The stories we consume and the stories tell ourselves become our realities. We use stories to try and understand what is good and what is bad. What is useful and what is not. And we use that information to navigate through our lives. And that works great if those stories convey hard earned wisdom. But stories will also steer our ships toward disaster if they aren’t.
The stories we tell ourselves ultimately say that “this” is how life should be. Whatever “this” is depends on the person and the story. Some use “this” as a hard rule while others a general guideline. But, consider a person who’s inwardly focused and largely disconnected from the outside world. The web developer I mentioned earlier may be perfectly fulfilled, loves her work, has healthy personal relationships and also has a vibrant social life. But, for the sake of an example let’s say she doesn’t. Let’s say she puts on a happy face during online meetings, but actually she has a lot of internal anger and resentment in both her professional and personal life. Use whatever character you want for the example. Chances are you know someone like this. It may be you.
Our web developer has a fixed idea of what life should be like built on the stories she tells herself and reinforced by the stories she consumes. Within that narrative are characters that she’s assigned attributes. Call them archetypes. “This” is what a perfect boss should be like. “This” is what a perfect client should be like. “This” is what a perfect romantic partner should be like. The list goes on to whatever the perfect home should be like to the perfect holiday. The list of perfect “this” continues into infinity.
In some things she has control. She can design create the perfect apartment for herself. She can get exactly what furniture she wants and arrange it however she pleases. She can get the right shampoo, the right toothpaste, the right cookware for her kitchen. Her daily schedule is under her control. She gets up when she wants and goes to bed when she wants and she only watches the movies she wants. She can curate her ideal living space to perfection. It’s all within her control. And as long as she’s in control, she’s happy.
But this is a story with only a single protagonist. Problems arise when other characters are introduced and don’t measure up to the standard she’s already established for them. When the client or the boss or the romantic partner she’s with isn’t living out the pre-written narrative in her mind a disconnect occurs. The music is out of tune. There’s dissonance instead of harmony. In the beginning, she can tolerate it because they have some of the qualities she wants, and so surely it’s only a matter of time before they slip into the costume she’s designed for them. But they don’t because these are all autonomous characters already living their own lives built on their own stories. More problems arise when those characters don’t bend their timelines to match her own and her perfectly planned schedules get wrecked. The longer this goes on, the worse it gets. Hope turns to frustration. Frustration turns into resentment. Resentment turns into anger.
It’s perfectly fine to have standards, but she’s trying to force the same level of control into her human relationships that she wields over the inanimate objects within her apartment. It’s cramming square pegs in round holes and then being mad at the square peg for not being round.
Ultimately, there’s a melt down when the story she tries to tell herself just can’t hold together anymore and all that anger she’s been holding in boils over. Relationships end, cryptic social media posts follow, eventually she resets and then the process starts all over again and proceeds until the next melt down. The next new job. The next new relationship. As it goes on, she’s increasingly disappointed with everyone not living up to her expectations and she shifts further and further inward and focuses more and more attention on the things she can control.
What she doesn’t seem to realize is that she’s the one singing off pitch instead of finding the harmony with the other singers in the room. She’s disconnected. She’s the source of the dissonance.
While she doesn’t seem to realize this, everyone around her does. And they get tired and eventually leave because she’s exhausting to be around.
Small fishing boats get in trouble all the time along the coast. Their shallow draft and high horsepower engines allow them to plane hard and fast over the top of calm waters of lakes. They aren’t designed to be able to navigate large waves of the open ocean. They don’t work with the water, but rather to skim over the top of it. They are quite literally designed to rise up and disconnect from the water. But, the same attributes that allow them to race across lakes become liabilities in rough water because the physics don’t work in those conditions. But because these boats work so well in very controlled water conditions, boat owners will inevitably tell themselves that everything is fine and they’ll venture out beyond the protected harbors and bays into the open ocean on a calm day. Which is fine as long as the weather holds, but if they aren’t paying attention to the wind conditions they can be caught exposed in violent waves and vulnerable in a boat never intended to be in that kind of water. All the horsepower in the world isn’t going to help. It’s just going to drive the bow of your boat into a wave and swamp it. These boats are unable to conform to changing conditions. They’re singing out of tune.
A good blue water sailboat harmonizes with the ocean it finds itself in. It works with the water and doesn’t try to overpower it. It’s strong with a heavy ballast and is stable in turbulent seas. It rises and falls gracefully with the waves. Unlike the overpowered fishing boat getting swamped, a sailboat can be quite comfortable in heavy seas if you know how to sail it. And even if you don’t, there’s a very good chance it’ll bring you out safely on the other side of the storm.
I feel like there’s another metaphor coming on…