Mary was a 38-year-old professional who was quite accomplished in her work as a mid-level manager. She had received many accolades over the years about the quality of the work that she did. She had reached a point though in her job where she no longer felt challenged and began to openly wonder if she should look at finding a different position with a different company.
This ongoing ambivalence regarding her position had not gone unnoticed by her manager and she was given a rather average yearly job review after receiving many above average reviews. Mary’s first thought was “I must be a failure”. She told herself the more average job review was an indication that maybe she wasn’t ready to make a change. She began to doubt her own skills and abilities and began to think that maybe she should just try to get back to her old form in her current position rather than go elsewhere.
What Mary was struggling with is that the story she is telling herself about her skills and abilities after her review doesn’t seem to match the quality of the work that she has done over time. Doubt began to creep into her story of her competency at work that seriously eroded her belief in herself.
What Mary and I began to focus on was helping her be more curious about why she chose to explain her current situation the way she did. The way she was looking at the situation was one possible point of view---but it probably wasn’t the most helpful. The way she was looking at the situation limited her options and made it difficult to see the range of things she could do differently in the situation.
We all have a life that we are living out day-to-day. To help make sense of it, we tell stories to ourselves and others about those experiences. In some instances, those stories can be empowering and positive. In other situations, they can be negative and draining.
The key to changing stories that would be more helpful to us is first becoming aware that you are doing this. In a very natural human way, we tell stories to help us make sense of things. If this is true, we can also act as the editors of the stories. We can change the meaning that we attached to the events that have happened to us. In so doing, we release the possibility of something different occurring.
In Mary’s situation, she was able to see her changing job performance not so much as her being a failure since her position was not a good fit for her anymore. She was able to identify that fear was part of the situation and that she needed to change what she was saying to herself about her fears. She was able to normalize those fears and actually change them to a feeling of excitement about the different possibilities that might be out there should she shift jobs. She was also able to get feedback from others who knew her and she was able to reconnect with some of the positive feelings she has had about her own sense of competency at work.
Although Mary’s situation focused on her employment, I would encourage you to start being aware of what are you saying to yourself about the experiences you go through especially as a parent.
If your child is oppositional to the requests you make of them, how do you explain that to yourself? Do you take it personally or possibly see it as a reaction to a lack of sleep they had the night before?
If your child does not follow through with what you asked them to do, do you see them as lazy and unmotivated or having difficulty finding focus?
Each of those perspectives would significantly influence your reaction to your child. Often though, parents don’t necessarily take the time to ask themselves the question, “ Is the story I am telling myself about my child about myself helpful or unhelpful?” If it is helpful keep doing it. If it is not helpful, this is a chance for you to be an editor. How can you change your perspective? Is there something that would allow you to see this new way? Is there potential strength you may be able to draw from this experience?
As you can see, the questions you ask yourself can often give you a much different experience and a different set of answers if you didn’t like the ones you have had previously. Your questions can create flexibility and in many situations hope that was not there previously.
The good news is that you are already quite skilled at story telling. You have formulated stories you have told yourself possibly many times over about the situation you are in. Be sure to ask yourself if it’s a story you want to keep repeating or perhaps make it into something else quite extraordinary.
The decision is yours….