The Story Has Changed

It was January 1997 and the beginning of a cold Winter in Indiana. I was starting a third year in the job that was supposed to springboard my career from industrial engineer to industrial management and on to executive leadership. Things weren’t exactly going to plan. I was working 50 hours a week, down from the 60-100 I had worked the previous year but still too much and too stressful. I hadn’t had a raise since I started the job and the bonus I was told “always pays the maximum” had yet to pay a dime.

I decided something had to change. I rehearsed my speech and when it appeared my boss had a free minute, I headed to his office to present my case for why I deserved a raise and had to have a raise.

About half way through the walk to his office – 50 feet at most – I heard a voice in my head ask “is more money what you really want?”

I turned around, went back to my office and started calling recruiting services. It took four months but I found a much better (though not better paying) job in Atlanta, a job that would eventually bring me to Dallas and all the opportunities I’ve had here.

I like telling that story. I’m proud I finally recognized more money wasn’t what I really wanted and that my satisfaction in life was never going to come from my job. I took action to bring my life into closer alignment with my true will. When I wrote about changing your story in the last post, this is the sort of thing I had in mind. I closed the book on the story featuring me as a corporate executive and I started a new story that’s still in the process of becoming.

Sometimes we rewrite our stories: we make a conscious decision to rearrange our lives according to a different story or to identify with a different character. Other times, though, our stories are changed either by outside forces or by our unconscious minds. Recognizing these changes and responding to them can be difficult.

Not responding can be worse.

I changed my story that morning in 1997, but it would be almost five more years before the defining moment that put me firmly on this path. In the years since I have played the roles of seeker, novice, and initiate; Bard, Ovate, and Druid; local and national officer; and now priest. Same story, different roles.

I’ve also played the role of teacher… but always in the same way I’ve played it since one day in first grade when the “real” teacher told me “show him how to do that.” I’ve been a tutor and occasionally a mentor, but never a course-designing, student-leading, progress-checking teacher.

My story continues to evolve. And my instinctive approach to work harder at what I’ve always done – what has served me well in the earlier chapters of this story – may not be the best approach for this chapter. New roles mean new practices, new habits… and new role models. The shifting story requires a mindful period of analysis and reflection, of thinking and listening, and above all, a recommitment to the centers of my practice.

This is a very “me” post – it’s all about my stories and my life. It seems a little egotistical – and maybe a little arrogant – to share so much of it. But I don’t think I’m the only person in this situation. I’m betting there are others who have gotten comfortable in a story but who are being called take on a new role, or to start writing a new story. I’m betting there are others who are getting subtle hints – or maybe not so subtle directives – that it’s time to step up. I’m betting there are others who need some deep introspection.

What is your true will? What is your calling in this life? Does your story support your calling? Does it still support your calling? Is it time to try something different… maybe something very different?

Is it time for a new story?

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  • PhaedraHPS

    Your opening anecdote is interesting. There’s an oft reported pattern that when management asks what would make people happier on the job, the workers usually shrug, and say “More money.” But the more money solution rarely has lasting effects, because there are other, fundamental things that are making the workers miserable. As soon as the initial happy vibe of a raise wears off, it’s just the same old crap and the cycle continues. Good for you for understanding the real issue within you.

    • I understand Maslow’s hierarchy of needs isn’t considered gospel any more, but his basic concept is dead-on. If you don’t have enough money to cover your basic needs, more money will make you happier. But once you get enough, you have to look for incremental happiness somewhere else.

      That’s why I define success as “having enough, and having the wisdom to recognize it.”

  • Thank you for sharing this. I’ve recently caught myself in the act of going down a career path that was anything but my calling, and I’m expanding my ideas of what my career can be before I waste any more time going down that road. I’m a compulsive planner, so it’s a little bit hard for me to take a road that has less potential security, but it’s definitely worth it.