Which Story Do You Want To Tell?

We come to understand the experiences we have, even as we’re having them, through the stories we tell about them. Stories help us make meaning of what’s happening. We are made of stories.

Life is an ongoing choose-your-own-adventure story. Thinking about the kind of story you’d like to be able to tell about your experiences later can help you make choices about what to do, and how to do it, as you go throughout your day.

All stories need an audience. Who do you share your stories with? Choose your audience well, because those people will be with your throughout your day, at least in your imagination. Those are the people who you have in mind as you make one choice or another, changing the story you’ll be able to tell them later. Making those choices, to share with those people, makes us who we are.

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Which Story Do You Want To Tell?
Steve Bearman
November 21, 2012

I want to share with you a little story, and then a story about why I’m sharing the story with you. So, I’ve been out here on a ten-day trip in Kings Canyon National Park. And I’m here with friends in the Ionian Basin and we, on this trip have not had a chance to climb peaks, which I love doing. And yesterday was our only chance and we only had a half-day in which to do it, really not enough time. So some of us went and followed this water course up here to a chain of lakes that was supposed to lead to a peak that we wanted to climb. It’s toward the end of the day and we had a 5:30 turnaround time and about five o’clock we realized that we had followed the wrong water course and the wrong chain of lakes. My friends decided to turn around and go home and I decided to spend some time on my own and realized that instead of following the creek home, I could follow the ridge home, go up thousands of feet up over another peak and then find a different way down to our base camp and hopefully get there just before dark, which I did. And along the way, I found some great things out. I figured out that I could do a lot more than I thought I could and that I need to remember that I can often go much further than I think I can and really enjoy it. And I figured out some ways of walking that were more efficient by not worrying about whether I had to go down and lose elevation as long as the walking was easier, it got me there quicker. And so, it was really exciting, I felt really proud of myself.And in fact here is a picture of me being all proud of myself and beaming up on top of Hansen Peak where I ended up. Now all along the way, I was thinking about telling you this story, and when I’m in the wilderness, it’s a little embarrassing to actually admit this, but if I’m on my own, I’m often thinking about how later on I’m going to narrate the experience that I’m having, to people that I love or in this case to all of you. And it seems embarrassing, I wish that I was just being present and it was just me alone solo, I didn’t need to share it with anybody, but really as it turns out, we are made of our stories, we are creatures of story. And the way the experience that I’m having in the moment becomes meaningful to me, has a lot to do with how I’m going to share it later and who I’m going to share it with. So, along the way I was not only thinking about the story, but I was thinking about what kind of story I wanted to be able to tell when I got back. So, first of all I wanted to tell a story that was about how proud I was of myself and what I accomplished, and it was kind of a brag. It’s sort of like when a little kid says, “I want to show you something, I want to show something, okay, watch me, watch me, watch me,” and they demand that you watch them while they do something that’s new for them. Well, for children, if they’re taking on new challenges or having new kinds of experiences, it becomes real for them when they know what it means to you to watch them do it. It becomes more real when it’s been shared. It becomes a complete experience, and we are like that too when we take on challenges and have new experiences. Sharing them makes them more complete and more real. So, partially I was bragging and wanted to tell the story of how proud I was, but I didn’t just want to tell a story that was about how much I can impress you by my accomplishments. Because if I was just doing it to try to impress somebody later, that’s not a story that I wanted to tell. I also didn’t want to tell a story about how I just pushed myself past my limits in a way that was unsafe and maybe even hurt myself or risked hurting myself. I didn’t want to tell that kind of story and I certainly didn’t want to die along the way because then I couldn’t tell any story at all. And as I said we’re made of stories and if I can’t tell a story who am I? I’m not here. So it was important to me to be able to tell a story that was about what I learned and what I accomplished and that involved pride, but that wasn’t about showing off, which to me is always dangerous, it always means I’m doing something that maybe is beyond what I should be doing, so I’m just doing it to show off. Being able to tell you the story about how I was thinking about the story that I was going to tell along the way is even more important, because you want to be asking yourself throughout the day everyday, which story do you want to tell? What story do you want to be able to tell about your day today? And who are you going to tell the story to? Whoever you’re telling your stories to, they help you make meaning of your experiences, even when they're not there yet. Because you’re imagining them in advance, they help you make sense of who you are and what it is that you’re up to and what it means and why it matters. And so, you want to be able to think about what kind of story you want to able to tell because that helps you create your identity, the identity that you’d like to have. And you want to make sure you’ve got good people in your life who can listen to your stories and who you can share with in a way that helps make your experiences more whole and complete, and helps you understand who you are in a way that makes you more the person you want to be. Which story do you want to tell?

About the Author

Steve Bearman, Ph.D., earned his doctorate in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He founded Interchange Counseling Institute in 2002 and is the lead teacher of Interchange's San Francisco-based year-long counseling and coaching training. When he's not counseling people, leading workshops, and advocating for social justice, Steve climbs mountains, adventures in the urban wilderness, explores the edges and limits of what's possible, deconstructs everything, and finds new ways to put it all back together.