Is our life story predetermined?
In order to achieve worldly success, must we be born with a special skill or to a well off family?
Is life a lottery that only a few of us get to play, let alone win?
If you’ve watched a Hollywood movie in the past decade you know the answer to these questions is a resounding, no. Dozens of stories depict people who grew up with nothing and reached some sort of success in their field.
They overcame the poor conditions they grew up in with abusive parents, no money, and no real promise of a future. These people become heroes and we hear of their stories for generations. We listen, we learn, but do we apply?
We tend to separate ourselves from movie characters, fictional or not. We enjoy hearing their stories, but rarely take the time to consider our own. It's unrealistic to think that our lives are worthy of a prestigious story.
"If my life was made into a movie, would anyone want to watch?”
The answer to that questions is uncomfortable. It forces us to think about our legend and our significance in the bigger picture. It challenges us to question what the story of our life represents.
Whether you're aware of it or not, your life will be told as a story. Great grandchildren will hear of the life you lived and what you did with your time. A great story doesn't have to be dramatic, it just has to be yours.
Do you own your story or does someone else?
A month ago I had a cinematic moment adding to my own story. With my face rested against the window of a 16 carrier Toyota transport van, I imagined myself to be Eminem’s character from the movie 8 Mile. I was writing ideas and insights into my journal and looking out into a sea of ghetto living conditions. Only I wasn’t looking out on the streets of Detroit. I was in the Jungle village of El Remate,Nicaragua.
I traveled to Nicaragua on a voluntourism retreat with World Travelers Association. I became involved with World Travelers Association after quitting a corporate job which forced me into a "make something out of nothing" mindset.
As we winded through rocky dirt roads the phrase “came from nothing” gained new meaning. Homes were made of any resource available including tin sheets, wood stints, and for the less fortunate-garbage bags. Flea ridden outhouses accompanied downtrodden vistas of jungle and makeshift living spaces.
From the outside looking in, the village people looked happy enough. They would converse relaxingly in siesta as children ran about and played. Village life seemed simple, peaceful, and serene. I thought they might even be happier than than most people at home. Ignorance is bliss, right?
As we got closer to the villagers and began our volunteering, their faces weren't one of blissful peace. Instead they looked tired and fed up with the way life had turned out. Despair dripped down there faces in a cold stare. It was a look not so different to many in the US.
Some saw us being there as a chance to take as much as they can, telling their kids to “Go get something from the gringos.” Some were drunk, causing a scene at an elementary school while we were playing musical chairs with the kids. And some, or I should say one, was Harold.
Harold grew up from El Remate, but after getting to know him it was clear he didn’t grow in it. Unlike the restlessness and despair others in the village showed, Harold had a bright aliveness to him. Harold saw the distaste of life so many of his village elders shared and it didn't sit right with him. Through our conversations, Harold made it known he was set on writing a new story.
At only 21 years old, his leadership in the community was evident. Harold is one of the only people in the village who is pursuing higher education. Every Saturday he wakes up at 3:00 AM to take the bus to Rivas, a few hours ride southwest. He is majoring in English with a focus in English teaching as a second language. Harold has leveraged his ability to speak English into a business, giving tours of El Remate to travelers who visit the area.
Harold dreams of becoming a writer and traveling the world. But what is it about Harold that’s separated him from the others in the village? Why is his view of the future one of exploration and not complacency?
For starters, Harold asks good questions.
Harold asked me if I think our life roads are pre-designed. In short my answer reflected that we have many pre-designed roads, and we are always designing a new future with our thoughts and our actions. Harold’s response offers more insight into why the people in his village aren’t living a similar Hollywood story.
Harold said, “Most of the time people think they were born only to be under the shadow of somebody else. They think if they are living bad, it is because their roads were written out that way.”
This mindset isn't partial to just Harold’s small Nicaraguan village. This is a universal “victim mindset” with people blaming their circumstances for their problems.
I’m sure you’ve heard someone lament their life didn’t turn out the way they wanted because of how they were raised, where they lived, how much money they had, the bad breaks that always happened, the people that doubted them, the list is endless.They blame it on anything that isn’t themselves. It’s easier to blame than to take responsibility to change it.
Harold told me most people in his village have this thought process. Harold’s view is assuredly contradictory.
He said, “We think in life there is only one way to follow, but actually life offers us many. We should reflect on what we have been in doing in this world. Only by doing this will we know what our purpose in life is.”
Most people think their story is what happens to them, not what they make happen. “Live a Great Story” is a phrase that’s become a mantra for me the past year.
As we made our way from carrier van to oxcart, I sat with Harold and asked him what he thinks it means to “Live a Great Story.”
Harold said, “Living a Great Story is looking for opportunity to not only make yourself feel good, but to make others feel good. It’s not just your story, but it depends on what you create for other people and the impact you have on them. They will remember you forever for that.”
To me living a great story is finding your authentic self, which I call your Truth. In finding your Truth, your Passion, your Purpose, you then are able to live with your highest excitement and fulfillment.
By living your great story, you tap into the magic of life. You embark on your ‘Hero’s Journey, a phrase coined by famed mythologist Joseph Campbell.
The Hero’s Journey is the archetype for the stories that have stood the test of time. You can find the Hero’s Journey stamped throughout Hollywood. Epics like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and even Fast & The Furious all are outstanding examples of this story line.
A theme in the Hero’s Journey involves a person going against the norms of society and blazing their own path, facing trials and triumphs along the way. They ultimately reach their maxim or learn some great insight that they can then come back to their home and share with others.
This describes Harold emphatically, as his mission is to live his great story and show others in the village what's possible.
Campbell would call Living Great Story, “Following Your Bliss”.He said, “When you follow your bliss...doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors, and where there wouldn't be a door for anyone else.”
This means that life rewards those who take chances in the direction of their dreams. Fortune favors the bold. And fortune disfavors the entitled, resentful, and lazy. In either case there is only one person who’s responsible for the story of your life.
Your gravestone won’t read:
“Mictim would of had a great life but was raised by shitty parents and had bad things happen to him. May he be remembered for being unhappy and negative about everything. RIP.”
You can’t take your excuses with you. Living a Great story isn’t reserved for a special breed of people. Success is not pre-determined. You don’t need to have a special skill or be born rich. You’ve already won the lottery of life, you were born.
Harold is a 21 year old Nicaraguan kid with his whole life ahead of him. He has the mindset to give himself to something that will bring him more happiness and success than he can imagine.
Harold is also the 24-year-old who just graduated college and has no idea what to do with his life.
Harold is the 45-year-old who just got divorced, hates his job, and is unsure about everything.
Harold is the 65-year-old who just retired and now is looking to go back to work because she’s bored.
Harold is all of us.
At any moment you have the ability to change the cards you've been dealt. You can make a choice to find your truth and follow your bliss.
Your life is a movie and you are the screenwriter and director.Pencil's in your hand.
What great story will you write?