The earliest evidence of storytelling we have are the carvings inside the Lascaux Caves, estimated to be from around 15,000 BC. Today, storytelling is still an integral part of our culture. Stories are everywhere; from books to films to video games to adverts etc. The monetary value of each of these storytelling industries is extraordinary; with each being worth several billion pounds a year!
Even our lives are expected to follow a certain story template. We should grow up, find a family to love, become successful in what we choose and eventually share our wisdom with our friends/family before passing on. Any challenge that we meet along the way is expected to be life affirming. Each difficulty should make us aware of how precious life is. After all, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’
The problem of course is that a lot of us just can’t make our lives conform to this narrative. There are events that that permanently wound us and there are some injuries that only fester with time. We end up backed up into a corner, with no way to get out again. Oftentimes, it’s our mental/physical health that is stopping us from living a ‘successful’ life, other times it’s family duties or financial difficulties.
In my case, I cannot work because of my mental health. I don’t have a single talent with which to build an alternative route. The only person I see in the week is my care coordinator. I have never been in a relationship, and wouldn’t be able to manage it in any case. In short, there is not a single aspect of my life that fits the story template we’ve been given. People want to hear about triumphing over adversity. They want to hear about inspirational people. I can’t give that.
And so the struggle is how do we find purpose in an unsuccessful life. How do we forge a new story with a narrative that has gone so far off track?
Well, maybe we don’t need to force our life to be more successful. Maybe we can build our own narrative and live life however we can. Perhaps our life does not need to be dictated by the job we have or how many kids we have, but by whatever we find valuable. If you find collecting teddy bear eyes valuable, then do that. If you find looking after a family member valuable, then do that. Don’t let society dictate your life. Make your own story (even if that does mean collecting teddy bear eyes).