It’s quite natural to think about our lives in terms of stories. We’re a character in the narrative, we have a part to play, and the plot is going somewhere. These stories give us a sense of perspective on where we’ve been and where we’re going. They impact how we see our roles and responsibilities. And ultimately, they can directly influence how we choose to live.
We all have stories we see the world through. This isn’t unusual. What’s important to consider, though, is the scope of these stories. How far back do they go, and how far into the future do they extend?
Take, for instance, the story of your family. Is the story you see yourself in only about you and your immediate family? Or does it include several generations in both directions? Does it include lessons and tales of those long gone as well as hopes and aspirations for those still unborn?
Or consider the story of your organization. Is it a truncated story centered on quarterly profits? Or does the story include the genesis and development of the organization as well as where it wants to be decades down the road?
If you have a bigger storyline, it will affect the way you view the events of today. It will impact what you prioritize, and what you don’t. It will result in different decisions than when there’s no sense of the past or hope for the future.
There are other stories, even bigger stories, that we may see ourselves in. But it can be all too easy to focus on the short-term. We can quickly forget about everything beyond this week or quarter or even this generation. But this will eventually lead to a skewed perspective. We won’t see broader movements in the story or learn the lessons of the past. We’ll have an inadequate view of our role today and how it relates to the bigger narrative.
We all have ways of framing our lives in the structures of stories. The question is, how big are these stories? Are they truncated and myopic? Or do at least some of them extend way beyond us—going back to before we arrived and continuing on after we leave.