Paint Your Story with as Much Color as You Paint Others
“Wow, did I miss the mark? Did I make the wrong choices? I wish my life was that interesting; full of adventure and excitement. In SAT terms, her life is to a Michelin star chef-crafted colorful, sweet and spicy Penang curry, as my life is to a previously frozen, plain bagels from the Commissary. How in the world did she accomplish that much by thirty?”
As I got in my car to drive home from a lovely lunch date with a new girlfriend, all I could do was replay the slew of stories I had heard at lunch sprinkled with different countries, ballsy career moves, tons of valuable education, and surprise endings. I started thinking about my life in terms of the items I hadn’t checked off my bucket list and the milestones I hadn’t reached that my college-aged self thought I would have by my mid to late twenties. Like a slide show in my brain, I saw the following phrases in big black letters fly in one after another: “You don’t work for an awesome company that allows you to be financially independent, with 30 days of paid vacation in an office with a free salad bar and impeccable view of San Fran (shout out @Instagram),” “Your apartment is more hodge podge than chic,” You still wear oversized t-shirts to bed, not cute silk chemises,” and “Your social calendar consists of bowling nights and baby showers rather than rooftop parties and art gallery openings.” I was initially stressed out beyond belief comparing my life to that of my lunch date and then I was stressed out beyond belief comparing my life to what I thought it should be.
After ruminating over all of this (while eating the whole pack of Japanese rice cakes), I realized that what made my new friend’s story so captivating was the confidence and charisma she had when telling it. The way she grinned from ear to ear when reflecting back on her memories of life in Bangkok whipping up gourmet meals with friends after dancing the night away until 2am. The way she took pride in her desire to take a break from busy, bougie, “New York minute” life for a chilled-out, mindful one full of sand and sunshine in San Diego. And that she had the same level of excitement in her voice when she talked about throwing tea parties for her young daughter as she did when talking about the new business she was getting ready to launch. It was then that I understood it wasn’t about her accomplishments or the rarity of her experiences, it was about her attitude. She talked herself up rather than talked herself down. I then realized I wasn’t envious that she had been featured in Modern Luxury or competed on Food Network Star, but inspired by her unapologetic, uninhibited way of sharing her story.
So often, especially as women, we are taught to not be proud or relish in our success story because if we do, it will come off snobbish or self-centered. We are gently reminded to stay in our lane, being coy and only accepting praise from others, rather than shining light on our triumphs. Now I’m not suggesting you should sit at the dinner table and verbally deliver your resume or a highlight reel of your life, but what if we started telling our story to ourselves differently? What if instead of focusing on the things that I haven’t accomplished yet, I focused on the aspects of my life that were thriving? What if I started telling my story with as much admiration as I had for others’ stories? Instead of saying “I am an unemployed 26-year-old who is financially dependent on her husband, lives in a small town, and wears athletic gear most days because my life doesn’t require any dressing up” to “I am a 26-year-old graduate student with zero debt, living abroad in Japan who in the last year has traveled to 6 different countries, founded a business, and married the love of my life.” See the difference? Too often we tell our own story in a negative light, in black and white, while we tell the stories of others in a positive light using broad, beautiful strokes of color.
So my challenge to you is to start painting your life story in color. Practice positive-self talk because our thoughts influence our emotions and our emotions influence our behaviors. Instead of stressing over all of your missed opportunities, disappointments, and failures that cause you to continue to doubt yourself, realize that the grass is already green on your side. Vocalize and appreciate your accomplishments, remember the moments you take pride in, and take the time to practice gratitude for all the abundance that has already entered your life. And the next time you hear someone else’s story that leaves you in awe, remind yourself of the parts of your life that might make someone else’s jaw drop!