The other day I was talking with a friend and she shared a quote with me that she’d been thinking about. It came from tiny buddha®. The quote went like this, “Stop letting other people write your story.” This resonated with me as I had recently done something that had an unintentional consequence that bothered me. I then proceeded to write a whole story in my head about the receiver of this unintentional consequence. How could they think that? Why didn’t they come to me directly? Recalling the quote helped me to stop assuming things about them. I had to tell myself, “Stop writing their story.” The truth is, we don’t really know what’s going on with someone else.
As I was pondering this little lesson, I went into a meeting with someone on MS Teams. The person had just completed the Clifton Strengthsfinder© assessment and we were going over their results. As I explained the insights to one of their strengths, I was distracted by the person constantly looking up from the screen. They would briefly make eye contact and then look up and start typing. As this went on, I started creating a story in my head that they were multi-tasking and not really focused on or interested in what I was saying. As it went on a little longer, I told myself, “They don’t care about this activity and would like to be doing something else.” I realized what I was doing and recognized that I was starting to feel some anger towards this person, so I stopped talking. They eventually realized I had stopped talking and looked at me. I said, “It seems you’re very busy. Would it be better if we found a different time to do this?” Immediately I heard, “Oh, I’m sorry, I was taking notes.” At that point we joked about there not being a quiz at the end. They made eye contact and we continued with the review. We ended up having a very productive conversation! I’m glad I caught myself and stopped writing their story. And I gave them an opportunity to tell their story, what was going on for them. Because of getting curious, we both were able to pause and realize how we were appearing to each other, and in the end, we created a positive connection.
How do we stop writing others’ stories? And how do we stop letting other people write our stories? From my experience, I believe it starts with self-awareness. Self-awareness leads to acknowledging what feelings and emotions we’re experiencing, which opens the door to being curious. Not to judge or make assumptions, but to seek to understand what’s happening while assuming positive intent. It’s not always easy to pause and acknowledge what we’re feeling or what’s going on with us in the moment. It’s also not healthy or helpful to bottle up negative feelings and stories about someone. Being genuine and kind with each other gives us the opportunity for real connection and learning.