Good and bad advice, Identity and storytelling

“many of the stories we tell about ourselves are wrong”.

— Heidi Grant

Anyone who has a strong sense of IDENTITY has it because of the stories they tell themselves about themselves. Often instead of writing their own stories, people accept others stories about themselves. This might be their spouse’s or their parents negative comments, A teacher who writes them, or later a judge who confuses their mistakes with their core character, or even something as innocuos as their favorite news pundit who is describing the world they beleive they see.  Someone who is story-permeable, might not be comfortable with their middle class life, and have aspirations of moving up into the world of the rich and famous.  Even thought the chances are slim to none that they will change their economic class in their lifetime,  they might hear a story about a group of people (the rich and famous) and Identify with that group.

This can lead people into really weird territory where they’re making less than 80k but feel the Bush Tax cuts are for them becuase one day they’re hoping to be rich and wouldn’t want to pay higher taxes.  People might spent 20 years in middle level management at a large company but they feel like a startup pioneer. Or even stronger disagreements between fact and story can occur when an semi-successful entrepeneur is running a startup that is crashing and burning, but they are convinced that they are uniquely capable of “pulling it off”.   I think the most common example of this inner story – outer reality divide is the person who continuosly makes BAD decisions that lead to terrible consequences (divorce, jail, unemployment) but are telling themselves that they can’t catch a break or that the world is set against them.  We all know someone like this, there is a specific name for the tendency:  Selfvictimization

In my opinion the primary difference between people who feel REALLY good about themselves and are succesful, versus people that feel helpless is that they have taken control of the stories that they tell themselves, they examine these stories, the stories are based in geniuine self- reflection and the story teller’s have owned them. This is how a 45 year old divorced man who is late in his career achieving some success might reconcile his life and gain strength. Instead of seeing his life as a series of failures, he can tell his story as a string of obstacles that have been overcome (I’m 39 so that’s not a self reference).. In any case, my advice is to own your stories, make sure they’re somewhat true and read the linked piece above the science of Advice Giving.

One Reply to “Good and bad advice, Identity and storytelling”

  1. Indeed. And the best way to own your stories is to write them. As long as your friends and family aren’t calling bullshit, then you are probably on the right track.

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