While you may not need all this information right now or ever, it’s good to be aware of these potential pitfalls and to know you can choose to overcome them. The cool thing about this section is that we’re going to acknowledge these six saboteurs and fight them with solutions. If you get stuck along the way, come back to this chapter to help you decide what’s stopping your story and get you going again.
The Damaging Duo
External critics are the easiest to recognize. These are the people in your life who may choose to discourage your project. They may not say anything negative, but you know that those raised eyebrows or rolling eyes are saying: “Your life is too ordinary to matter – it’s a waste of your time.” Some people will say this to you and possibly worse.
You have choices when these detractors attempt to stop you:
- You can believe their lies and quit which allows you to blame them and be their victim. Everyone – including these critics – loses when this is your decision.
- Or, you can investigate their motives and yours.
As Legacy Givers work through the wounds caused by external critics, we discover that those who those who offer harsh opinions or negative judgments are very often WRONG.
The first step in this process is to ask me: What motivates these unkind words? We can’t know without asking and most of us won’t because we’re simply not up to more condemnation. I prefer to resist conflict as well, and I don’t want to assume anything negative about these critics, but sometimes it can’t be avoided. In private, I consider what I already know they are going through or notice how they treat others and can often decipher if they are out to help or hinder me.
Tip: Save your answers to these questions so you can look back at them if the situation arises again.
- Has this person ever been jealous of you or put themselves in direct competition with you? This unhealthy competition challenges everything you say or do. Names and explicit details may not be needed – write intuitively and see what you discover. You may recognize that uncomfortable feeling you get in your gut when you think about telling this person about something that matters to you and are certain they will do their best to one-up you or worse.
Unless your external critics are driven by the purest of motives, reasons, and wisdom, their comments are of no value to you.
- Is she concerned that you’ll write about her? Has he shared his fears or his secrets with you? How can you assure him or her you will keep your promises? If you feel the need to write about a painful story that involves this person, be sure there is real value in it for everyone.
- Is it possible your critic/s are afraid of your success? (Success here is defined by the fact you find value in your life stories. Your confidence can be very threatening to others.)
These naysayers can love you and still want to rein you in.
- Some may even claim they are trying to shield you from hurt, but are they trying to protect themselves? If your story has a mess or two in it (and whose doesn’t?) are they afraid someone will think less of them because of their connection to you if you write about your shortcomings? Explore this and determine that you are going to forgive them for their self-centered fears in advance. Then, if the story is truly part of your Legacy, write it in a way that damages no one.
These three steps are my declaration of independence from these unhealthy motives. I don’t use real names when working through this – I come up with a code name only I understand.
- I name my hurt and write about the situation with total abandon. No editing is allowed – spelling, grammar, and punctuation don’t matter. For me, this purging resembles projectile vomiting on to the page. The writing is hot, vehement, and at times, vile. If I’m using my laptop, I hit the keys hard. If I’m writing by hand, messy. I place only one requirement on myself at this point: by the end of this exercise, I am going to forgive whoever hurt me. I may or may not talk to them about this because hurting them isn’t the goal.
- If the experience is valuable, I write this part of my Legacy again in the fresh light of forgiveness. My perspective at this point is about the lesson this story taught me.
- I delete or otherwise destroy the original draft. This final act is by far the most important to me and represents me forgiving them and myself if my hurt has become anger, which is often the case.
Free yourself to be 100 percent forgiving and forgiven.
Your internal critic is the voice that sounds like you or someone from your past whose criticism of you has become part of your inner dialogue. I cannot tell you how many times I let one negative comment cancel out the positive ones. Each time I say them to myself silently in my heart, these words take on my voice and become part of my self-belief system.
This critic is the most dangerous of because this one is always on duty.
When we let these our let our offenses rule we sometimes react defensively and write Legacies that lecture. This technique in personal storytelling is hard on the Legacy Giver and impossible for Legacy Receivers. There’s an implied standard that says the Legacy Giver is always right and a demand that readers come to the same conclusions.
The Legacy Receiver is likely to respond with his or her internal dukes up in defense. The writing feels like an attack instead of a humble and gracious invitation into your life. Reading a Legacy that lectures feels like bullying because it is.
The best way to find out if you’re writing this way is to read what you’ve written out loud into a recorder and then listen. Do you sound angry, defensive, condemning, or harsh? Does the tone of your voice condemn you or someone else?
I succumbed to this technique once. I thought I was sharing my truest passion with the purest of motives on a certain topic. When I read it to myself, I was offended by my attitude and had not captured the beautiful passion flowing in my heart. Instead, I gave a predictable and scorching lecture. It was awful.
Perhaps the worst outcome when we choose to lecture with our Legacy is we are guilty of imposing two story stoppers on others – expectation and comparison.
Does this mean you can’t share your deepest beliefs? No. Or that you should make sure your stories will never offend someone else? No, again. You can write anything, and everything you believe is valuable to your Legacy.
Your tone impacts Legacy Receivers as much as what you write.
Another side of this coin is that we often use our internal critic to condemn ourselves. Self-bullying is as dangerous and damaging to you as any other misguided critic and is not humility.
When I’ve written from this place, my stories are full of self-doubt tinged with anger.
Shame Off You!
People often tell me there are life experiences they want to share, but can’t. They know the stories are vital to a full and rich Legacy, but they are afraid. I get that, don’t you? We all have skeletons in the closets of our hearts we wish would cease to rattle and draw our attention back to them.
Now and then, regret tries to sneak out of the darkness and into the light of the page. Mine often feel like they are drenched in a dark, thick sludge of shame and stink.
Over time, the self-disgrace grows as we water and fertilize our fears with the scary question: “What if someone finds out?”
Fear this deep causes our souls to quake.
When this happens, it’s time to face these secrets. If you choose to do this exercise, write your answers down on paper you will feel comfortable discarding. I used recipe cards. Or maybe you’ll choose to let those brief notes be the start of a Legacy story. Trust your gut instincts.
- What is the worst thing that would happen if I wrote this as part of my Legacy?
- What if I read this in someone else’s Legacy – how would I respond?
- Would writing about this help or hinder me or someone else?
If you were right, and the story is not meant to be share, it’s time to “shred your shame.” Or burn it and leave this exercise free from the regret and shame.
While this part is similar to an external critic, it varies slightly.
Not all expectations are bad, but some are freedom killers.
The formatting was excellent, and I’d done a great job editing, the story was written with honesty and authenticity that met my self-expectations. Now, because one person wanted more than I could give, I decided the whole thing was a bad idea because there was no way I could live up to the expectations of one Receiver. I decided it was better to quit instead of inviting more hurt into my life. My Legacy wasn’t stalled; it was stopped.
Here’s what I did when the nudge in my hear to continue would not let me give up:
- I asked this person what she expected. Then I asked myself, “Is there any validity in her answer and if there is, what action can I take?
- Why does her opinion matter so much to me? Am I letting this person determine the worth of my Legacy?
- If not, why does her response bother me? Are my expectations of myself too high? Or am I using her response as an excuse to quit?
When we let the expectations of others or our own unreasonable self-expectations rule, we silence the power of our Legacies.
The High Cost of Comparison
We all compare our lives to those of others. There are two main emotional results from this story stopper:
- We feel superior (my life is far more valuable than yours) when we’re not.
- We feel inferior (my life stories are of no value) when we’re not.
At a large event, one man shared this experience with me. Part of his life experience includes a crime committed against him by a family member. When he confided in a friend that he was going to write his Legacy with this experience as its nucleus, his friend said, “Who will want to read your story when someone far more famous than you has already written about it and is talking about it on late night TV?”
After telling me the devastation he had endured, he asked, “If no one is going to read it, why go through the pain of writing about it?”
By this time, we were both in tears, and I choked out, “Your story matters because no one can tell it the way you can or reach the same people you can. There may be someone here or out there who needs to know about the pain you have lived through and the victories you are now living in.”
At the end of the event, when asked if anyone had a question or story to share, this man stood up, told this part of his life story, and committed to all of us that he was going to share this as part of his Legacy.
Within minutes, men and women surrounded him. They were asking him to send them this part of his history. Many had been hurt the same way or loved someone in a similar circumstance and they wanted to share his story.
If he had let the comparison comment stop him, hundreds of hurting hearts would have missed out on his Legacy of hope and healing.
As far as I know, he’s still sharing this Legacy story everywhere he goes.
Crush comparison before it contaminates this truth: your story matters.
Factor in Your Fear
I don’t have that mysterious malady called writer’s block, but I do have the occasional flare of fear. It usually shows up as an excuse masquerading as a reason, and when I let it rule over me, the words stop.
Sometimes a photo causes a catch in my heart, or a memory keeps coming to mind when I’m walking, or doing the dishes. Now and then I’ll smell, see, or hear something, or can’t sleep at night because a moment from my life will not leave me alone.
Instead of writing the story, I resist it. That’s when I ask myself this two-part question:
Joy, what are you afraid of and why?
My answer may be a few words to a few pages before I reach the truth. This process reminds me of the danger, strength, and physical grace that are involved in the sword fights I’ve seen in movies.
Either my fear will nag my Legacy to death or my God-infused courage will defeat it and empower my Legacy.
Your Story Matters!
Here are the other Your Life a Legacy posts out here so far:
Thanks to Pixabay for the desert graphic that leads off this post!