“Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it, even if I may not have it at the beginning.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
Research shows that two people raised in the same circumstances can create completely different outcomes for how they end up in life. One, a failure who says, “If you came from my background, you’d be all messed up too.” The other who says, “Because of my background, I had to create a different future than what I grew up with.” Each person takes a completely different view of their circumstances, based on a mindset that they have developed over time. A thousand choices, made every day, shapes a life journey.
This is how we “craft destiny.” We shape our lives by drawing on the life narrative that resides in both our conscious and unconscious awareness. Becoming fully aware of the life we want to create is a process. It requires “unpacking” or “unfolding” of what really matters to us.
Trust me - it’s critical that you articulate your life narrative. A narrative is a story – it is your story – that continues to unfold every day. The story has a plot and you are the main character in how the plot unfolds and how the story ultimately ends – happy or sad. Speaking your story out loud, owning it, and then having it reinforced by others are key steps in building a conscious commitment to making it central to your everyday life.
Life Narrative as a Team Building Exercise
Let’s take this to the team level for a moment. A leader can engage a team in what each person sees as his or her own life narrative. This process forms a bond among the members of the team. The sum of the whole becomes greater than the parts. I have seen this over and over in high-performing senior executive teams who take the time to learn about each other and what each person aspires to become as an individual – what is their story and how has the story unfolded and is unfolding. The process cannot be underestimated in its power to unite, to bond, and to focus hearts and minds on a mission of helping each person live out their greatest hopes.
One evening I was at a dinner in a retreat setting with eight CEOs. I knew these people well, and they trusted me. After some casual conversation, while people were relaxed, I asked this question,
“What is your life narrative? Think about your past, present, and future - what are the events that have profoundly shaped you as a person and how do these translate into a future you want to live out for yourself at work and at home?”
One CEO was quick to say, “I’ll start.” He proceeded to lay out a story of early child abuse that profoundly scarred him. However, through the abuse, he did not become bitter but became determined. He grew determined to not let this happen to anyone else. He discovered early that he had gifts of leading and taking risks. He stepped up, made some bold choices, saw success, and continued passionately on a course to help support kids who were in danger. His destiny was shaped by a positive mindset that persevered through trauma and inspired him to make a difference with others.
The next CEO’s life narrative was very different. He was raised in a family business. The young man came to realize that the family business – he was of the fourth generation – was a great opportunity, and yet came with great responsibility. His life narrative began to evolve as he became a leader who would grow the family business, live a life of integrity in all he did, and be in a position to pass on the family business to the next generation. He was committed to build a more solid financial base, still holding to the deep values his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father had passed on. He set out at an early age to craft his destiny as a successful business person who lives a noble life in the community. Today this narrative serves as his North star – the point on his compass that guides his decision making.
Tap Into the Power of Your Narrative
Reflect on Your Own Life Narrative
- Has it shifted as you age?
- Can you articulate it to others out loud with no embarrassment or pause?
- Do you have a team around you that knows your dreams and supports who you want to become?
- Does your boss know your life narrative?
Speak It Out Loud
Your life narrative, if it’s guarded in your heart, can remain muted. There is great power in saying it out loud. A skilled facilitator can set up a dialogue with your team where each person talks about their story – past, present, and hoped-for future. As you speak your own life story out loud, and test it with others, it becomes more a conscious part of your everyday life. It can center you every morning of every day to do the best work of your life. You become clearer on the future you want to build both as an individual and as a team. You begin to clearly craft your destiny.