How individual is your story? Sounds like one of those “Eh?” questions. Your story is absolutely individual. Unique. No one else has felt it like you have. No one else can tell it like you can. It’s yours. But perhaps not only yours.
Most of us are like human Venn charts. Our individuality is unassailable, yet our every action, our very circumstances, have a sphere of influence on those around us.
It’s nothing new. John Donne’s “No Man Is an Island” expressed this eloquently back in the 17th century. The individuality of our personal story is at best a contradiction—perhaps even an illusion.
For argument’s sake, let’s take death, the ultimate individual event. We all face it alone. Yet, its aftermath is anything but. Think how many lives are affected by a loved one. And, when the death was untimely, violent, or it happened to a child, the waves of life-changing grief and horror grow exponentially.
The uttermost individual rite of passage can bring entire communities to their knees.
It works two ways. We impact others’ lives and they impact ours. We bump up against others as they journey, and that contact influences our own story. Sometimes in almost imperceptible ways. Other times the collision of bodies causes a life-changing alteration in our orbit.
How Individual is Your Story? What Freud Would Say
Cue the Austrian accent, as Freud rubs his chin and repeats the question. “How individual is your story? Just look at what your mother did to you! “
In fact, that’s been the theme of more than a few memoirs. Despite that, many of us hesitate to include others in our stories. We gloss over the roles others played if those roles were anything but idyllic.
I’m not trying to start any family feuds. I recognize that writing about others is a personal and sensitive decision.
On the other hand, think hard before you ignore these corollary stories. Think of the power they might have for your readers. For instance, a sibling of the exact same circumstances that turned out quite differently than you can illuminate your choices. Resentment of a great aunt might actually be a story of protecting or advocating for someone else.
These are precious opportunities to connect with others. To share not just benchmarks and love stories, but stories of heartbreak and resilience. Stories that connect and resonate.
When you don’t tell your story—or leave out important parts, you do a disservice to that Venn chart that the rest of the world sees. You leave it without labels. You’ve given it no explanation. Others are left to make all sorts of assumptions about the person you are, not to mention the road you had to travel to get there.
A chart isn’t humanizing. A story is. Especially a story that isn’t pretty and perfect.
How individual is your story? How individual do you want it to be?