I consider myself to be the luckiest person on earth. And I can tell you of several specific moments in my life that would convince you of it.
Being lucky is a choice I made. Because the truth is that I could just as easily tell you of other moments in my life that would convince you that I am the unluckiest person on earth.
Allan Gurganus says, “Stories only happen to people who can tell them.” And you, my friend, are a person who can tell them! You’ve been telling stories about yourself your whole life.
And the person you’ve been telling them to is you.
Have you been telling yourself stories about lucky breaks, moments of serendipity and happy adventures? Are you remembering all the delightful occasions when you were in exactly the right place at the right time to experience something wonderful? Or are you remembering only the hateful parents, the unfair bosses, the unspeakable abuses and the horrible injustices you’ve had to endure?
The key to happiness is knowing what to leave out of the story you tell yourself about the forces that made you who you are.
Like any published memoir, our own life stories should also come with a disclaimer: “This story that I tell about myself is only based on a true story. I am in large part a figment of my own yearning imagination.” And it’s a good thing, too. As we will see, a life story is an intensely useful fiction. 1
Personally, I admire the Swedish tramp sitting in a ditch on Midsummer night. He was ragged and dirty and drunk, and he said to himself softly and in wonder, “I am rich and happy and perhaps a little beautiful.” 2
That tramp looked past the “truth” of the moment to see a greater truth beyond.
You can do the same if you like.
In fact, you should.
Oh! Are you one of those people who believes you should always be “honest” with yourself and remember things exactly as they really and truly happened? Well, I’ve got some bad news for you: we humans are incapable of that.
According to the Journal of Neuroscience (Sept. 2012,) every time you recall the memory of an event, you make your memory of that event less accurate. Instead of remembering the “truth” of the event, you’re recalling the memory of the last time you remembered it, along with any mistakes that may have been introduced. Like a game of human telephone, those mistakes build on one another over time. 3
Tom Robbins said the same thing – but a little more colorfully – back in 1971: “Hardly a pure science, history is closer to animal husbandry than it is to mathematics in that it involves selective breeding. The principal difference between the husbandryman and the historian is that the former breeds sheep or cows or such and the latter breeds (assumed) facts. The husbandryman uses his skills to enrich the future, the historian uses his to enrich the past. Both are usually up to their ankles in bullshit.” 4
Everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.5
We sometimes choose the most locked up, dark versions of the story, but what a good friend does is turn on the lights, open the window, and remind us that there are a whole lot of ways to tell the same story.6
I’m trying to be your good friend today.
Pennie and I have a good friend named Susan Ryan who said something about life on Dec. 14, 2008, that was so profound that I wrote it down. “We get to show up. We get to step into this story.”
Every day is a new opportunity to change your life. You have the power to say, “This is not how my story ends.” 7
Abraham Lincoln said it cleanest and best. “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” No one can prove that Lincoln said it, but I have a very clear memory that he did.
Indy said to tell you he’s waiting for you in the rabbit hole.
I’ll go with you.
Roy H. Williams
1 – Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
2 – John Steinbeck, Sea of Cortez, p. 199, (1941)
3 – Donna Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine was lead author of the paper. She says, “A memory is not simply an image produced by time traveling back to the original event – it can be an image that is somewhat distorted because of the prior times you remembered it. Your memory of an event can grow less precise even to the point of being totally false with each retrieval.”
4 – Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction, p. 114
5 – Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
6 – Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet
7– Karen Salmansohn
Cattle Kingdom is a new book that details the hidden history of the cowboy west. Were you aware that an English aristocrat, a French nobleman, and a future President of the United States were all players during the greatest boom-and-bust period in American history? Long before our modern days of rollercoaster real estate speculation, we saw the American industrial revolution, the cattle barons of Wyoming and good ol’Teddy Roosevelt himself enthralled by an investment mania that rivals anything the world has ever witnessed. Listen in as roving reporter Redbeard Rotbart and Wizard Academy alumnus Lem Lewis, “The Ranch Broker,” interview Fortune magazine staff writer Christopher Knowlton about America’s Cattle Kingdom. Saddle up for a mind-boggling journey into the 1870s that will open your eyes to everything you see around you today. Where else, but MondayMorningRadio.com?