Below is a reflection from Simon Walker's book Finding the Still Point. The book was birthed out of a year of letters, written weekly to a practice of busy executives, between 2007-8. Their aim was to remind the readers of the lessons learned during the work on leadership they had been undertaking together.
Telling Our StoryLast weekend I watched the film Australia with my wife (a good tip for a Friday night in...). Hugh Jackman plays a cattle drover- a loner, brawler but general good bloke who, in defence of his behaviour at one stage declares "All we have is our story - I'm just trying to tell a good one."
All we have is our story.... that line made me think. I wonder whether I would or could say that of myself? Is all I have my story? When I think about myself, my life, who I am and what I have, I suspect I would include quite lot of other material things: All I have is a house, wife, kids, car, job, PC, etc etc. I realise that, alongside relationships, I would include lots of stuff. I'm quite attached to my stuff. I spend quite a lot of time earning enough to purchase it, maintain it and upgrade it. I realise that I don’t actually accept Jackman's statement - at least not practically. I am deeply committed to a view of myself that incorporates the accumulation of things within my self definition.
All I have is my story: I'm deeply drawn to the freedom of that statement however, because of course all my stuff can be taken away from me. As was once said 'A person's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.'
At a time like now, when our stuff seems less secure than it used it, maybe we have an opportunity to forge a new clarity about who we actually are.
So, what kind of story am I telling? If I were to depict it from start to finish, would I be proud of it? What have been the major events in my story? What are the emerging themes? Is there a great plot line? And who are the characters? Where do I want my story to go? Do I have any sense of its direction - am I an author with or without an overall narrative shape? What meaning will emerge from it, and will it stand the test of time, being told and retold? Ultimately, will my story enhance or reduce the world in which I lived it?
It's interesting to reflect on what it would be like to be left with only our story. Nothing else. No possessions, no money, no status, no influence, no relationships. Just us, our story. Period. This is the approach of death isn't it? This is the confrontation of our mortality, in which we are stripped of all our assets and reduced to the bare man or woman we have been.
And will this be a reduction? Will this be us diminished? If so, then perhaps we have invested ourselves in the wrong things.
But is it possible that us, just us and our story, stripped bare, could be a revealing of who we really are? Could it be like the cleaning of an old, apparently worthless object to reveal a beautiful, invaluable, precious treasure? I remember visiting an elderly and very sick man as a priest; in those moments we shared together, his calm demeanour, his courage, his joy, spoke of a deeply rich life - a quality of heart and soul somehow refined, prepared for the absolutes of life. It was, truly, awesome. Could it be that, at this point of death, we will consider any rush to have accumulated stuff in our life - money, objects, power, status - as little more than the dross which blackens the beauty and lustre of the gold beneath?
All I have is my story. I'm just trying to tell a good one. What's your story? What are you trying to tell? Will my friends, family, children be able to say of me "Simon told a good story"?
Simon Walker 2009