Ask “How are you?” and you may hear “OK”, “Fine” or “Not too bad”. It’s not true, it’s just the accepted form. Meanwhile, we keep our struggles to ourselves, more or less. We’ll call what we tell the world “The OK stories”. That’s what we usually do: we say we’re OK.
The stories we tell ourselves are different. In my life they’ve included “I’m struggling”, “Other people are criticizing me”, and “This may all go wrong”, and many more. Being aware of these thought-patterns, I can notice them as they pop up and more easily let them go.
As those self-limiting stories lose much of their power, more stories pop up like “One day I’ll be successful”, and “Life is difficult but I will come through”. Much of my life matched those thoughts. At least, that’s how it’s felt. There’s been flickering success and it’s felt tough. Recognizing stories for what they are, they start to lose their power. My life changes.
We’ll call the stories we tell ourselves “The Silent Stories” since they’re rarely spoken. They’re like a closed book. They’re many, they can contradict one another and vary over time, and they aren’t ours. We picked them up somewhere: someone said something about us and we believed them. When the OK stories and the Silent Stories clash we experience stress. It’s can be subtle. We may half-believe the OK story and half-believe the Silent Story, while fearing it’s true.
We have collective stories in our families, organisations and countries too. Political parties have their stories, and call them narratives. Stories are the way we make sense of things. Organisations develop their OK Stories, and alongside them may be found the Silent Stories, often whispered in quiet huddles.
When I first ran a firm it felt difficult to admit my work wasn’t going well, even when everyone knew it wasn’t. I never heard the Silent Stories. Where power is present the collective Silent Stories cannot be heard without risk. But until they are heard, they remain intact.
Telling my Silent Story is one way to move beyond it. Perhaps you can tell your Silent Story too. And so may the wonderful organisations in which we work. Once we tell our Silent Stories we may discover they are no longer true. We may wonder why we believed them for so long. Their power has dispersed.
And then we are free to write another story about ourselves. What’s yours?
Categories: Living and Leading