Living in a Story
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” This legendary Shakespeare line is a perfect summation of life claiming each person has a role to play while they live. More importantly, the line implies life is not a single story but a stage that hosts many, many stories simultaneously.
When you take the time to look back on your experiences, you can create stories starring your past self as the main character. You practice this skill any time you share a memory. The best stories are the ones that link the experiences of the character to an overall theme, allowing the character to learn an important lesson.
When you view your life from a bottom up perspective, you can see that you are living a life that has experienced many stories to make you the person you are today. Some stories are short and relatively meaningless, like running into a friend while picking up groceries. Other stories can span many years and teach great life lessons.
When reading or watching a made-up story, it is natural to feel as though the character were destined to experience each part of the plot, as though they are the perfect character for the story to unfold. Your life can be treated the same way, placing yourself in the shoes of a character destined to fulfill your present role. In short, you have the ability to play a character that is best suited for the challenges life presents to you.
Every story’s end is another story’s beginning, though they don’t have to always come one after the other. We have all watched movies that introduce the character as a child and then flash forward to them as an adult to continue the relevant action for that story. In the same way, you are constantly playing the parts of characters in many different stories throughout your life.
Let’s say you loved playing with model airplanes as a kid. A few years after the “scene” of you playing with airplanes, you might experience the death of a loved one. After a devastating loss, it seems impossible to move on and have a normal life because you have been changed forever. However, if you were to start working as an airplane technician, this new character can have a backstory that only mentions the innocent playing without the tragedy.
Living in a story does not mean that you repress or ignore parts of your own history. Rather, it allows you to pick and choose the events from your past that are helpful to inform the character you are presently playing. You are a complex person who is much deeper than a character in a story, but you have the choice to act as the character instead of the person. The loss you suffered in our earlier example changed you significantly and there’s a very good chance it will become a part of yet another story in your life.
It is important to realize the difference between being a person and playing a character. A person is complex and will play many different characters throughout their life. The stories of your many characters can end or simply be put on hold and continued later in your life. It is up to us, as people, to determine the morals of our stories and the lessons learned by the character that we can apply to ourselves.
Whenever you read a book or watch a movie, you will likely place a moral onto the story that the character and the audience can use to grow. When you view your own life as a series of stories, you can do the same thing. You are the only one who can choose when a story begins and when it ends. The lessons you learn from those stories are also up to you.
We like to consume stories with themes because the translation of art allows us to place those themes onto our own life stories. Using your own life as the story means you are the character that gets to learn the lesson; and as a person, you get to apply that lesson to the characters you will become in the future.
You are the actor and the director of your own life. However, the director can only affect one actor: you. Directors are helpful for stories because they have studied enough stories to anticipate the possible paths that a new one is headed. A good director can take many plot points and weave them together to deliver a lesson to the audience. As your own director, you get to choose which parts of your life you want to expand upon or complete.
It’s important to not see yourself as the character of a single story throughout your entire life because that character is going to get old pretty quickly. Most elderly people will claim that they have lived many lives and seeing someone from their past might feel like seeing someone from a previous life.
When you view your life from a bottom up perspective, you can see that your life is nothing more than hundreds of thousands of stories. With enough practice, you can identify the story you are currently in and begin to anticipate how you’d like for that story to end. Aim to become the character of your dreams but remember to appreciate all the plot twists you’ll experience along the way. Your life is a wild and unique ride, after all.
Life is short because everybody dies. It’s up to us while we live to take part in as many great stories as we can. Nobody wants to read a story about a character who fails without making changes or does nothing at all. While you live, things will happen to you and you will meet new characters along the way, it’s guaranteed. Go be the character that accomplishes something in spite of your situation. Go be the character that plays an important role in someone else’s story. Go be the character that plays the starring role in the story that you want to live.