Sure, some are timeless. David and Goliath. Homer on his Odyssey. The fall of Troy. The reign of the Khans. Independence Day for the U.S.
We tell these stories to fuel our own psyches. Some give us hope and courage. Others warn us against failure or pain. And through living we have our personal stories.
How we became who we are today. Our victories. What makes us tick. What inspires us. What got us down. Why we aren’t up there. Or why it’s better right here.
Stories are powerful. Yuval Noah Harari describes in Sapiens that story is what united people in numbers beyond the threshold needed to establish civilization (2011). There was no pull for humans to live in groups of more than a few hundred. A common purpose, spread by story, tied us together. Myths, religion, academia, economics. Story brought millions, and now billions, together.
Individual stories keep us going moment by moment. We have a narrative that we like to refer to when choices need to be made. I’m an entertaining friend. I’m a good manager who cares about his employees. I’m a strong and resilient person who doesn’t quit. I’m a husband, son, brother that loves his family.
These things perpetuate themselves. We often act in the direction we’ve already been going. I’d like to say that most of the time it’s a direction we want to be going. But sometimes it’s not.
As much as a story can encourage, it can also tie us down. Sometimes guilt is pulling us. Sometimes regret. If stories are made of what has happened, or what we’ve done, then they are set in stone. Who can change the past?
But stories change.
It’s the moment of each decision that is the crossroads of every person’s destiny. Yes, your story is made of things that happened. But it will also be made of things that you will do. Jim Rohn exclaims that if something isn’t going our way, we change it, because we’re not trees.
I hurt myself in the gym a lot. In high school football, there were a lot of guys, bigger and stronger than me. I had gone against my dad’s premonition of injuries in joining the team, and I needed to prove him wrong and prove myself to be strong.
One day, I did a set of shoulder presses with too much weight, and seriously tweaked my shoulder. I should have put the weight down, stepped away, and let myself heal. Instead, I kept going.
I’m strong. I can take pain. These things ran through my head as I fought against the strange, unnerving damage to my shoulder. I knew it wasn’t healthy, but I wanted to fulfill a story about myself.
There was something so powerful about that decision that it colored my approach to training for decades to come. Whenever I got hurt from lifting too much, I would fight the pain and keep going.
My story accumulated injured knees, back, neck, wrist, ankles, hips, and even face. Every time I told myself the same thing. I would be weak, deficient, and worthless, if I stopped. If I couldn’t finish a workout. If I couldn’t hit a certain lift.
At some point, I realized I was following a story I no longer believed. And thus I realized that I could rewrite it.
I wanted to be well. Strong without pain. Resilient without suffering. There wasn’t just one way to train. Maybe I could make adjustments to my form and technique. Maybe I could start over, lifting just the barbell.
I had the courage to be new, weak, and exposed. Love for myself gave me the room to do this. I understood myself. I knew what I feared. And I gave myself the grace to be vulnerable. To do something different.
Every time I step into a gym I’m writing the next few lines of my story of strength. And sometimes, I don’t go the gym. That’s also a part of my new story. Wellness is more than weight lifted. It’s about capability more than achievement – a state of being, rather than been.
Sure, I love filling up a shirt. But there’s a time for it, and there’s a time when it’s not going to happen. As long as I know my story, I don’t worry about how big I am. I can look forward to the next time in life that training will be regular, that shirts will be tight.
It’s one of many chapters to come in my book. So I keep writing.