Transform your personal purpose…
by Sari Van Poelje
I could describe my expat childhood in very different ways. I could tell you a story of a nomadic existence, and searching for home. Or I could tell you a story of the rich cultural experiences we had and the opportunity to build friendships all over the world. Of course both stories could be true. But the important thing is: depending on the story I choose, my experience of life will differ.
Humans are not just the sum of our experience or even our relationships. We are ultimately the sum of our stories. It is not the events in our lives that determine our actions, but the interpretation of those events.
Narrative theories, like Joseph Campbell’s “The hero with a thousand faces” (1947) and Berne’s (1957) Transactional Analysis, can help frame this idea. Within TA we believe that people create a life script at a very early age, a story about who we will be when we grow up. This story informs our actions like a kind of bass tone in our lives, and determines many of the main melodies that run through our personal, relational and professional lives.
We define a life script as an unconscious life plan learned in early childhood, reinforced by parents and by later events, resulting in a known pay-off (Claude Steiner – Scripts People Live: Transactional Analysis of Life Scripts, 1990). In a later article we’ll look at how these scripts are also true for organizations.
Our script rears its head at key moments of our life, moments of great triumph or trauma, and specifically moments of threat and scarcity. When you understand your own script and how they play out in your key moments, you can start to rewrite your life script to lead a more meaningful and fulfilling life, built around your purpose.
Start with writing your life story as a fairy tale, and uncover your life script so you can write a happy ending.
“It is not the events in our lives that determine our actions, but the interpretation of those events.”
Radical Agile Transformation Exercise: Write your life story as if it is a fairy tale
In his book The Seven Basic Plots (2004), Christopher Booker states that all stories, and our life stories revolve around seven or nine basic plots:
- Overcoming the Monster: in which the hero must venture to the lair of a monster which is threatening the community, destroy it, and escape (often with a treasure).
- Rags to Riches: in which someone who seems quite commonplace or downtrodden but has the potential for greatness manages to fulfil that potential.
- The Quest: in which the hero embarks on a journey to obtain a great prize that is located far away.
- Voyage and Return: in which the hero journeys to a strange world that at first is enchanting and then so threatening the hero finds he must escape and return home to safety.
- Comedy: in which a community divided by frustration, selfishness, bitterness, confusion, lack of self-knowledge, lies, etc. must be reunited in love and harmony (often symbolized by marriage).
- Tragedy: in which a character falls from prosperity to destruction because of a fatal mistake.
- Rebirth: in which a dark power or villain traps the hero in a living death until he/she is freed by another character’s loving act.
- Rebellion Against ‘The One’: in which the hero rebels against the all-powerful entity that controls the world until he is forced to surrender to that power.
- Mystery: In which an outsider to some horrendous event (such as a murder) tries to discover the truth of what happened.
Set aside a few hours to write your personal story. Select your basic plot point from the nine described and write about your life story through the five stages.
Now consider these questions:
- What would happen if you don’t change your story now?
- If you could rewrite your story how would you change it?
- Are you the hero? What kind of hero are you?
- What would you need to change to become the hero?
- Can you see your ultimate purpose?
- What would need to be different?
Bibliography: References & links
The hero with a thousand faces, Campbell, Joseph, 1949
Scripts People Live: Transactional Analysis of Life Scripts, Steiner, Claude, 1990
The Seven Basic Plots, Booker, Christopher, 2004