You Are the Author of Your Story

You Are the Author of Your Story

If my sister’s life were a movie, turning 30 should have been the happy ending. Raised in a rural farming community, my sister studied hard and successfully entered a competitive pre-med college program. From there, she went on to medical school, working a 3-month internship at NASA during those years. She blazed through her residency, then landed her first job as a full-time doctor in a town she loved. At 30, she looked poised to take on the world. Curtain call, end of story.

And yet, my sister was not happy.

Our culture treats many types of change as positive signs of growth and prosperity. There’s a reason why when someone meets you for the first time, he asks you a few key questions. What’s your job? We believe your job tells us something integral about you. How educated you are. How successful you are. If you answer “doctor,” like my sister, we automatically assume that you are well off and happy. If you answer “unemployed,” we often believe the opposite.

It’s not just job status that defines us. Someone may ask you about your personal life. Are you married or single? The former implies happiness, the latter, maybe not. How about kids? If you have a few, one might assume you’re happy. If you’re older and don’t have any, maybe they worry your “biological clock is ticking.”

People love stories, and there is a story that many of us have been told which outlines a pattern for a successful life. It goes something like this: Be a good student when you’re young. Study hard. Earn a practical degree with lots of earning potential. Get a great job. Marry. Have kids. Retire. Enjoy.

It’s actually not a bad story. I know many people, people that I love and respect, who have followed this formula, and they are indeed happy and successful.

But then there are people like my sister, who found herself with a great education and a fantastic job, but she wasn’t happy. Coming straight out of college with a decent amount of debt, she took a grueling job that worked her 60-80 hours per week. She felt stressed, overtired, and perhaps worst of all, unable to spend as much time with her patients as she liked. She burned out after a few years, wondering if she had chosen the wrong career after all.

If you don’t like your story, how do you go about re-writing it? Like any good author, it takes many drafts and a lot of trial and error. My sister tried a variety of things. She moved back home and wrote screenplays, winning awards and getting one play produced by a local college. When that didn’t fulfill her, she taught anatomy at a nursing school. When that still didn’t quite pan out, she went back to being a doctor, only this time she found part-time work at a small practice where she has more say in her patient care. It doesn’t pay as much, but her job satisfaction couldn’t be greater. Career-wise, she has found the place she wants to be.

Still far from fulfilled, my sister decided to go through several years of in vitro fertilization and ended up having beautiful twin boys. She’s raising them as a single mother without the aid of “the right guy” and loving every minute of it, despite how much she stands out in the rural community she lives in.

My sister’s story will not end here. It will continue to grow and change. Given her history and personality, I have a feeling her story will unfold to be as unique and adventurous as she is.

So remember: no matter what anybody tells you, you are in charge of your own story. It doesn’t matter if it is a traditional tale or something more varied. It doesn’t matter if the people around you approve or disapprove of your job or relationship status. What does matter is how you view your life, and the journey you take while writing it.

Photo by John O’Nolan

Deborah Fike

Deborah Fike is a full-time mom and founder of Avalon Labs, which provides consultations and writing services for start-ups and online businesses. She believes in the power of self-reflection and positive change.

38 Comments

  1. Finding myself at a bit of a crossroads in my life at the moment, I found this article extremely inspiring. Hearing stories of other people’s strength and courage to change things that don’t make them happy fills me with positive energy. So thank you, thank you.

    Reply
    • Glad to hear reading this article came at the right time for you. Best wishes to you!

      Reply
  2. Deborah, thank you so much for sharing your sister’s story. You rarely hear of a doctor being unhappy, and I think that’s because there is a stigma attached to those who “serve” others being unhappy. I was a teacher, and I thought I simply had to suck it up and smile. Although I enjoyed many part of my job – like seeing kids learn something and be motivated to learn more because of their own success and not some external reward or grade, there were many unpleasant parts. I found a way to move out of teaching and start my own tutoring business where I enjoy the same things I enjoyed about teaching but not all the things I didn’t like – such as “red tape,” grading, 60 hour work weeks, and being out of shape and exhausted all the time.

    I hope that many others find their ways to happier times by reading your story!

    Reply
    • It’s true that in certain careers, you’re not supposed to admit that you are unhappy. I know my sister struggled with this because she loved being a doctor, just not the circumstances surrounding her first job. I’m very proud that she decided to branch out and find her own path in the world. Sounds like you are doing the same with teaching.

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  3. Thank you for the inspiring story! I to am not happy with my life and pray everyday for a new change and direction. I am waiting on God to open doors for me. I pray that I will not make any more mistakes and will clearly hear and see his direction for my life.

    Reply
    • I think it’s important for us all to realize that faith is vital, but it won’t change our lives on its own. We need to WALK in faith also. Meaning we need to take action based on our prayers. We are co-creators of our lives and must participate in the outcome. So, if you’re waiting for God to open doors, maybe He is waiting for you to step out in faith. I love the saying, “God can’t drive a parked car.”
      I’d you find yourself stuck, ask yourself what God has prompted you to do – just one small step, and take it. Remember, if He has given you the desire, He also will provide the path. Get stepping everyone!

      Reply
  4. Deborah,
    Thank you to you and your sister for sharing her unique journey … It was so simply written and so easy to connect with. For me its a story that I found so similar to mine in being a continuous redraft – this can at times feel like failure but a winding river still ends up at the sea, it just enjoys the journey a little more :-) Jo x

    Reply
    • I think part of the fun of living is the “redraft.” You never know where life will take you, and the change is part of the fun. Of course, it can also be nerve wracking, but sometimes you need to change things up in order to move forward.

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  5. I’m a coach who works with people to help them figure out what they really want to do with their careers. There is so much fear that people have about admitting that they are not happy (what will other people say!?) or admitting to themselves that they’ve made the “wrong” choice of career and wasted money on education and time in school and at work.

    What we forget though is that it’s all a grand adventure. None of us knows what’s going to be right for us at the beginning of the journey. Maybe it would be better if we all knew the perfect thing for us before hand (but maybe not, since the learning is where the growing is). But I do think it would be better if we didn’t waste so much time hiding who we are, afraid to experience and express ourselves, and instead, like your sister, followed the journey to see what it is that we have inside ourselves that is INCREDIBLE.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your insight. I know my sister went through some of the motions you described above, thinking she had wasted her time with med school. She had to learn to get past regretting what was done, and in the end, she ended up using her degree after all. I like to think she would have still been happy even if that had not been the case.

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  6. Thank you for sharing your sisters story. It is always inspiring to hear about people who took concrete, manageable steps to change their lives. I tire of hearing the “sell your stuff and travel the world” stories because that just isn’t practical. But moving in with your folks (even though there is a HUGE stigma attached to that for adults) and trying new things can work if you’re really stuck. So thanks to you and your sister for sharing such a practical story about making your life work and getting unstuck.

    Reply
    • My sister did feel a bit embarrassed about living with our parents, but honestly, at that point of her life, she needed a change big enough that she didn’t care. And like you said, it gave her the option of trying out other careers.

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  7. Thank you for the inspiring story! It is not easy to leave the comfortable and safe job that pays the bills even when we are unhappy BUT it is so worth it to step outside of your comfort zone and try other things. It is time that we stopped worrying what others think and live life for ourselves. Enjoying the journey is half the fun!

    Reply
    • I agree that it’s most important that our lives live up to our own expectations. We can speculate all day long about what others think, but in the end, we have to live with our own choices.

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  8. I really am the author of my own story. I keep a diary every day and I intent to publish my story in ten or twenty years. Every single day I NEED to do something outrageous and crazy to write it down. I refuse to disappoint my readers with boring stories.

    Reply
    • Sounds like you’ll have quite the book of adventures at the end of the day.

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  9. That’s a beautiful story Deborah. And I absolutely agree, life isn’t about meeting some sort of status quo. It is about creating happiness and fulfillment for oneself and for others.

    And that’s really all that counts. If you are happy and fulfilled, it doesn’t matter how much money you make, what kind of job you are working on, what you look like…

    There are people who seem to have it all: fame, money, good health, friends… yet they are deeply depressed. On the other hand, there are people who on the “outside” have only the bare minimum, yet on the “inside” they are overflowing with joy – and that’s what really counts.

    Reply
    • I like that you pointed out that life is about creating happy and fulfillment not only for yourself, but for others as well. Sometimes the people who have “nothing” but give the most are the most happy. Material wealth and career do not equate to leading the perfect life.

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  10. I really like how you gave good examples of being able to re-invent and re-create your life no matter where you are at. Particularly if it seems as thought you have the perfect life and you are un-happy. It can be very challenging to have the confidence and strength to leave your “perfect” set up and pave a new path. Thanks for sharing.

    Sarah

    Reply
    • Even if everyone thinks you’re happy, the only person who can truly know is you. Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  11. Deborah, really enjoyed reading this post – thanks so much for sharing your sister’s journey. It’s a great example of how we can all change our stories. I think one critical thing thatyour sister does is to be true to herself. She doesn’t play into society’s expectations or demands. She would have no problem saying all the jobs she’s done, that she’s single, that she’s a single Mom, etc. Often, the first thought that pops into our minds when making a life decision is what will others think (either through conditioning or just our culture/society)

    The more we live our own journey and story, and the less we live according to other people’s stories, the happier we will be. On a personal level, I gave up a higher paying legal job to do something I truly love and enjoy every single day. There is no price for the personal fulfillment.

    Reply
    • It sounds like you can relate to my sister’s story, Vishnu. A high paying job does not equate personal fulfillment. There really is no price for that.

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  12. Thank you for sharing this. I am in a life crisis at this moment. This actually lit a spark in me today.

    Reply
    • Glad to hear this article came at the right time for you.

      Reply
  13. Thanks for sharing your sister’s story Deborah. It is a great reminder that the only way to find our happiness is define success on our own terms. I wrote a series f posts helping people to explore how they define and find success recently. the approach has made a huge difference in my life and the lives of the people I work with.

    http://livingatchoice.blogspot.ca/2013/05/what-is-success.html

    Reply
  14. What a great story Deborah. As a writer, I’ve always loved the idea of using narrative processes to work through problems and issues we may have with life. The idea that you can also effectively use it to move forward – to write and rewrite your story until you are happy with it, not only in terms of your history, but in terms of what comes next – is a powerful one, I think.

    Reply
    • I made the analogy because I’m a writer too, and I found that many people judge you based on a “story” of what success means and is. But that doesn’t mean it applies to you, or that you should follow it.

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  15. Love your post about your sister “story”! Sometime we waste too much time worrying people’s thoughts toward us and we forget to live our own life. Instead, we should live our life with our own terms, a life that we always want, and write our desired storyline. We don’t have to be rich, famous or successful in people eyes. Just be yourself and walk your own path.

    Reply
    • The key is to let you be the judge of your own story. Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  16. Loved this article. Sometimes it’s hard to take the road less travelled since everyone has a defination of success. My sister isn’t happy in her medical career as well and i guess its mostly because of the hours spent at work. I will recommend this article to her. Loved it and will start right now to rewrite my story :-)

    Reply
    • I hope your sister can also find a path that is fulfilling for her. It’s hard to find the right balance, especially when you think you have what you always wanted.

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  17. Hi Deborah,

    The power of narration is truly profound. I keep a diary and find the act of writing in my diary to be very effective in creating an objective standpoint from where to assess my life and progress.

    It’s so true about the loaded questions we ask and get asked in society. There are so many implied messages in the questions most of which we never even notice – unless we’re paying attention.

    Mindfulness is a very powerful way of stepping back from our lives and ‘watching’ the mind as it processes all these overt and covert messages in conversations.

    It’s also a very powerful tool for self improvement. I used mindfulness to overcome procrastination which was one of my biggest challenges. http://bit.ly/1brjL9u

    Thanks for sharing a great article.

    Reply
  18. Deborah,
    What a story! I enjoyed, and was inspired by it! It’s interesting how lives can be so similar, yet we are strangers. I am not a doctor, but I am currently pursuing a graduate degree, single and everyone and their grandmothers is worried about my lack of children, or and husband! You make me so hopeful of a life I am yearning to have, I will walk with a new found appreciation for my life! Thanks!

    Reply
    • It’s hard to hear loved ones telling you that you are not living life the way it should be lived, but I think in the long run, it will be harder to accept that you’ve a life you don’t enjoy. Wherever life takes you, live it how you feel it should be lived, Mercy!

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  19. Deborah,

    The story about your sister is very interested and inspiring as well. I enjoyed it a lot. It takes a lot faith to do what she did. I think people should follow their heart and do what make them happy. It’s not about your job title or how much money you make; it’s about what makes you happy. I’m in situation that kind of similar to yours, except mine is not about career, it’s about relationship. Being married for 10 years with no kids, I found myself in a position where I’m very unhappy with no matter what my wife does. To make story short, she has two kids that are already graduated college. I don’t have any and would like to have one or two. Already know, I can’t get that from her because she passed the age of having children. I want a family but she wants a husband. I feel miserable and don’t know what to do to be a happy man again. I’m thinking of finding myself an apartment and leave the house since I already discussed with her my unhappiness. Please, any advise for me would be very appreciate!

    Reply
    • Joshua,

      Relationships are hard. Having been through a divorce myself, I know how difficult the decision can be to stay or to go. The best advice I can give is to find a marriage counselor that both of you can relate to. My ex-husband and I went to one, and she did not advocate for or against the marriage; she simply tried to get us to discuss our feelings openly and learn to be better communicators so we could make the best decision possible. It helped me during that tough time. Take care,

      Deborah

      Reply
  20. Well said, Deborah! I think of life as a “choose your own ending” story where there are plot twists and unexpected events; but you always get to choose your path. It’s not really about knowing the ending, but the interesting things that happen along the way. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
    • Love the analogy, Rachael. We don’t always have the outcomes we expect, but we do have control over our decisions.

      Reply

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