Above is a summary of graphs adapted from Kurt Vonnegut’s presentation on the Shapes of Stories. His presentation is brilliantly funny (and short) and you can watch it here. These graphs got me thinking about how all of us would display the ups and downs of our lives. Do we fit a profile like the ‘best sellers’ Kurt has outlined?
More importantly, I would like people to think about what trajectory they are on. Working with people over the last few years, I have felt that they want to find that infinite good fortune. However their actions, thoughts and beliefs are not leading them on this path, there is little motivation to get there or set up the circumstances to make this possible. They live with many regrets or gravitate towards nostalgia. There are many elements out of our control and those can be overwhelming but not doing anything about what is in your control means you play no role in shaping your graph.
The patterns I see emerging sparked a thought about how they would fit with Kurt’s graphs.
Its simplistic but here is how I would graph it.
Obviously this is a blunt generalisation but I am aiming for the trendline.
There is also a quote by Henry David Thoreau “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” that resonated with me when thinking about this.
Many of us may reflect that our childhood had a decent level of good fortune, whether real or remembered through rose tinted glasses. Then there would have been plenty of fluctuations during youth and into early adulthood. Have you have been following the checklist of life? Do well in school, get a degree, good job, buy a house, settle down but what what is next on the checklist after those big items are ticked. You also realise in adulthood the checklist hasn’t really contributed to your happiness. Each time you ticked a box it didn’t bump your graph line as high as you had hoped.
Following the standard checklist wasn’t driven by your internal desire for what you want to do and who you want to be. It is also based on extrinsic rewards rather than internal feelings. We are attached to lists like these because this guidance brings certainty and we are a social species, we want to fit in, be part of the herd. Sadly many items on the checklist encourages us to focus on the things we end up regretting the most.
What do we regret the most? Here is a list
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
To keep going on your checklist you need to be doing rather than spending time being. When you spend time being, it creates the space for you figure out who you really are, what you want to do with your life, where to devote your time without the shame you need to be following some defined path.
None of us are average, if you are experiencing life to its fullest your graph will have plenty of crests and troughs and if you are mindful of your emotions and feelings you will be able to guide your line upwards coming out of even the most adverse times.
If the common checklist isn’t your path, scrap it, it wasn’t made for individuals and if you have ticked all the boxes and still feel something is missing then you know what I am talking about. Start enhancing what you are in control of, your mindset, your emotional intelligence, your motivation, they are the elements that will ultimately shape your graph.