“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” – Carl Gustav Jung
It is revealed evidently in Joseph Campbell’s “Hero of a Thousand Faces,” that oftentimes, the way we understand human psychology as it pertains to the world around us is through telling stories. This famous work explores the idea of a monomyth— a psychological truth embedded deep within us relayed over and over again— for thousands of years in the form of mythology. This narrative-centric element of human psychology is very useful and, if used properly, can help us understand a lot about both ourselves and other people. It is for this reason life can be conceptualized through the stories we tell ourselves.
When something “makes sense” in a story, it is not arbitrary. It is the subconscious putting together puzzle pieces. It is the articulation of what the subconscious believes, in a fluid and digestible way.
An exercise I do is to create stories in my head featuring people I know and see how the narrative “naturally” unveils itself. While certainly subject to error, I find the process quite revealing. Imagine taking a group of people and mentally putting them into a murder mystery novel. After thinking through different possibilities, one outcome will likely feel most natural or make the most sense. There will be one character or person who feels most likely to be the culprit. What does this tell you about how your subconscious views that person?
William Ernest Henley’s famous poem, “Invictus,” ends with the lines, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” In a similar vein, you are the writer of your own life and the protagonist of your novel. The choices we make affect the plot of our lives. So, It is important we consider the novel as a whole before continuing writing.
If you were a literary character, what would make sense in terms of your character development? Where is your character going psychologically, ideologically and geographically? What should they be aspiring for? What type of friendships and romantic relationships would suit your character? What does the ideal ending look like? But the most important question is whether or not your character’s actions make sense within the greater sense of the novel. If you find the answer is no when analyzing your own behavior perhaps you should start acting like your own ideal self.
There are plenty of things outside of our control. Yet, this does not change the fact there are certain steps one can take, and certain “plot directions,” that make more sense than others. Unforeseen life events merely change what the ideal path forward is, just like how a ship must adapt its movement during a storm. One of the most famous novels in history, “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy, even incorporates the tragedy and chaos of the world into its plot. Yet, despite the characters’ lives being thrown out of alignment repeatedly, they always act in such a way that “makes sense.”
Life is full of an inexhaustible amount of choices and options. It can be hard to know what we want out of life so I think the fundamental question “how should I live?” is better left to the subconscious.
In my own life, viewing myself as a literary character has helped me immensely. It has given me greater clarity into who I am, what I want and where I am going. It has helped me to refine my decision-making processes and has caused me to make some decisions against my immediate gratification because they make sense in the greater context of the overarching story. It’s also quite fun.
Take control of your story. Discover who you really are. Doing so will provide you with a new way of viewing the world that will hopefully lead to a life ending with “happily ever after.”