Those in 9-to-5 jobs are the sheeple, destined for work lives of misery and dissatisfaction.
Says who? Them again? Funny how "they" show up in every story, no matter what kind of people are telling it, selling it, and buying it.
One or all of those things in the story the general artistic, creative herd tells may be true. One or some of those things may ring false to you. It's all a matter of perspective, a matter of context, and most importantly, a matter of who you are.
There is no one right answer or correct path for us as a general group. There is only a right and correct way for us as individuals.
Your life should fit no set narrative. It is your own story and only you can tell it just right.
Don't take dictation. Dictation is "the act or manner of transcribing words uttered by another." And it's no way to live the only life you've got.
Grab your favorite pen and leap joyfully into the blank pages of your own life to determine exactly what will happen. It's your plot -- let no one else tell you how it should go!
And you'll make the most of that plot by working to discover who you are and therefore, what's right for you.
This all sounds really lovely and ideal, doesn't it? Maybe even a little woo-woo, a little fluffy. But make no mistake. The work of living mindfully to intentionally design a life all your own will be the hardest job you ever accept.
Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind the amazing Humans of New York, gave a speech that included what became one of my favorite quotes that I think about nearly every day:
There are so many people that use 'following your dreams' as an excuse to not work, when in reality, following your dreams, successfully, is nothing but work.
The work you do in pursuit of your dreams is the hardest work you'll ever take on. And what is the idea of creating and living your truest, most authentic life if not the ultimate dream that you could make into reality for yourself?
It takes constant effort. And grit, and determination. It takes hard choices and a willingness to dig your way out of the fallout from failures. To shift through the debris to find enough data to analyze and evaluate what happened -- so you don't make the same mistake again as you press ever onward.
It takes a commitment to your values, your goals, and your self to live mindfully and find your own way without relying on any narrative to make the right decision for you. You don't have to follow steps 1, 2 and 3, or plans A, B and C to get on the right path to success.
Through aside the guidebooks and venture into the wilderness of your own soul. There you'll find the knowledge you need to understand what your own story will look like.
Your next step: develop or source the tools required to get started and take action. It's one thing to understand that you'll need to actively make decisions for yourself with each day you move forward. It's another to do something about it.
If you haven't already, start today. Don't ask someone else any questions. Just ask yourself, and agree to take on the work required to create your own process for living life with intention.
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