The Stories We Tell Ourselves

The stories we tell, or have told, about ourselves show up everywhere we go. I recently interviewed with the senior leadership team of an organization who had short-listed Floricane to handle their strategic planning process in 2010. Everything about the meeting felt positive, engaging, focused. Iknew that there were other consultants in the process, and that my most effective interviewing strategy was to simply be myself. An hour into the discussion, and all indications were that things were going well. They asked good questions -- about my philosophy and process, my background, the differences between strategic planning for corporations and non-profits, my expectations of my clients. As the conversation began to wind down, they asked if we could take a five minute break and regroup. I assumed they were going to huddle and generate a final handful of questions. While they were gone, I perused the framed news articles about the organization that lined the walls. After about 10 minutes, two of the team returned. "Can you grab your notebook and folder and come with us?" one of them asked. "Did you have a coat?" That's when my inner voice -- presumably the one who was called far too often to the principal's office in middle and high school -- kicked in. "Uh oh," the voice muttered silently. "They're escorting me out of the building." I frantically replayed the conversation of the past hour, wondering when I had been too candid, or too flip, or mildly inappropriate. We turned a corner, and they ushered me into an office where the executive director and the project manager waited. "Come on in and close the door," the executive director said. The principal's office in every sense of the word. I continued threading through the conversation, trying to figure out when I blew it. "We were planning to regroup on Friday to make a decision, but we'd like to go ahead and offer you the contract," the project manager said. We all carry stories and narratives around with us, unpacking them when we need to justify ourselves or deploy our defenses in the face of perceived attack. Apparently, one of my stories involves a default assumption that when someone of authority calls me, I'm in trouble. A former coworker and I used to joke about the feeling. She called it "getting caught shoplifting." I called it "going to the principal's office." Whatever the name, it's been with me a long time. I learned long ago that our stories and narratives once served a purpose, but that we tend to hold onto them far past their useful shelf life. It's not often that any of us slows down enough to honestly examine our inner dialogue, much less engage in the hard work of editing, revising or discarding those stories that no longer serve us. For me, rewriting the script is always a work in progress, and I've been revising and editing this particular story for some time now. When it pops back up, I quickly recognize it and invite it to move along. But I've also started developing new stories focused more on who I want to become and less on who I've been. Situations like this week's interview remind me just how important those new stories can be.