At the age of Sixteen, I knew everything there was to know about everything.
(dont all teens?)
Fiercely independent and willful, I despised being told what to do…by anyone. I equated instruction with criticism and criticism with insult.
At the age of Sixteen, I was also embarking on the journey of discovering the Love of My Life . Four years older, Bill (we shall call him), was a handsome, confident charmer. In my bayou community, across the lake from New Orleans, he was easily the most handsome young man by far.
I mean…He drove a motorcycle AND a pick-up truck…what more could a girl ask for?
One hot summer day, Bill drove his motorcycle over to take me riding along the Bayou. I loved riding behind Bill on the bike. Clasping my arms around his waist, feeling the summer breeze on my face, arms and legs, I felt free…and wild!
But that day there would be no freedom. The very word had been taken out of my vocabulary for the following 14 days. That’s right, I had been grounded. (With my rebellious teenage behavior, being grounded had become a common occurance). My smart mouth, (definition: the ill-chosen words flung angrily at my mother upon her directive of cleaning the kitchen) had resulted in the eternal sentence of two weeks.
I delivered the grim news to Bill, who laughed. With a flash of anger, I flounced down upon the stoop and rested my chin upon my hands, as Bill tried to throw out an “I told you so”. He reminded me of his previous warning and advice to watch my mouth around my parents. Rolling my eyes, I told him that his reminder had been “too little…too late”.
Suddenly, Bill’s voice became hard and stern.
“Angie, go inside!” He ordered.
I looked up, my eyes flashing.
“What? This is my house! You cant order me to go inside? If you want to leave, just go. But dont be a jerk!”
“Go inside Now!” He barked.
Hurt and furious, I got up and stormed back into the house, slamming the door behind me. I stood with my back to the door fuming at his nerve. But then, I could here him still on the stoop.
Curiously, I stepped on my tip-toes to peer out of the door’s cut-out window. Bill was poking the shrubbery next to the stoop with a long branch from one of the oak trees in the yard. The branch ended in a fork, which Bill was sticking into the bush. When he withdrew the branch, I could see a rather large, brownish snake on the end. Bill took the stick and snake to the water’s edge and flung them both into the bayou.
Realizing the sequence of events, I opened the door and ran outside to catch a glimpse of the reptile.
Apparently, Bill had spied the snake in the shrubbery next to where I had been sitting. He thought it resembled a timber rattler or another dangerous type. Once he had picked up the snake, Bill recognized that it had been a common water snake, which was non-venemous.
But it had really unnerved me to know a snake of any kind had been that close to me. Also unnerving to me was how quickly I had gotten the whole situation wrong! When Bill had yelled at me, I formed a narrative in my head that Bill didnt love me anymore; didnt want to even look at me anymore. When, in fact, he was trying to save me from the snake.
The narrative I created, was based entirely on my primitive understanding of the facts. Once the facts came to light, I felt grateful that I hadnt made a foolish decision based on that faulty narrative.
We all write narratives in our mind based on our perceptions and whatever information we have on hand.
Narratives can be helpful when based on evidence and facts. Narratives help our mind to grasp the significance of a situation or event. But narratives created without facts could be unhealthy and cause regrettable things to occur.
Let’s put this into a workplace context.
Jan worked hard at her job as a hospital social worker. She often arrived for work early to plan out her day. She enjoyed an excellent rapport with clients and was able to assist them in getting the services needed. Her paperwork, turned in timely, was detailed and concise. In her evaluations, she was always ranked “exceeds expectations”.
Therefore, when a promotion to lead social worker in her unit was announced, Jan submitted her interest. However, the position went to a social worker with less experience.
Extremely hurt, Jan felt devalued. She created a narrative in her head that the Supervisor didnt like her. She told herself, that she would never have opportunities with this job, as long as the supervisor remained. She stewed for weeks, allowing her narrative to build. When the supervisor spoke to her, Jan noticed the cold looks. When the supervisor made suggestions on her documentation, Jan knew they were over-critical and petty. It became too much. Jan decided to put in her notice of resignation. When the (genuinely surprised) supervisor asked her about it, Jan simply said she was unfulfilled in the job.
However, a week before her last day, another supervisor in the oncology unit asked Jan why she had not wanted the new position. Upon Jan’s look of confusion, the colleague explained that the hospital planned to add another unit and that her supervisor had informed the team that she had not promoted Jan to lead social worker because she had planned to submit Jan’s name to the program manager for supervisor over the new unit.
Stunned, Jan realized that her entire narrative had been based on assumptions with no factual basis. Jan went to her supervisor and began a meaningful, honest dialogue. Jan is now a manager at the hospital and has learned to control her narrative.
And me…I have grown physically, mentally and emotionally since I was that 16 year old girl. Turns out, Bill was not the only love of my life…just the first. Over the years, I developed a much more stable narrative, based mostly on facts and experiences.
But…on occasion (thankfully not often), I have resorted to old pitfall of ” jumping to conclusions first and asking for clarity second”. Now I am able to recognize pretty soon when I operate under a faulty narrative.
But I’m learning and growing every day.