Gillian's Blog


Stories We Tell

“You don’t have to believe your story,” she told me. This is session three and I have come nose to nose with my self-limitations, the ones built from beliefs that started life either as hand-me-downs or stories told in my own head to explain How Things Are.


So here’s a proposal for you: human beings are defined by story. Think about it – is there any other living thing on this planet with the capacity to tell stories? Anything is possible, but the answer must be, as far as we are aware, no.


We try to draw a line between truth and fiction, but how can we? A report in a newspaper of happened events is narrated by an individual whose telling is inevitably a process informed by their perceptions and their interpretations of those perceptions. The meaning we give to events is the result of a learning process: we learn from our families of origin, from our culture or subculture, from our history and yes, from stories. This process is inevitably a form of recycling – yes, we may contribute our own unique insights, but the source material has a lineage, just as each of us exists in the context of a wider community.


Even when we describe observed events, we are simultaneously creating and perpetuating a story. We might like to think we are ‘telling it like it is’ but really we are both telling it like we perceive it to be and telling it like it has always been, because every description is rife with interpretation and every interpretation carries the infection of a collective understanding of what constitutes ‘truth.’ A bigger story has always already been told. It is our collective agreement with this story that enables society to exist. But don’t confuse it with the truth.


Because, beyond what we can collectively agree on, truth is always personal. Richard Bandler and John Grinder, the founders of NLP, tell us that “The map is not the territory,” meaning that each of us an internal representation of reality that is not reality itself. The presupposition here is that there is a territory that is separate from the many maps. And, without wishing to get all quantum on you, I am not at all sure that this is so. I think perhaps story is all there is.


Christine Comaford said, “Everything’s an illusion, so pick one that’s empowering.” And so I ask you, dear reader: that story you are telling yourself – is it empowering? Or is it part of a self-limiting belief?


If you are ready to be free from self-limitation but need a little help, drop me a line.


Liberation is an inside job

For much of my life, I have been an angry woman. In the early and mid ’80s, everyone involved in the women’s movement, it seemed, was angry. Bitter with disappointment that, as hard as we had struggled, the revolution had not yet come. The old power structures were still in place and while the head of state and the head of government were both women (Her Maj and Thatcher respectively), the sea of suited men was as reluctant as ever to part and let the women through.


It can seem like the power structures only change as fast as it takes for those who resist the change to die. But die they do and the slow evolution towards something closer to equality can look like radical change from the distance of 30 years. When Justin Trudeau answers a journalist’s question about the gender parity of his cabinet with the words, “Because it is 2015,” he simultaneously asserts that this is, of course, how it should be while overlooking his own status as just another white man in a long line of white men to lead Canada.


The uncomfortable truth, however, is that, take away all of the power structures and the sexist attitudes, women can only hold positions of power to the degree that we believe we have the right to do so. It is, of course, very complicated. We weren’t raised to believe in our equal right to be leaders – the first hurdle we have to clear is that of our internalised limiting beliefs. And those limiting beliefs are still reflections of how things are: women still earn 10-30% less than men, still represent just 5% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, still represent just 22% of seats in parliament.


Even quoting these numbers, I feel my anger start to rise. I want the world to change! I want the world to change faster! And along with the anger, I feel my sense of powerlessness start to rise. It feels like there is so little I can do to bring about change.


I back up. I remind myself that these numbers are historical, that the data is old as soon as it is collected. We are in a process, a steady movement towards balance.


I remind myself that I am not powerless, not in the world, not in my own community, not in my own head. Middle age is a beautiful thing. Plain longevity seems to bestow upon us the ability to no longer give a shit. I never did conform anyway. Now, for the most part, I barely even notice what it is I am supposed to be conforming to.


It’s taken me a long long time to understand that liberation is an inside job. That what the outside world accepts as the truth is only a story that a majority of people accept. As long as I am waiting for that outside world to change, I am not free. As long as I am waiting for the external circumstances of my life to change by a hand other than my own, I am not free. And since that lack of liberty is unbearable to me, I will do everything I can to create the world in my gloriously optimistic image.


In practical terms, this means that I constantly challenge the stories I tell myself about my limitations. I will do the same for other women, when appropriate (and sometimes, when not – sorry!) I don’t pay too much attention to ‘how things are’ – I limit my news intake. I remember that the people who are unable to accept the basic fact that all are equal are suffering from their own internal oppression.


To all of my sisters everywhere, happy International Women’s Day. May we soon no longer need it.