Do you want to tell a hero story or a victim story?
You get to choose.
I’ve been writing a lot of memoir lately. Partly, this is because writing memoir seems to be an important piece of my journey to tackle my decades long habit of hiding and my soul-crushing fear of being seen. Partly, it’s because memoir fascinates me.
When I set out to tackle the genre of memoir, the first thing I found myself confronted with is the flimsiness of the truth. After all, truth is what separates memoir from fiction.
Or is it? Memory is tricky and truth may be unknowable. Do I really remember the time I explained how lightning works to my mom at age four? Or have I just heard the story so many times I’ve reconstructed the memory based on the details of the story?
As memoirists our job is twofold. On the one hand, we vow to tell the truth as best we know it. On the other hand, memoir is not so much about the simple facts, the truths of our lives — memoir is about how we come to make sense of those facts, those truths. And because of this, every memoirist is faced with a choice:
What kind of story do you want your memoir to tell?
I’ve been participating in Anna Kunnecke’s Queen Sweep program for the past few weeks, and she has participants start by “sweeping” their stories. She encourages participants to move “from victim to hero” in the story of their own lives. She invites us to reconsider the way we talk to ourselves about our lives, to make the shift from “poor-put-upon me” to “kicking-ass-and-taking-names me”.
For me, the shift looks something like this:
A girl grew up. She did all the things she was supposed to do and just about killed herself bending over backwards to achieve success. In the end, it won her nothing except crippling exhaustion, a deadened heart, and a desk job she came to loathe more and more every day.
Sad, whiny victim-me is full of pouting and sad-faces. But what about hero-me? How does she see my life?
A girl grew up. She had a series of wonderful opportunities/adventures which led her to one of the best colleges in the country. There she got to study the mysteries of the universe alongside some of the smartest people in the world. After she graduated, she landed a job in her field that paid better than she’d dared to dream — and when it turned out she still wasn’t happy, she took matters into her own hands and set off on an adventure to redefine her purpose and reconnect with joy.
So, here’s the real question — whose story would you rather read? Because if I could only buy one of these stories, I’d pick the brave story of hero-me over the whiny, self-absorbed story of victim-me in a heartbeat.
It occurs to me to wonder whether this is all writing memoir is — the opportunity to meet your victim story on the page and discover the ways in which it’s actually the story of a hero.
Right now, I’m thinking the answer is yes — but feel free to chime in with your thoughts in the comments below!
And I want to make something else very clear — victim-story, hero-story — they’re not about whether or not you were a victim. They’re about how you choose to respond in the aftermath of your victimhood. No one escapes life without some bad things happening, and some people encounter more than their share of unpleasantness. These generally aren’t things we have control over. What we get to decide is how do we want to respond to the unpleasantness in our life? By choosing the hero-story over the victim-story we have the opportunity to re-empower ourselves and make courageous choices in the face of our circumstances.
I don’t know for sure, but I think that shifting your perspective about your life from victim to hero might just be the kind of powerful magic that has the potential to change everything.
So, which story do you choose?
Let me know in the comments below! And if you’re interested in reading something more on this topic I highly recommend this article by Anna Kunnecke.
And, if you’re feeling victim-y about something that’s happening in your life I invite you to ask yourself this: What action could I take in this situation that would make me feel like a badass?
And then go do that — because you deserve to be (and feel) awesome! (Example here.)