There’s a quote I love. I use it frequently as I journal. It says:

You are the author of your own story.

We tend to forget that.

I don’t think that’s by accident. I think that’s human nature. Right here in present time, I think the higher-ups thought that conformity was and is mandatory for good living. Here’s what I mean.

When I was a little girl, my mother made me aware that women are self-sacrificial. To be a good wife and mother, it meant putting everyone else’s needs above your own.

I’ve had bosses over the years who taught me to work “for the good of the company.” In our hearts, we all know we’re replaceable. No matter how much we tell ourselves, “nobody else could do this job,” it simply isn’t true. So we do what we’re told, often without asking questions. We’re just biding our time.

Teachers don’t care about true creativity. They have a mission of conformity. You must fit between the goalposts of what is acceptable behavior, or risk doing poorly on tests. So you conform. Just try and do your own thing …

Of course, I could go on and on. The media sells you certain ideas. Governments have their own agendas. And don’t even get me started on religion.

By the time you reach your forties and fifties, all of that takes its toll. I see it all the time.

Like Carol who wrote me:

“My kids are out on their own. My mom and dad are gone. My husband has a busy career, and I don’t see him very much. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do now.”

Can you relate?

Or maybe you’re more like Jackie:

“I thought I was doing all of this for me. I got the degree, got a job, moved up the ladder. I never had kids, divorced years ago, and don’t have a lot of friends. Now I don’t even think I like this job. What do I do now?”

We do everything for a reason. But sometimes it isn’t our reason. We’re doing it for everyone else. And when we discover that – whoa.

Everyone has an agenda. It’s easy to fall into line and do it to conform.

We’re writing a story, but it isn’t our own.

And it doesn’t just happen when you’re in grade school, when you develop friendships in high school, or marry your best friend.

It morphs, and changes. It impacts you throughout your life.

Discovering your inner soul

I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to do with my life.

My mother didn’t give me a choice. As one of the first Gen Xers, I had the freedom of going to college and selecting any major my heart desired. She was denied the opportunity to go to college because she was “just a girl,” so she made sure I went.

Yet without a lot of peers to look up to, or knowledge on what I could do with an education, I had no idea where to start. My dad suggested a business degree because of its universal applications. That’s how I graduated with a bachelor’s in finance.

I “fell” into job after job for its convenience, for its promotion opportunity, for its salary. I never thought about it. I did it for the money.

That’s how I could afford the townhome, which morphed into a house. New cars. Lots of vacations. A private school for my daughter.

Until one day, it all crashed around me. I had a good life with lots of “stuff.”

But I was working around the clock, seven days a week. I was always busy. I never slept.

I tried to keep up this image with people around me. But internally, it was taking its toll.

I jumped at the chance for a self-care retreat. A weekend far away from everything, where I could reconnect with myself.

I cried on my way to the ranch where we were staying. Sobbing at one point, I pulled my car off the side of the road, and let the tears flow.

I remember one exercise in particular where our coach had us create a list of one-hundred items we wanted in our lives. If you’ve never done this before, I highly suggest you do it.

The first ten are straightforward: a better job, a bigger house, a nicer car, a vacation in Paris.

The next ten stretches you a bit further. Because once you’ve changed your current life with things on your wishlist, you have to think deeper. There are only so many cars a person needs.

As you move into coming up with ideas for the fifty, sixty, and seventy range, you start diving deep within your heart. That’s when things really get interesting. You discover that you’ve always wanted to do really amazing things.

Like bake amazing vegan cakes for a living.

Or help people recover from cancer.

Or donate a million shoes to people around the world.

This is where you find yourself. This is where you start to discover more of the passion that lives within.

I’m not going to kid you; it isn’t as easy as sitting down and creating your “100 list.” I started there. I learned how to think deep. And it’s been a wild ride ever since.

But it’s never over. Because we change as people every day.

Our story never ends. There’s always another chapter to write. More twist and turns to create who you are meant to become.

Who’s writing your narrative

Narrative is more than a story. It’s more about the process of what it took to get the story told. It’s the details, the individual pieces, the chapters in the story. It’s the way your story unfolds, or the way each piece is connected to each event.

If your mother is guiding your life and making decisions for you, she is, in effect, controlling the narrative.

If your identity is built around your kids and you do everything for them, when that part of your life disappears, it can be challenging to take back control of how your life is being written.

You lose control of the “pen and paper.” Someone else is typing away on your “keyboard” and taking charge of your events.

To take it back is hard.

It starts with recognition.

Years ago, when I realized I was working 24/7, seven days a week, I realized I’d fallen into events that were beyond my control. I was listening to other business people tell me how to run my business. I was listening to the media who told me about the economy. I heard friends and family dictate acceptable behavior. I played by the rules to ensure we never stood out. I conformed to be accepted.

Written here, it sounds negative. I don’t mean that at all. It’s a process. It’s what we buy into as human beings.

We choose our surroundings. We buy into beliefs. We select the way we live based on the things in our world. And that’s okay.

Until it’s not.

That’s what happens sometime in midlife when you ask: Is this all there is?

What’s next?

And that’s when you take back the pen and paper. You upgrade to a new computer. You tap out a new story. You start dreaming of the next chapter.

Recognition is nine-tenths of the battle.

If you recognize it’s time for a new chapter, congratulations. You no longer have to accept the story of you the way others intend to write it.

Take it back.

By boldly stepping up and becoming the writer of your story, by controlling your narrative, you can find fulfillment in places you never knew existed.