How to rewrite the story of your life

once upon a time

My friend Lisa wrote a book titled, “Wired For Story”. She wrote it to help aspiring writers, fiction or non-fiction, to write how people already think and interpret the world around them: through story.

wiredforstory

Lisa believes that all people, from all cultures and backgrounds, see the world as a narrative. It could be a boring narrative, an engrossing drama, or an adventure, but a story nonetheless. In her book, she says that writers can produce “better” stories by appealing to how people are naturally wired. Lisa’s done her research, and there’s a ton of science backing up her ideas.

It’s an awesome book for writers, and I highly recommend it, but I believe a wider audience could also benefit from the book’s thesis.

Think about it. If humans really view the world through a story lens, and if we’re interpreting every interaction and experience as some form of narrative, then what does that mean?

A meaningless universe

I need to make a point before we continue.

The events in our lives are just events. The stuff that happens to us is just stuff, and none of it has meaning. None of it.

It takes a human, animal, or alien to create meaning from events that take place in the world. Conscious entities from all worlds make their world mean something, because inherently, the universe is meaningless.

Information enters the 5 senses, and almost immediately the mind is asking, what does this mean to me?

The creation of meaning is the formation of story. We spend our entire lives making up things about the world we live in, or we spend our lives consuming the creations of somebody else.

Are you even aware that this is what you’re doing? Are you aware of this process as it’s happening? Just becoming aware of your meaning making ability can influence how ‘entertaining’ your story ultimately becomes. Let me explain.

We are story

You ARE story. I am story, and life is the unfolding story of us all.

In life, there are many chapters with twists, turns, and challenges to overcome. Everybody gets their share of awesome climactic moments, and an abundance of fall-flat-on-your-face experiences.

The potential for an epic life, or a forgettable one, lies with every decision we make, but make no mistake – long after you’re dead and buried, you will be remembered in story form by the people who are still around. If you’re remembered at all.

This is profound. It’s profound because we can observe what makes an awesome story from a writer’s perspective, and anybody can apply the same principles in their lives.

The story’s setting, plot, themes, conflict, and oh sh*t moments provide a character with opportunities to demonstrate their best self, or show their ugly side – just like LIFE.

The only difference is that a book, movie or theater piece has consolidated all the highlights (and lowlights), then presents it in a very entertaining way. You get to skip the day to day mundane aspects of a person’s life.

Stephen Covey wrote in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (a personal development bestseller), begin with the end in mind. His point is that everyone needs a destination or vision first, then they can begin to work towards that vision. This is similar to advice I’ve seen authors give other writers: figure out a memorable ending FIRST, because that will help guide the writer’s hand.

Profound entertainment

Entertainment is:

entertainment |ˌentərˈtānmənt|

noun

the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment: everyone just sits in front of the TV for entertainment.


You can provide entertainment or have it provided for you, simple enough, right? But I’d like to coin a new term and a different style of entertainment: profound entertainment.

Profound Entertainment is simply you’re ability to become aware of your own life story as it unfolds, and then to shape and advance it in the direction you choose. Self-awareness is essential.

PE makes your life story more dimensional, and gives you a chance to live your life in HD.

PE takes you out of consumer mode, where entertainment is merely provided for you, and into producer mode, where you’re creating value for yourself & others, and really living life.

In order to live Profound Entertainment, you must do what all stories require you to do: face and embrace conflict.

That’s the cost of living AWESOMELY. The cost is facing your fear, overcoming inertia and stagnation, and overcoming doubt, despair and depression. It takes heroic effort, the determination of that guy from the English Patient, and the courage of Rocky.

It’s easy to read about (or watch) fictional characters transform their lives by dealing with their inner and outer challenges.

It’s quite another to overcome your own inner demons and external barriers to become your best self ever. Yes, it’s difficult, but profoundly entertaining.

malcolm x quote

PE Ratio

Your PE ratio is your Profound Entertainment ratio. PE is how much you create/produce versus how much you consume on a daily basis? Essentially, are you a creator/producer or a consumer?

You may be an avid reader, but what have you written?

You may love to watch sports, but how much do you play?

You may love travel stories, but how much have you traveled?

You may love music, but how much do you play?

You may love to learn, but what have you taught others?

If you’re on the consuming side of the ratio, perhaps your pie looks like this:

pe ratio12% creator, 88% consumer. How would this ratio affect your body, mind, and spirit over time?

How do you feel after a productive day? After you’ve built something that you WANTED to build? How do you feel when you’re with people you want to be with? How do you feel after having new experiences, seeing an idea of yours take off, playing a game that you excel at, or performing in front of others?

The spectator always gets the short end of the stick. The consumer vicariously feels through the characters/players he watches, but the power of those emotions are muted compared to the real thing.

It’s why spectators turn into haters so fast. It’s hard to appreciate something if you don’t understand it, and how can you understand something if you haven’t personally experienced it or have completely forgotten what the experience was like?

Vicarious feelings or the real deal? Which do you prefer? And which of those would benefit you the most?

Rebalance your PE ratio

Life is ultimately about PE. Somehow, this disparity between consuming and producing must shift. Feeling alive comes from playing, not so much in spectating.

Don’t get me wrong. Passively consuming entertainment plays an important role in the evolution of our culture. We get exposed to new ideas, new perspectives, new language, and new methods of being and doing. It serves a vital function in community development. Stories must be told, shared, and passed on so that we can be better human beings.

But the time has come for new stories, new lessons, from new players. There’s an old saying: there’s nothing new under the sun. Perhaps that’s the cosmic perspective, but it’s just not true for humanity. We get a chance to experience new things in our lives every day. We have the opportunity to grow and be something we’ve never been. A choice is available to us in every moment.

What will you do with your moment?

Will you create something fresh? Or repeat or consume the known again?

Personal Stories

You’ll survive

I moved to Seattle with $160 in my pocket, a car full of clothes, a mind full of ignorance, and a heart full of courage. I had no plan, no clue, and nowhere to go. The question that arises when all-or-nothing risks like this are taken is, will I survive? I survived.

And this would have never happened if I didn’t make the trek:

Article PC - August 17, 2003This happened because I took some risks, challenged assumptions, and stuck to my guns when I was really shaking inside. There are many stories that led up to this, but the lesson remains the same:

Follow your heart.


Zjump!

I was in France, and my friend Mark asked me if I wanted to go canyoning. Say what? What’s canyoning??

I was sick as a dog, but I would be leaving back home in the next couple of days. I chose to go, even though I had no idea what I’d be doing.

Next thing you know, I’m in the canyons in the mountains of France, not too far from Switzerland, listening to our french guide give me options: “Zjump? Or rappel?”

I chose to zjump. See my feet??

zhump!

zjump!

I leapt into pools of water I couldn’t see, rappelled down steep cliffs, slid down natural rock slides, and froze my behind off. I was sick before going, and was revitalized after.

Sometimes you have to leap before you look, open a book despite its ugly cover, and say yes to the french guy because he thinks it’s ok to jump. You think a better story would’ve had me say ‘no’ to canyoning so I could fly home safe and sound? No way.


I’m not going back

3 weeks into my trip to Peru, and we’re finally on the Incan Trail for a four day hike up to Machu Piccu. It felt like an exciting adventure, until I hurt my knee on day 1. I’m clearly hobbling now, and our guide Wilbur is obviously concerned. After some discussions with another guide, he came over to me and said:

“You’re going to have to go back.”

Wilbur was an experienced guide, and he knew this was a problem and could possibly turn into something serious.

“I’m not going back.”

He saw the determination on my face. I’ve been wanting to do this for over 5 years now, and here I was, injured heading into day 2 which would test my will, endurance, and patience. The highest peak on day 2 would be around 14,000 feet.

After some more discussion, everyone knew what my final decision was. A fellow traveler offered her walking stick after I made my decision, my friend Edgar said he would stick with me, and I hiked up that beast one step at a time. Here I am with two bamboo poles on day 2:

day 2 of incan trail

I had a choice. Turn back around, and say I gave it my best effort, OR walk through the pain, and have a better story to tell. I chose the better ending. I took this picture when I finally reached the lost city:

Machu Picchu


Startup Weekend

The first time I went to Startup Weekend in Seattle, our team came in 5th place. If you’re unfamiliar with the event, the goal is to recruit a team of people whom you never met before, work on a business idea, develop it as much as humanly possible in 54 hours, demo the product to some judges, and walk away with a potential business, maybe even some funding for it.

It’s an intimidating experience. I was surrounded by awesome talent: a ruby developer, Microsoft product guy, Amazon PR dude, and the founder of one of the most popular blogs in the country with an average of 10,000 readers a day. I’m glad I chose to play with them. I’m better for it. This was 2011.

I pitched an idea of my own in November of 2013 at Startup Weekend Davis. It was difficult watching my team crumble and walk away in the middle of the project because the vision was unclear and they just weren’t feeling it anymore. We went from 9 people to 4, and none of us were developers.

On the day of judging, the facilitator asked me when we wanted to present, and I said, “We’re not presenting.”

She said, “Oh yes you are. Let me ask you this. How often are you going to get the opportunity to present to high caliber entrepreneurs and investors? This doesn’t happen everyday, and at the worst, you will have gotten some good feedback and learned from it. So, what order do you want to do your presentation in?”

“I want to go last, if we can”, I said in resignation. How else could I respond?

I prepared the slides, pitched the idea and our team came in 3rd place. It was the only time when coming in 3rd place felt like coming in 1st. I thought we had no business being up there, and almost walked away from the project myself.

But the lesson is clear: embrace conflict and learn, OR shun it and stunt your own growth.

All that experience would pay off in June of this year. We entered Startup Weekend East Bay, recruited a massive team, the largest I’ve ever seen at one of these events, and impressed Google staff who acted as the event’s mentors.

We would come in 1st place for our category:

startup weekend east bay number app

The story doesn’t end there. The next challenge is to actually build something, not just a demo or prototype, and build a REAL business from it.

Yup, PE is tough, challenging, and difficult. Ready or not, the show (story) must go on.

Takeaways

How can I say this without being redundant? Never mind. Redundancy is necessary.

  • Wake up the creator in you. The culture we have collectively built, and what’s been passed down to this generation is not the best we can do. Let’s improve. We can craft a more memorable story.
  • We’ve slumbered along consuming what other creators have made for us, and it’s not healthy anymore. It’s not healthy for your mind, body, or spirit. We can do better.
  • It’s perfectly healthy to consume story, games, food, and other people’s creations, just check your PE ratio from time to time. Watch for a disproportionate bias towards consumption.
  • In order for story to advance, conflict must be confronted and dealt with. Conflict is fear, doubt, hurt, pain, trauma, oppression, limitation, etc. Confront your fears, demonstrate courage, have faith, and transcend your pain and limitation. Nothing is stopping you, but you (unless you’re physically restrained or caged).
  • An epic life = someone overcame epic problems. Are you facing the RIGHT problems in your life that will forge the best version of you possible? If not, then it’s time to initiate a more appropriate form of conflict so you can FEEL ALIVE again.
  • If you want your life story to look and feel different, get out of the role of protagonist and back into the role of author again:
    • what’s the setting of your story? (where do you want this phase of your life to take place?)
    • what’s the plot? (what events would you like to take place in your life?)
    • who’s the supporting cast? (what relationships are important to develop? who do you want in your life? mentors, romantic, friends, partners, etc.)
    • What themes or lessons are recurring for your protagonist? (what themes keep recurring in your life? what themes keep returning around relationships? themes around work? what feelings or emotional states seem to have a cyclical nature? what continues to happen in your life that you wish would change? what’s the meaning behind them and how will you go beyond them?)
    • What types of ‘conflict’ will your character encounter? (what big goals do you want to accomplish? what activities make you feel alive? what challenges must you overcome to be your best self ever?)
    • What’s the end of the story look like? How does each chapter end? (What’s the ultimate accomplishment you want for your life? How does each year end, for the next 10 years? In each year, what have you accomplished for each and every month? What must you accomplish at the end of each day to move towards those outcomes?)
  • Finally, in key decision moments of your life, ask yourself, which choice leads to a better life? What decision will give me a better story to tell? Many times, it will be the more challenging choice. Take the road least traveled, and there will be reward in that alone.

Here’s to your next chapter.

Paul

the-next-chapter