Silencing the Narrator (Part 1)

Lately when talking with various leaders and individuals, the concept of story comes up a lot.  I seem to hear or read people using it more often or maybe I am just more inclined to hear it.  One day I was describing the notion of “story” or the “hero’s journey” in our lives. (See Joseph Campbell’s book: The Hero with a Thousand Faces.)

Essentially, the idea is that classic stories follow a pretty consistent pattern.  The protagonist lives a simple life, is called into something larger than themselves, faces hardship, doubts themselves, makes hard choices to push forward (while longing for their old life – one that no longer exists), succeed despite the odds, and become the hero that causes our hearts to stir and cheer for them.

I was describing this in the context of leadership.  How everyday choices we make, how we interact with others, the risks we take, either add to our role as the protagonist, or because of our words and actions, we may switch roles in the story.  We sometimes become the sort of character that would even stop us from cheering for ourselves.

But I had a revelation, but as soon as I said it I had to take it back.

“The trouble in our lives versus a Story is there is one major difference.  Great stories have a Narrator.  Our lives do not.”

I could feel how wrong I was the minute the words left my mouth.  All of a sudden, my past failures, mistakes, and poor choices seemed to flash before me.  And I heard a Narrator, both then and now.  An inner voice.  It wasn’t good.

Think back when you failed.  Think about a mistake, a failure.  What did you hear?  What do you still hear?


“Why did you even try?”

“You should just give up.”

“You are not [insert word here] enough.”

For some of us, the words we hear are even worse.  I had to modify my statement about our stories.

“I guess there is a Narrator, but unfortunately, it is a Bad Narrator.”

What does your Narrator say when your story becomes dark?  Are you continually reminded of mistakes and failures?  Reminded how you don’t measure up?  Does this inner dialogue disrupt your interaction with others, your ability to manage well?  If so, you are not alone.

Over the next few weeks, we will tackle some of the ways to Silence the Narrator but for now, just recognizing that it exists is a good first step.  As a good friend of mine reminded me recently, “your narrator sucks!”  

If so, why are we listening to it?