Dear Diary - On Overcoming
Many of us who belong to Generation X and beyond didn’t grow up in the landscape of filters, hashtags, selfies and live feeds. When we experienced life, we talked with our friends or wrote it down in our diaries. We spoke and wrote freely, being guided purely by the emotions and thoughts that we experienced as we experienced them. Sometimes our stories had happy endings, some were sad, and some had no ending at all. Between those pages lay a sacred space, and in those closed conversations we didn’t need to edit, refresh, or filter anything.
Social media has brought us a lot of different and new layers to our life experiences. Many of us enjoy sharing our journeys and experiences on our social media streams. We appreciate the knowledge that we may be inspiring others, creating awareness to an issue or topic close to us, or simply enjoy documenting our experiences in a public forum. But the game has changed, and we are now suddenly telling our stories in new, public mediums, and the significance of this is not being lost on us.
Suddenly our Dear Diary entries have been taken up a notch. We have now had to develop our skills as the storytellers of our own experiences. We no longer just document what we felt, thought or saw, we now have added ingredients found in structured storytelling, with one significant element I see time and time again: overcoming.
We all love a story of overcoming, defying the odds, toughing it out. But I am trying to put my finger on the exact time where we suddenly had to overcome something every time we went on an adventure, competed in an event, or completed merely a training session. And I find it fascinating. When my social media profile was at its peak, my obligation to tell a story of overcoming for every training session was impossible to ignore - because that's what people responded to. A year or so later, and day after day my Instagram feed is filled with similar if not identical stories: posts like “it was hot, tough and despite my body crying out for me to stop I kept going and got the job done.”
I get it. Australians don’t like people who do things easily. You can just feel the magnitude of eye-rolling that would occur if someone posted this caption along with a post-training selfie: "that set was so easy, I'm so happy with my fitness and don't think I will feel any impact on my body whatsoever after that set #gratitude #happy #iamawesome.
But there has to be some happy medium between documenting and receiving ease and hardship because our obligation to continually overcome is making us tread a hazardous line when it comes to situations where it may actually be in our best interests to quit, retreat, or not start at all.
Recently while I was doing a professional development course on building resilience, we got to reflect on actual real-life stories of survival. Interestingly enough, in these tales of resilience, the key reflections were not on the individual's ability to overcome - in some instances, it was their ability know when it was in their best interest to surrender, with these decisions saving their lives.
For some people, this obligation to tell tales of overcoming doesn’t exist. But for others, it is a silent, pervasive factor which has the potential to become a key driver of shame in times where we do in fact need to retreat, surrender, or not start at all. It is so pervasive in fact that many of us don't even see it impacting our decisions until we consider a scenario like this:
I head out on a planned hike to climb a decent mountain in my area. I’ve talked about my preparation on social media, I’ve taken the pictures of my pack and gear (‘flat Leah’), and I’ve uploaded a dawn selfie before I head out. Everything is going swimmingly until I am about two-thirds of the way up and I have realised I left some of my hydration in the car and am now out. It's a balmy 35 degree day and I know I've been losing fluids rapidly. Logic tells me that if I keep going, the dehydration will reach a point where I run the risk of needing a medivac out. BUT, I have documented this WHOLE journey on social media, and everyone knows I'm on this bloody mountain today - how can I not get to the top? What is the worth of me getting to the top and back down and being able to talk about the hardship I overcame to achieve my goal versus having to admit that I didn't make it? What story do I want to tell my followers - one of achievement or one of failure?
Oh, hello Shame, nice to have you here.
Whether we like it or not, we are now documenting our experiences of life in very public ways. Our lives and journeys have become mini-documentary series' that many of us enjoy following, but not all of us are skilled in constructing. Not all of us have gone to film school, drama school or have journalism degrees. So for many of us, this new art of storytelling has suddenly added layers to our experiences, forcing us to go beyond what we saw, felt, and thought. The obligation to tell a good story is now so pervasive that it has the potential to impact decisions in situations where the only thing we should be considering is our health and wellbeing - but only if we allow it to.
It is amazing what a small amount of self-awareness can do when you awaken to the obligation to overcome. Knowing that you and your experience are enough in their rawest form is liberating. That stopping the curation, filters and hashtags can bring you back to authentic and powerful connections with your life experiences, and with that, comes the real freedom of storytelling.