What If Your Life Was Just a Story?
What if you woke up tomorrow and realised your life wasn’t real - as in, you’ve been looking at your life from just one perspective? We base our life upon what we believe to be true. We each frame our life from the context of our own beliefs. Because where do we belong if we can’t mould of our own story?
And how long will we stay stuck there?
This is what the What If? Podcast is here to question.
In this episode we’ll question…
What’s reality versus your perception of reality.
Who we are if we can’t fit the mould of our own story?
How we use the present or the future to make choices.
The relationship between significance and satisfaction.
Who actually creates pressure, stress and anxiety - us or the society around us?
How we might find pleasure in our own misery.
How to follow our intuition instead of resist it.
Why we are always chasing the next best thing and how happiness isn’t found there.
Can we retell our past?
Are we able to view pain and hurt as turning points we should use to our advantage?
Tune in next week for our first guest. If you’d like to be a guest, please get in touch.
What if you woke up tomorrow and realised your life wasn’t real?
Sure, you have a mom and dad – the fact that you’re here means they’re real. Your job might feel very real right now. Your home is most likely a real structure. Annnnd the bills, there’s no getting around that reality.
But I mean, what if you woke up tomorrow and realised that life was just your perception of reality. What if you’ve just been looking at your life all wrong?
Think about it. Every time you open your mouth to tell someone anything, you’re telling them a story, a narrative from your perspective. Because our entire life is based upon what we believe to be true or not. Each person will frame their own story from the context of their system of beliefs. And who are we if we can’t fit into the mould of our own story? Where do we belong?
And how long will we stay stuck there?
I don’t really know where’s the best place to start my story. I know where it starts, but I’m not sure I want to begin there. So I’ll take you back to when I was a freshman in college. It had been my dream to go to NYU’s business school but instead, I found myself failing Economics 101 my freshman year of college in Michigan. Me, a high-performing straight-A student was going to fail a class that I needed to get at least a B in in order to even apply for the business school. I had a choice. Take the final and hope to God I’d get 100% on the test. Or drop out and take a W on my transcript. Luckily in your first semester you’re able to drop one class right before the final and not have the withdrawal visible on your official transcript when applying for jobs. But it meant I was never going to get into business school because there was no chance in hell I’d pass Econ 101 and Pre-Calculus the following semester. There was no escaping Econ 101 though because the major I chose forced me to take it. Again.
My parents would spend more money on a useless tutor and I’d continue my college career unimpressed with my professors, stressed that my performance was judged on tests I was never good at taking, depressed about being in Ann Arbor when I was a ‘city girl,’ eating no carbs to lose weight, exercising twice a day to feel less anxious, entering into a co-dependent relationship, and fulfill my lifelong saga of complaining, judging and being in competition with others. All signs pointed towards miserable and uninspired, but I stayed because I liked the sound of graduating from a school ranked 25th Best in the US. Oh where did you go to school. Ah, well I went to the University of Michigan. Everyone told me I’d have good job prospects with this on my resume.
I had one. And I didn’t get it.
But two weeks before graduating, that same job offered me a different opportunity. So I packed my bags and moved to London. And that job, despite my passion for it, made me sick. In fact I thought I had colon cancer. My parents kept telling me all of my problems were in my head, maybe I should see a therapist because I was mentally unhinged, but oh, remember you’re a small fish in a big pond and you need to do whatever it takes to move up.
That hurt. The two people who were my greatest champions were also my biggest critics. I did everything to please them, to prove to them that their only daughter would be a success. But it never felt like enough. And my body had had enough.
I never knew when to stop pushing because my parents never knew.
The truth is, I think I enjoyed being miserable. I liked to tell others that I’ve had to work hard for everything in my life. Because I have. I’m where I am today because of pure grit and persistence… and my parent’s support, money, stable household, trips to Europe every year, cultural excursions, and strong, firm family values. But I’ve always enjoyed the tragedy. The idea that I could be buried so deep into the ground, that I could be so deeply underestimated, only to prove someone wrong. They may not have seen it in me then, but one day they will know I am something — that I made something of myself because I never gave up.
The problem with that, was that I stayed stuck for far too long. I should have taken my disinterest and inability to focus on Econ 101 seriously. I wasn’t failing, it just wasn’t my path. But I wanted that life I envisioned for myself so badly I ignored it. I sucked at test-taking mainly because I saw it as the be all and end all. I memorised the material for the purposes of a test, rather than how it might help me in my life by applying the concepts in a practical way. So when the test came, I’d psych myself out and my brain would shut off — infuriating because I was always chasing what wasn’t mine. Racing to be at the next level. Going through the motions to make it there — whether that be simply getting into college or getting a promotion and the title to match. But even when I’d succeed, I was still miserable because that just meant there was something else to chase. And there were always people who were smarter and more capable. Telling people I’m this young and I have blah blah responsibility never ended up giving me the satisfaction and peace I craved.
It’s been a while since I’ve been in school, but I started my story there because that was the moment my entire career changed even though I’d only begin working 4 years later. I started off as a community manager, schmoozing with people for a living. Community Management was really new at the time - it barely even existed whereas now everyone but my mom works in digital. I was made redundant (note another tragedy I overcame), went on to become a project manager which happened by working my way up from nothing to managing the entire team (yet another rags to riches story minus the rich part). I then moved on to work at a start-up for two weeks before I was fired — well, I told the boss that he would never see my value since he thought he was paying too much for me. He always hired interns straight from university whom he could mould to fit his ever-changing targets and delusional vision and bully into the illusion that staying later makes you a better worker, and quite frankly, I’d been there, done that and this time I’d have a work-life balance.
A week later, I got a job. And I’ve been here since.
Had I not taken the exact steps I had and instead continued down the business school dream, I would have never been plopped into a situation where I would figure out what I truly wanted.
And what I truly want, funnily enough, didn’t fit into the story I had envisioned for myself. And that’s because I was living out the story of what the society I was living in demanded of me, and what my family and close friends wanted for me. At least that’s the story I tell myself.
That’s a chapter for another time, though.
It got me thinking, if I can completely retell my past and believe it to be true even though the facts of the events are staring me in the face, why can’t I believe in the impossible in terms of the future? Do I really need to see it to believe it? And if I’ve seen it, do I need to believe it?
What if we retold our entire life story through a different lens of understanding? What if the people who hurt us were helping us? What if I despised my education because I chose not to live in the present moment and not because it was actually bad? What if I needed to see my education as a mediocre and unreasonably expensive at the time so that I would dream of developing a different way of learning? What if I needed my parents to do exactly what they did so that I would have the resilience to stomach what life would hand me? What if I saw everyone as good and doing the best they could? What if I could find the blessing in my pain?
Because without pain there is no joy. You would have no frame of reference — it’s all relative.
This podcast is about exploring those stories, those moments that define us, and deciding whether or not these are the stories we want to stick to. Or, if we should begin to redesign our future. What if we stepped out of the box we are putting ourselves in? What if rather than letting our circumstances determine the way we lead our lives, we had the power to decide what our story is?
The stories we share here are true. And yet, they aren’t.
This, is What if with Alexandra Kalinowski.