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Your Stories Don’t Define You, How You Tell Them Will

May 28, 2019

Stories connect us. They help us relate to each other and deepen our understanding of experiences in our lives. Analogies can give us an entirely different perspective, and help us create a more visual representation of emotional experiences.

I wrote the following analogy to help me put things in perspective when I was having a hard time in a job that was not only a bad fit for me and my skills, it was a job that I allowed to sink into my confidence and health. Each time I re-read it, I am reminded to think about where I am, where I want to be, and how I want to get there.

Analogies can be silly or serious, and sometimes a little of both. If you can make an analogy both, you will connect with your audience, bringing out common expressions of hope and frustration in a highly visual, imaginative way.

When I was at the end of my patience with my job, I reached out to a few mentors for help. I asked one friend to visit with me and provide ideas and guidance; I hoped for concrete advice. What I got was not at all what I had envisioned and as I walked out of her office I thought it had been a waste of my lunch break.

Lucky for me, the year had been one of tremendous growth, personally and professionally, so instead of leaving my thoughts there, I realized there had to be a reason I went seeking her guidance. I knew there must have been something in the conversation I could use and apply to my recent experiences. And when I gave myself time to process the words she used, I realized she gave me the beginning of an analogy I could apply, re-apply, and continue to reinvent to serve different situations.

She said: "Sometimes I feel like I'm in my car on the highway, stuck behind a big truck. I look up at the end car on the car carrier and pray it doesn't fall off the trailer onto my head."

It took a few days, but then I realized how her analogy applied to my situation: For months I had been driving my car along the highway, stuck behind a big truck. Because I have a tendency toward being impulsive (don't laugh), I had been driving very close to the back of the truck. I had been so incredibly frustrated being stuck there, so I kept swerving out to check for an opportunity to pass the truck, only to find a blind curve or a line of vehicles coming toward me, so I had to swerve back behind the truck, more and more angry and impatient.

Not only was I angry and frustrated and feeling all the muscles and tendons in my neck get more painful and stiff, I was making everyone else in the car uncomfortable. I was driving so close to the truck that I couldn’t see anything I was passing outside the car, the beautiful landscapes I was driving through were lost to me. All I could see was the dust and debris the truck was kicking up into my windshield, and I was breathing the fumes coming out the back. I missed the music playing on my radio and the conversations going on in the backseat, conversations that were precious and unlikely to happen again.

I was driving so close that the inexperienced (and mean) truck driver was driving even more erratically, making significant and dangerous errors because he was watching my car come so close.

I had choices to make. I could keep swerving to check whether I had an opportunity to pass, not really caring whether the opportunity took me toward a positive destination, or I could sit back in my seat and get a little space between me and the back of the truck. I could keep being frustrated and sometimes angry at that damn truck in front of me, or I could make some space between us so I could see opportunities from a distance and gauge whether they might be right for me and my passengers. I could choose to see the truck much more clearly by giving it room, so I could learn more about it and be able to avoid trouble, and maybe even help if necessary.

I wasn’t in denial, I knew the truck would cloud my view here and there, kicking up big gusts and clouds of snow and rain, and that I wouldn’t always be able to keep from getting frustrated. But with the space I was creating between me and the truck, I could at least try to enjoy the music, the view, the passengers in my car.

Eventually, that truck was going to get off the highway, or I was going to find a good opportunity to pass. I couldn’t get off the highway at the next exit because there were people in the car that were relying on me to keep on truckin', so to speak. And as one of my dearest friends said "you have great company in the car!"

My sister would say that I have always lived my life knowing that it is not about the destination, but about the journey... So here I am, driving my car and (usually) making better choices, enjoying the view, including some interesting and sometimes dangerous and frustrating weather. I'll keep on driving behind the truck until I find the right opportunity for me and my passengers, I'll continue to be grateful for the comfort of my friends and family traveling with me, and I'll most definitely sit back and enjoy the music.

What's your truck right now? Have there been bigger trucks in your way? How will you handle the next slow-moving truck you're stuck behind?