What Stories Are You Telling Yourself?

In one of the best books on translation that I read during the course of my studies[1], there was a theory of collective narratives by which people live. The specific example was of the American dream narrative, told and retold by many people in different walks of life, subconsciously subscribing to the idea that their life should be some version of the rags-to-riches story. 

Kurt Vonnegut, in one of those books I used to like so much[2], explained all to poignantly how depressing the American dream story can turn out for somebody who stayed in the rags. Many people realize that actual life may be more complicated than a story they tell themselves, and that if they don’t succeed the way their hero did, it’s not necessarily their fault, or a reason to be down. But even for them, this whole process can be rough. 

So why do we subscribe to those stories? Why do we narrow down the range of possible stories that we could tell with our lives? Not all of us do so, of course; some people don’t really see their lives as linear narratives.[3] But some of us do. And, as all things subconscious, it’s neither a bad thing, or a good thing; it’s just a thing we do. 

And if it’s a rough experience to discover that a particular story we believed was true about ourselves is actually hindering us in some way, I’m all for immersing in the roughness of it. Because finding out how your own autobiographical narrative affects your life can ultimately be rewarding. With some patience, you can go from that to tackling the potential hindrances that your story conceived. 

We can subscribe to such stories collectively or individually. One of the collective narratives I hear around me is that of powerlessness. As one of the narrators in a book I recently read[4] asserts, in Poland, there’s a hundred ways of saying “let’s wait patiently until this ends”’. By some dreary coincidence, one of my individual narratives is no less pessimistic: it’s one in which I can’t change the habits that make me miserable because it’s the way I am. 

What are the stories you tell yourselves? Do they hinder you or support your growth? Whatever your narrative might or might not be, I wish you all the best if you want to discover, interpret, and perhaps question it, too.


[1] Translation and Conflict. A Narrative Account by Mona Baker
See also Mona Baker’s official site.

[2] But whose title I managed to forget anyway

[3] “I am not a story” at aeon.co 

[4] Nie to/Nie tamto by Soren Gauger


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I'm an unprofessional writer, reader and translator. I'm also a walking, breathing and listening addict. And I love being all that.

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