Dealing With The Storyteller In Our Head
January 13, 2020
It’s been over 2 hours since I sent my younger ex-colleague the WhatsApp message seeking his help on some matter. I know he has seen the message because the 2 blue strike notification is visible. I and this ex-colleague had worked together many years back and we had many good moments together.
For some time I was ok. But as time started passing, my mind and emotions were taken over by a strange self talk.
“Why is he not responding?”
“Why is he ignoring me. I have never asked for help before. I had helped him in his career. He got a few promotions under my watch. “
A few hours later, there was still no response. I was very disturbed.
” Ok he may be a bigger guy today. But how can he be so selfish. Does he not have the courtesy of even responding”
I almost sent him a nasty message. Thankfully, some instinct in me prevented me from doing that. No response eventually came from this person. I had become very bitter. I concluded this was just a fair weather contact on my phone and not really a friend.
A few months passed. One day, I was coming out of a restaurant and I bump into this ex-colleague. Our eyes make contact. I notice sadness in his eyes. I had the presence of mind to ask him if he was ok . He starts telling me about his daughter who had a medical complication that required him to take a break from work for over 3 months and that things were not very good.
In an instant, I was swept by a massive wave of guilt , for all the bitterness I had developed towards him. He had not ignored me. He was having a bigger crisis in his life that I had no clue about. I felt very petty and small at that moment.
This experience truly opened my eyes to the futility of judging people or situations without knowing the reality. When we do not have real facts with us, our ego has a brilliant mechanism to fill in the blanks with a narrative that suits us and makes us feel important. Our mind, fueled by our ego is a consummate storyteller!!
A few other examples of this storytelling that I have observed for myself.
“I said hi. The person ignored me. I know she recently got a promotion. She has developed an ego”- Wrong . I had no clue whether the person ignored me deliberately or she was preoccupied in something else and was not paying attention to me. Storyteller at play.
“This person challenged me and my proposal in the meeting. He really hates me. Otherwise, why would he challenge my proposal”- Wrong. It may be that the colleague was genuinely challenging certain aspects of the proposal. He had no personal issue with me. Storyteller at play.
“My boss was very upset at the results. What more evidence do I require. He does not need me. I am in trouble. I need to look out for a job”- Wrong. Just because the boss was upset , does it mean he did not value me. Storyteller at work.
” He promised to come back to me with a feedback on my proposal. I have followed up a few times. He is avoiding me ” Wrong. It is possible that there is a crisis at his workplace and responding to me was not the most important thing for him or he is plain forgetful and disorganized.(My wife on some issues has had to remind me a dozen times before I did something !!). Storyteller at work.
“I have sent my application to over a dozen prospective employers. None of them have responded. I am not good enough. I am failure” Wrong. It is more likely that the application you have designed is flawed. Change the design and try again. Storyteller at work.
Most self narrative is fictional storytelling that our ego creates. We can figure out the mind chatter and self narrative if we are mindful and present in the moment. I have developed a simple trick. I have learnt to observe the internal talk, acknowledge it and ignore it.
In learning to do this , I am on a journey of becoming better than my mind.