"Ever Since..."

Become of the author of your story.

The Gift

I haven’t spoken much about my career before dentistry.  Some of that is because it was a serious left turn from a seminary, ministry background into dentistry.  Lots of people don’t quite understand it.  Some of it was because of the way that experience ended.

Joanna and I moved to Columbus, Ohio in 2002 without kids in what was supposed to be the most amazing season of our lives.  We were given the opportunity to work with some of our closest friends to build a mega-church in one of the fastest growing areas of Columbus.  It was a dream team of sorts.  We all had proven success on our own and now we were coming together to build something remarkable.

Joanna and I were ecstatic. We bought a home that would allow us to start a family and settle down long-term. We were living the dream.

It wasn’t long after we arrived in Columbus, that I began to realize things may not be as promising as we thought.  Organizational dysfunction, team chemistry issues, failure of empowerment, hyper-paranoia and just overall bad leadership became constant themes throughout my employment.  

But I stayed and fought through it.  I was there for five years. Five years of starts and stops. Five years of professional frustration.  Five years of feeling like I was the crazy one.  Five years of trying to fix myself so that the whole thing would work. I gave it my best shot. No one was going to call me a quitter.

I had many conversations with the lead pastor along the way.  I would be transparent about my feelings and concerns. He would always listen emphatically and together we would try to work towards a solution. However, the longer it went, the more I realized that the issue wasn’t me.  It was coming from the top down. And no matter how hard I tried to fix it, it would never change.  

During one of our very last conversations I tipped my hand that I wasn’t feeling like this was a good fit. I had been there for five years giving it my best shot, but maybe it was time to move on.  His solution for me was to take over cleaning the school at night (the church also had a fairly large private elementary and middle school on the property).  The recent janitor had just quit so it would be a win-win situation. “It will be good for you.  Give you time on your own to think and reflect.  Do some hard manual work.  Suffering is good for us. Plus, I can use that to give you a raise.”

I hadn’t had a raise in the entire five years.

For a minute it made sense.  “Yeah… suffering.  Maybe that’s what I need.  Maybe this whole thing is selfish on my end.  I just need to push my needs to the side and serve.  Suffering will help that.”

For whatever reason, I had one of my first moments of clarity.  In what was a moment of true humility and brokenness on my part, I decided to put myself first.  I said no.  I was done.  We were leaving.

“Where will you go?  If you walk away now, you’ll never find your way back. This decision could ruin you.”

He probably meant those statements to scare me into reconsidering, but they actually galvanized my decision. I stood firm. In five years of a lot of wrong, this was right.

Back then it took so much guts to make that decision. I was the first one on the team to stand up and say enough. I know all my other friends thought I was crazy and many didn’t talk to me for a long time, but over the next couple of years, they would all make their own decisions.  One by one they left for the same reasons.

During this time, we would begin to hear stories of alcoholism, affairs, misappropriation of money and violence from the lead pastor.  The whole thing culminated in a fist fight in the parking lot with a neighbor where he was arrested and taken to jail.  The board members flew into town, changed the locks on the door and removed him from power.  

See, I wasn’t the crazy one.  

At the time I couldn’t see it, but that experience taught me to trust myself.  It taught me to listen to my intuition.  Throughout my life there has always been a little voice inside me that speaks.  Over the years, I’ve learned to trust it because it’s always been right.  It had been whispering to me for five years. I was just trying to convince it that it was wrong.  “This will all work out, you’ll see.  I just need a little more time.  He didn’t mean it like that.  This work that we’re doing is so important.”

Ever since I’ve learned to trust that voice.  That experience was a gift.

Theory of Narrative Identity

Psychology expert Dan McAdams lectures and writes on the “Theory of Narrative Identity.”  A simple framework for how the human personality develops over time.

McAdams says we were all born with traits, talents and gifts that develop throughout our life.  In our early childhood we begin to become aware of goals and values.  We develop beliefs and begin to strive for outcomes.  Finally, late into our teen years, we begin to tell ourselves stories about our journey and our experiences.  We ascribe certain value to events and people and create meaning for our future.

McAdams sums it up by saying we are all born as actors (traits, talents, gifts), we begin to develop agency (goals, values, outcomes) and ultimately become the author of our own stories (narrative, meaning, understanding).  

We are all actors, we all have agency over our lives, but more importantly we are the author of our stories.  

We are the stories that we have created.

It’s a powerful thought.  

Your life is the story you have chosen to tell. Your business is the story that you have chosen to tell. Your friends and family, marriage and significant relationships are all the product of the stories we’ve chosen to write.

I find that most of us live as agents.  We create vision, we set goals and we have a sense that we can somewhat control and affect outcomes along the way.  This is why the market for productivity journals is so big right now.  We’re buying a small book of paper pages, but what we’re really buying is agency.  The ability to decide.  The ability to control where our life is going.

However, oftentimes for most of us, there’s a belief that the story is beyond our reach.  The narrative is being written by someone (or something) that may or may not have our best interest in mind. There’s an obvious randomness in the universe that we succumb to, allowing it to write our story.  We do the best we can, but we submit to an unknowing author. Life tends to become lots of hard work and fingers crossed, hoping for luck along the way.  

Others live purely as actors, relying on their gifts and talents. They build a scaffolding around what they’re “good at” and rely solely on their strengths as the sail that directs their boat on the open water, drifting wherever the wind may blow. They’ve never developed a sense of agency in their life. Talent is the agent. Their gifts opening the doors for opportunities and directing the actor to the next scene. The idea of story is something that will be told by loved ones somewhere down the road when all is said and done.

Yes to the actor! And yes to agency as well!  But a bigger YES to the author.  You are the writer.  You hold the pen in your hand.  

Of course life can be random. And of course many events are out of our control, but when we realize the power that our narrative has over any random event, we take control over the story.  We change the belief system of the actor and empower them to live a journey of true fulfillment.

We can take the author with all their goals and desires and weave together a beautiful story that you truly want to live.  

So when I say, that experience was a gift… it’s because I’m in control of the story.  I get to decide how the chapter is written. Where others tried to create their own headlines: “If you walk away, you’ll never recover,” “You’ll never be happy pursuing something else,” “You won’t ever come back,” I decided it would be a priceless gift that was given to the actor.

He almost looked right over it because of the intensity of his goals and dreams, but years later when he opened it up again, the light hit the surface and reflected in a way that he had never seen before. The emotion surfaced in waves as he sat there holding the jewel in his hand realizing that it had been with him all along.

That’s the story I decided to write.

Ever Since….

If you notice, many stories like this start with “Ever since…”

“Ever since I left the church…”
“Ever since Dad died…”
“Ever since I started my business…”
“Ever since I met him…”
“Ever since the babies…”

“Ever since…” becomes a milestone, a marker, a sign along the way that tells us a story starts here.  Most of us begin those statements without even realizing we’re an author reading the story. We’re beginning a chapter.  But who wrote it?

The crazy thing about 2020 is that everyone is having an “Ever since…” moment.  For the first time in history, we’ve been given a truly global, shared experience.  COVID19 created a moment when our world will never be the same.

“Ever since COVID…”

Fill in the blank.

“Ever since COVID when I had to close my doors…”
“Ever since COVID when we lost mom…”
“Ever since COVID when the PPP money ran out…”
“Ever since COVID when I decided I no longer wanted to be in that relationship…”

That’s one of the reasons why this time has been so difficult on relationships.  It was an “Ever since…” moment. Some people looked down the road and realized they no longer wanted to live that story.  So they took agency and made a change.

Others also made a change.

“Ever since COVID I decided to put my family first and not travel as much.”
“Ever since COVID I decided to pull the trigger on that project I had been putting off for five years.
“Ever since COVID I decided to take the commitment I made to my spouse seriously.”
“Ever since COVID I decided to invest in my leadership and be there for my team.”

Here’s the thing: we get to decide how that conversation goes.  We’re the author. Was 2020 a gift? Was it tragic? Was it a positive turning point?  Was it the death of one thing or the beginning of another?

Even now, we’re hearing the story start all around us.  “Ever since COVID…” Our friends are doing it, our coworkers are doing it, our family is doing it, even we’re doing it. 2020 is a mile marker.  It’s a sign on the road that says a story starts here.  

Many times, “Ever since…” moments are unexpected.  They’re events, surprises, blindsides that are out of our control. The unique part of 2020 is that we know this is “Ever since…” moment.  We see it now. We know we will be acknowledging this year for the rest of our lives.  So we get to decide now what the story will be.  

What do we want to look back and say?

“Ever since COVID…” what?

You get to be the author of that story.

Learn More

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