Stories are powerful things. They have meaning, they can motivate us, inspire us, and remind us that we are capable of greatness. Stories can also be dangerous and limiting. Sometimes, the stories we tell ourselves (or are told i.e. princess fairytales) are negative or one-dimensional, causing us to forget that other perspectives and realities exists. I was reminded of this recently when watching The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Adichie. Chimamanda explains that, as a Nigerian child reading English books and writing her own stories, she wrote stories like the ones she read. She wrote about white girls, with their hair in ponytails, eating apples, talking about the weather, and drinking ginger beer. She wrote these stories, having none of these experiences herself. Her stories were not true to her experience or her authentic self until she found books by African authors. Finding these authors saved her from the Single Story of only English books, authors, characters, and perspectives. Since her childhood, she has grown into a brave and authentic author who shares her stories with the world. Part of the power of this TED Talk is that she captures the danger of both single stories we learn about others and single stories we develop about ourselves.
As I participate in the second week of Brene Brown’s class centered on her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, I am learning more about the single story I have cultivated (unintentionally) about myself. Last week, I learned about vulnerability as a form of courage, that courage is a heart word, and not everyone deserves to hear you tell your story. Stories are multifaceted. I have the opportunity to share different aspects of my story, or my whole story. I can share it with whomever I want, and that person can listen, or not. Reaffirm, or not. Judge, or not. There are all kinds of different people in our lives, but few see us be our unabashed, vulnerable, completely authentic selves. This requires bravery and courage. When asked to think sincerely and critically about who I can share my whole self with, I was surprised at how few people were on my list. The question Brene posed to start shaping this list was, “Whose opinion truly matters to you.” I realized, I let way to many people’s opinions matter to me. People who are not on my list, do not shape my story, and will definitely not write my ending. I also realized that I limit my own story in so many ways. For most of my life I was the poor kid with the single mom who grew up in the trailer. If you’ve met me in the last ten years, I doubt that would be your first conclusion. If I didn’t tell you, you probably wouldn’t know. But my story starts way before then and has continued well beyond. Getting back to a sense of my authentic self and becoming more resilient is teaching me to consider my whole story, my whole self, and questioning the stories I accept about others.
Where do you start your story? Do you have a single story about yourself or others? Who deserves to hear you tell your story with your whole heart?