You Are A Book Of Stories, Not A Novel

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Chris Zielecki

Who you were doesn’t have to bleed into who you will be.

We often stunt ourselves by tying who we were into who we think we need to become. We can’t map a trajectory for our futures without considering what would make sense for the people we used to be.

Realizing this was tying together three habits I’ve picked up about myself, and about people in general:

First, we make problems where there are none. As though for our lives to have meaning, we need to overcome something. Happiness is something that we have to consciously choose, otherwise we’d create the reality that we subconsciously think we deserve. Not because we assume that who we are deserves it, but because somewhere along the line, we were conditioned by other people (and our own assumptions) to believe that we are only as good as the things they said about us.

Second, we avoid things that are too perfect. We destroy them, mentally or otherwise, if they are.

Third, we summarize in our heads. Whenever we’re about to make a choice (about anything, really) we say in our heads what that will sound like. “She graduated and started this job at 20…” or however it goes. It’s as though our decisions can only be acceptable if they sound right, and how they will continue sounding years down the line, whether or not they are right for who we are in that moment.

But the synopsis we spend so much time writing are for characters we no longer are. You cannot always draw lines between what was and what is and what should thenceforth be. You cannot always make sense of your coexisting truths, you can only know that they are both valid. And you cannot avoid good things because somewhere along the line, the character schematic you outlined for yourself doesn’t believe it deserves what you have.

When we avoid — when we evade — we cap off our happiness.

Yesterday I did what I very often do when I need to think: I climbed the fire escape to the roof of my building and laid there for an hour and as I was laying there and watching the sky I thought about college. And then about high school. And then about my hometown, and my old friends, and different, isolated incidents within those segments of time I’ve broken off in my mind. Who I thought I was — how I defined myself, and how that parlayed into what I thought I deserved and then what I allowed myself — within those moments.

I don’t remember a whole lot of what happened in the past. I don’t think this is a psychological issue (though lapses in memories over traumatic incidents is a real thing) but generally speaking, most of what I’ve experienced is a blur. A blur that someone else went through.

I cannot relate back to those moments because I am not that person. Looking back at old photos and reminiscing on former loves and issues and dilemmas and confusions is impossible. I cannot insert myself into that moment because even though it’s so familiar, and even though the story is invariably mine, it belonged to a different part of me. A different whole that was present at a different moment.

You weren’t meant to be a story that plays out in a nostalgically pleasing way. Life isn’t a sepia-toned flashback. Life is vivid and changing and real and unpredictable. Unchartable. With no plot other than the one we’re living in the moment, here and now. We don’t even realize how often we choose our current experiences based on old beliefs we are still subconsciously holding of ourselves. Because what we think of ourselves translates into what we allow of ourselves, and what we allow is what we experience, and what we experience is what amounts to our lives as a whole. A whole of which is a book of stories, of which doesn’t need to seamlessly transition into one another. Of which doesn’t have to be narrated the same way. Of which can be as short or long or staggered or confusing or exciting as you want.

The point is that you are in control of how it plays out — but the recurring inner narrative, the little voice that’s telling you the story of your life, has to let go of the old chapters to genuinely write the new ones. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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