The Stories We Tell Ourselves
At 94 years old, my grandpa loves to talk about the time he went to Brazil.
He was working as a consultant, and asked to travel to this foreign destination with the mission of solving a problem with the banana pickers. As the story goes, the banana pickers were upset that they were told to pick the bananas in the early hours of the morning. The rationale was that bananas, when picked in the heat of the day, would go bad faster. The native workers protested these hours, and would even sing Harry Belafonte’s song “Day-o” (at this point in the story Grandpa sings “Day-o, Day-o. Daylight comes and me wanna go home”).
So Grandpa gets called in to solve the problem. The workers are on the verge of protest, and the banana companies don’t know what to do. Luckily, he comes up with a clever solution: offer the workers a few cents more per hour to work the early shifts, but then charge more for those bananas at the supermarket because they were of a higher quality. It was a win-win. The workers received more compensation for their pains, and the companies continued to make a profit.
“And that’s how I became known as a problem-solver,” Grandpa concludes.
He is so earnest, and proud of his accomplishments. It’s hard to listen and know that the story is not true.
My grandfather has never been to Brazil, or Africa, New Zealand or China, places he has also started to suddenly recall visiting. An outside observer would never know, and sometimes us as a family are surprised as we listen, thinking “is it possible we just didn’t know this about him?”
It’s probably general knowledge that has been stored in the back of his mind. When these thoughts resurface, he feels the need to find an explanation for why he knows anything about the topic. How does he know about karate? He must have received training in the military, he concludes. When you question him, he’ll even say he was good enough at karate to train other soldiers, and used it once when taking an occupied town in Germany. A karate chop to a Nazi sympathizer’s neck, he said.
While sometimes silly, the creativity of his imagination is quite beautiful. My grandpa actually did travel his share of the world during his stint in the army, venturing across Europe and even to Japan. He estimates he traveled enough miles to travel to the moon and back. When he tells these stories, about Brazil and karate, he includes a level of detail that just makes you start to question whether you are the one that has it wrong. Maybe he did travel to Brazil. Maybe he’s looked out over the Great Wall of China. Maybe he has taken a karate class or two.
Maybe the details of these stories are not accurate, but the heart of it is.
As my grandpa reflects on his life, he sees himself as a world-traveler, a problem solver with creativity and imagination, and who people went to seeking advice. That I believe to be true.
Likewise, so much of how we perceive life is based on the stories we tell ourselves.
We are beings that strive to find meaning. Perhaps this past year was very difficult for you. You may be grappling with loss, grief, tragedy or frustration. But over time, your perception of 2018 may change. Maybe getting fired from a job was the push needed to pursue other passions. The death of a loved one can impart people with a new sense of purpose. Daily frustrations fade from memory.
Or maybe 2018 was average, just another year. And you’re worried that 2019 won’t be any different. It’s easy to get caught up in the details. Jobs, relationships, health or sickness. But what is the grand story you are telling yourself about your experience of 2018, and what you hope for this new year? What did you learn, who have you become?
Because my grandfather’s story about banana pickers in Brazil wasn’t really about banana pickers in Brazil. And neither is yours.
This year, be conscious of the stories you are telling yourself. Take responsibility for them. If you want this year to be a great year, take control of the narrative, and write and live your beautiful, wonderful journey.
|Grandpa with Family|