Do you remember sitting alone or with a friend somewhere, and looking around and making up stories about the people around you?
Look at that couple. They are so cute. I bet that they have been married forever and are still so much in love. They probably met during the 60’s when it was all about free love--just not free for them.
Look at that poor woman. She must be completely overwhelmed. She looks so frustrated. I wonder if she is a single mom with lots of kids. And she hates her job.
Look at that man. He must be a high-paid executive. Look at his clothes and his watch. I am sure he makes tons of money. Bummer, he’s wearing a wedding ring. Do you think he cheats on his wife? All men like that cheat, don’t they?
It was fun to make up those stories--to “read” into people’s lives.
The problem is that storytelling doesn’t stop with strangers. We bring that storytelling into our own lives. We tell stories about ourselves. Stories about our family. Stories about our relatives. Stories about our coworkers or bosses. Stories about our neighbors.
Those stories limit us and limit the relationship especially when those stories don’t have a positive spin on them.
Recently I was flipping through my old coaching notebook and came across this story:
Oh my God, she is power hungry. She is insecure, so she tries to put everyone around her down to build herself up. She is a political game player. She is a B***H. She uses her father’s prominence to get her ahead and out of trouble. She has no integrity and is completely inappropriate with the staff. She is threatened by me and that is why she is always so mean.
Guess who that story is about? One of my old bosses.
Guess how that situationed ended? I quit--full of anger, resentment and blame.
She probably wasn't the only person I was telling stories about.
The story above was written at least 6 months after I left. I was holding onto so much anger and so much hatred toward her. I blamed her for ruining my career. I blamed her for making my life hell. I blamed her for lots of things.
But, the truth of the matter is that I brought that story with me to work everyday. I wore that story on my sleeve, on my face, in my posture. I carried that story around like it was a shield that I was using to protect myself, while also hitting her over the head with it.
The problem with that story is that it divided us. I blamed her for us not collaborating and working together. Now, looking back I realize that I wouldn’t want to work with me either.
Who would want to work with someone with a story like that?
Yes, there are probably parts of that story that were true, but there is a lot that was probably not.
Gay Hendricks, the author of The Big Leap, talks about how arguments or difficult relationships aren’t about dividing 100% responsibility, but that it is really about 200% responsibility. Each person has 100% responsibility for their feelings, thoughts, and actions.
In the situation with my former boss, I was 100% responsible for my story and how it was affecting our work relationship and the trickle down to our staff. She was 100% responsible for her story about me, and how it affected our relationship and the staff.
It took me a long time to let go of my story and to find peace with that situation. I still think back sometimes and get all hot and bothered by it, but I know that I am just playing the victim. By thinking that way, I am just giving her more power over me, despite that fact that it has been over 3 years. I don’t want her to have that power.
Now it’s your turn:
- Who are you having a difficult relationship with?
- What stories are you making up about them?
- Are your stories true? Are you sure?
- How are those stories getting in the way of your relationship?
- How can you take responsibility for your 100%?
- How can you find out the real story?
Feel free to leave your comments below.
Sometimes being bold means taking responsibility for our stories.