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Embracing the Story Lens on Life: An excerpt from Step Out of Your Story

By Kim Schneiderman

Article Image Every life is an unfolding story, a dynamic, unique, purposeful, and potentially heroic story with bright spots, turning points, and abounding opportunities for personal growth and transformation. From the day we’re born, we become the star and spin doctor of our own work in progress, with the power to tell our stories as triumphs, tragedies, or something in between. Our story has supporting characters who provide love and assistance and antagonists who cause us to realize the substance we’re made of and what’s really important. Like stories, our lives are filled with suspense. Our personal decisions, both big and small, affect our storyline — the relation- ships we choose, how we spend our day, and how we nourish ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Yet few of us take time to explore the character we ’re playing. We don’t stop to discover what our story is about, who’s writing our script, and how the challenges we face can help us develop the insights and skills we need to move to the next chapter.

Stuck in the same old story, many of us remain so en- trenched in tales of victimization and martyrdom that we can scarcely imagine an alternate, positive, or redemptive reading of the text of our lives. Perhaps because we have been taught to view life through one particular lens, we simply don’t see other, more inspiring versions of our tale that could liberate us.

Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly sifting through various competing narratives to make sense of our world for ourselves and others — whether it’s describing our day to a loved one, explaining why we didn’t get promoted, sharing our political perspective, or justifying why we spend a fortune on organic produce. We may struggle with many contradictory stories to explain our biggest decisions: why we got divorced, or never had children, or changed careers, or never pursued our dreams. Our perspective can change from day to day, and even moment to moment, depending on our mood and where exactly we are situated in the timeline of a problematic chapter. For example, the bitter tale we tell a month after ending a failed romance is probably not the sentimental story we will tell twenty years later after we are happily married to someone else. And neither of these stories will be the same as our former romantic partner’s, even though it’s the story of the same relationship.

You can see this for yourself. Think of something funny, touching, interesting, or meaningful that has happened to you in the past few months. Now imagine telling this story to your spouse or your best friend. When you’re done, imagine describing the same story to a parent or a boss. What about to a stranger in a café? What about five years from now, or twenty years? How might it be different?

While some details might remain the same, you might, depending on your audience, emphasize certain aspects of the story over others, or omit certain details that seem irrelevant, inappropriate, or too complicated to explain. As you tell it over and over, you might remember certain parts you had forgotten initially, or new insights might lead you to spin the story in a totally different direction. Over time, your values might change, and so you would revise your story accordingly, or hindsight might connect once-disparate episodes of your life.

Following a loss or a tragedy, many people engage in a pro- longed period of story-wrestling in an attempt to make meaning of events that are hard to digest or that seem to defy explanation. Whether you consider yourself a heroic figure overcoming obstacles or a tragic victim of destiny often depends on how you choose to read the text of your life and the way that you tell your story.

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Kim Schneiderman, LCSW, MSW, is the author of Step Out of Your Story. She counsels in private practice and teaches as a professor and guest lecturer at venues including New York University. She also writes a biweekly advice column for Metro Newspapers and blogs for Psychology Today. Visit her online at

Excerpted from the book Step Out of Your Story: Writing Exercises to Reframe and Transform Your Life ©2015 by Kim Schneiderman.  Published with permission of New World Library