Every single one of us has a story.
I don't say that to be cliché. I don't say that to give you a false sense of encouragement. I say that to be honest. I say that to be real.
The past few days, I've been following Taylor Swift's album re-recordings, and it's encouraged me to think about the nature of stories. I first listened to "Fearless" in elementary school, and I understood her story then—or at least, a part of it. As I revisit her work over a decade later, I still understand her story, but I understand it differently. I've grown. Some of the lyrics have become a little more real for me. Some have completely changed meaning. Others have remained the same.
I've realized that my experience with someone else's story is a lot like my own, and it might be a lot like yours. There are some parts of our stories that are just starting to make sense. There are some parts of our stories that have always made sense. There are some parts of our stories that still don't make sense. There are some parts of our stories that may never make sense. That's OK. There is purpose, even when we don't understand. There is meaning, even if we can't find it just yet.
And so, here are four ways to own your story. Your story is worth celebrating, and more importantly, you are worth celebrating. Even when it doesn't make sense. Especially when it doesn't make sense.
1. Realize that your story is yours.
Yes, this may seem obvious, but we so often forget. While we may say that our story is completely ours, we so easily let others take over our stories without even realizing it. Don't get me wrong. We need community. We need support. Both of these things are necessary. Both of those things are good. The problem is that we so easily allow others to take the pen out of our hands and start writing the story for us. I've had several people question why I'm pursuing the degree that I am. I've even had a few offer career paths or majors. Last year, I had acquaintances come up to me and ask me where I was going to college, only to give me five other options. It seems like everyone had an opinion, to the point where I forgot that mine mattered, too. I had to step away and realize a few things. No matter how good their intentions were, they didn't truly know my story. They didn't know my 'why' in life. I do. That's not to say that their intentions were wrong or rude. I say this to say that whether intentional or not, others will always have an opinion. Yes, opinions can be helpful. The problem is that we often internalize other's ideas to the point that we forget that our opinion is valid, too. It's not our job to make sure others around us understand in the moment. Maybe they will. Maybe they won't. Either is more than OK. Don't change a story that's meant to be yours to please other people.
2. Know that your story might look different than those around you. That's OK.
I'll be the first to admit that this is so hard for me. I've always been a perfectionist, and I've always been a people-pleaser. At times, I've placed so much of an emphasis on what I wanted my story to be instead of letting it be. I'm terrible at letting go, but I'm learning that it's so necessary. For me, letting go looks like letting go of my own expectations. Here's your reminder that social media and most things in life are but a highlight reel. We all have our successes, but we all have our struggles. A lot of the time, we don't get the opportunity to choose what story we're dealt in life. What we do get is the ability to choose what we do with that story. I'm a big believer that every day, we have a choice. We can allow ourselves to be so consumed with others' stories and compare them to our own, or we can allow ourselves to celebrate stories. All stories. All parts of stories. Yes, that includes the parts of our stories that are hard to talk about. Yes, that includes the parts of our stories that don't make sense. Yes, that includes the parts of our stories that aren't like the stories of others. You can't disregard the parts of your story that have helped build you. You can't throw away the parts that are uncomfortably or messy. Instead, I hope you embrace them. I hope you don't run away. Future you will be thankful that you didn't. I promise.
3. Realize that little victories are worth celebrating, too.
I've always been drawn to writing because it's a craft that celebrates the little victories. I get so much joy when someone messages me telling me that my work helped them. I've realized that meaning isn't always tied to numbers. The same is true in life. I hope that you don't invalidate your growth or success because you think it's too small or not important enough. I hope that you don't hide your story because you don't think anyone can learn from it. I'm here to tell you that someone will learn from your story, even if the first person who learns from it is you. I'm here to tell you that your story is enough because you are enough. The little victories are what keep us going. I hope you celebrate your huge successes. I really, truly do. However, I hope you realize that there's a lot more to life than huge successes. I hope you realize that people see your growth. More importantly, I hope you see your growth. I hope you see that your story doesn't stop just because one guy couldn't choose you or one employer decided to go a different direction. I hope you see that your story doesn't stop at one setback or discouragement. Every day, I challenge myself to pick at least one little victory of the day. It's what keeps me looking forward instead of backwards. It's what makes me hold on to hope. It makes every day a celebration, no matter how small.
4. Know that your story has power, but only if you let it have power.
I want to end with some encouragement. I hope that you don't let your current chapter stop you from pursuing the rest of your story. I hope that you don't let one person or one situation or even one bad day stop you from looking up and moving on to greater things. Your life has a purpose, and your story has power. Embrace it, even and especially when it's hard. It will be worth it, but you have to keep moving forward. Chase after the good, and allow yourself to reflect when it gets tough. Give in to community, and know that you are capable. Most of all, keep the pen in your hand. Get to it, friend, and keep writing your story. You'll be glad that you did.