If you find yourself in the wrong story, leave.

I could hardly contain my excitement. I had just completed course HIST-342, The City In American History and wanted to ice the cake with the timely release of "Gangs of New York" (2002). I'm a history major and appreciate learning about the development of anything urban, historic and past. So the coalescing of history, 19th century New York and Leonardo DiCaprio created the perfect storm for an aspiring historian gone movie wild. With popcorn in hand and anticipation at heart, I sank myself into the seat and enjoyed the previews.

As soon as the previews ended, I realized something was off however. The music playing didn’t create the expected atmosphere of 1800’s, New York City. There was something about the sound that didn’t feel right. I looked around and noticed smiling faces awaiting a comedy rather than fierce eyes anticipating a drama. What should’ve been some what evident became all too obvious with the sudden appearance of Billy Crystal and Robert DiNero rather than Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day Lewis. I quickly realized that I was sitting in the wrong theater, watching the wrong movie. Basically, I was in the wrong story.

In life, we all have a story. To be clear, I actually don’t believe in “wrong” stories. I do believe however, in wrong narratives, themes and genres we choose to believe in and ultimately, live out. Rather than knowing, owning and living our true story, we buy into the stories others have told us, sold us and pretty much imposed on us. We live in the stories we’ve been told, rather than the stories we have discovered. In short, we sit through the wrong movie of our life.

Our stories are nothing more than false interpretations of our passed experiences and lies that we bought into about ourselves and the world around us. I write from experience my friend. I’ve remained in countless relationships way past their expiration date. I’ve given myself over to unfulfilling work because others have convinced me it’s the “right” thing to do. I’ve been there and at times, still find myself there.

Our stories usually sound something like...

“I should stay because this is all there is.”

“I should stay because it is safe.”

“I’d rather stay than be alone.”

“I am unworthy of anything else.”

“I’m not good enough.”

“It’s not possible for me.”

“I’m undeserving.”

The list goes on and on. We end up believing a bad narrative at best and a false story at worst. The end result is a life of merely existing rather than actually living. Just because we are alive, doesn’t mean that we are living. Just because we have breathe, doesn’t mean we are actually breathing.

We think with our minds but we live from our hearts. Our hearts are the birth place of passion and curiosity and imagination. Our hearts make way for discovery and excitement and adventure. But our minds become so invested in false beliefs because our minds are wired for safety. The mind would much rather keep us in our comfort zone even though our comfort zone is really creating tremendous discomfort in our lives.

Nothing beautiful can ever grow in our comfort zone however. Just look at a caterpillar. That caterpillar needs to go through some serious discomfort to transform. I’m sure it would rather stay in its cocoon. That is until it experiences what it’s like to be a butterfly. It has no desire to leave its cocoon simply because it has no awareness of what kind of experiences it will have as a butterfly. It doesn’t realize that it will grow wings and those wings will take it places far beyond its wildest dreams.

Our stories work very much the same way. They keep us stuck and confined in a cocoon. We don’t take the time to imagine what our experiences would be like outside of our story. We believe that what we currently see is the only possibilities that exist. So we choose to remain in fear rather than live in risk. We choose to remain in familiarity rather than live in love. We choose to remain safe rather than live in adventure. We choose to exist rather than live. By doing this, we choose to live the wrong story. 

The truth is we get to create our lives and we get to choose our story each and every day. Although we are given this gift, most of us never receive this gift. Not because we don’t want to, but because just like the caterpillar, we aren’t aware that it is a possibility. We are all given choice.  It’s not our stories that define us, it’s what we choose to do with our stories that define us.

I’d like to share some life lessons from my movie going mishap. My hope is that these will offer us some ways to identify the story we are living in, and choose the right story to live out. 

1. Pay attention to the sounds around you: Just as the music playing after the previews let me know that something was off, the sounds around us will let us know when something isn’t right. Listen to the words being said, conversations being had and noise drowning out your voice. Rather than listening to sounds making noise, listen to the sounds that create music. If it doesn’t sound right, it probably isn’t right.

2. Pay attention to the people around you: More often than not, what others are focused on will highlight what we're missing. While others see obstacles, learn to look at possibilities. When others see brokenness, chose to look at wholeness. If you don’t like what others are looking at, choose to change what you’ll see. 

3. Pay attention to themes and genres: I had come to watch a drama. What was playing was a comedy. Learn to identify the themes and genres of your current story. Perhaps your current theme is rest while others want you to work. Perhaps your current theme is forgiveness, while others hold grudges. Perhaps your current theme is leading, while others want you to follow. Perhaps your theme is to focus on all that is right, while others are focusing on all that is wrong. Whatever the case, identify your current theme and live it without apology.

4. If you find yourself in the wrong story, leave: As soon as I realized I was sitting through the wrong movie, I got up and left. In life, there are things we will need to choose to leave. I get it. Not everything is as easy as getting up, and leaving. However, with anything, we can take small steps in living closer to our truth and our story. We can choose to leave bitterness and live in joy. We can choose to walk out on negativity and live in happiness. And sometimes, we’ll get the opportunity to choose to leave what has always been for the sake of what could be. Remember, if it’s not the right story, it’s okay to leave.

We all have a story. Get honest with yourself. Be truthful with others. Identify the things that add value to you and be okay with letting go of the things that don’t. This is your life. This is your story. You get to choose. We have have a story. The question is, what kind of story will we live? My hope is that we would all live in a story that we’d actually want to tell.


"If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave."

- Mo Willems