One evening, after mustering some courage, a man goes to his wife and says:
"Honey, I know we've always loved living in LA... But, I've just received an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity -- really, it would change my entire career! It's just... well, we would need to move to New York."
New York! His wife recoils in horror. The eastcoast?
She thinks of the great friends and community they would leave behind. She thinks of the boat they would need to sell, the winter coats they would need to purchase and wear for six months of the year. Involuntarily, she shivers.
And yet, after a long, thoughtful discussion, together the couple decides to move to Manhattan.
At this point, the decision is made. But the wife still has a choice to make: Around what kind of story she will tell herself about it.
On the one hand, she can tell herself that this is a wildly good thing for her husband and a small price for her; part of their long-term commitment to each other (and a new adventure to boot!).
... On the other, she can tell herself that leaving LA represents a tremendous loss for her, of the community (and climate) she knows and loves, perhaps even of her agency over her own life.
Here is the million dollar question: How will the story she chooses to tell, affect the rest of her life?
Because here's the thing: a story is NEVER an accurate history of what happened. Rather, we are all constantly engaged in making what one researcher calls “narrative choices," that ultimately determine how we make the meaning of our lives.
And these choices compound.
Fast forward a few years, and the first story could easily become a "redemption story" -- one that transitions from bad ("we were forced to uproot our whole lives") to good ("and ultimately built a great new life in New York"). The second story, given time, is primed to become a "contamination story" -- one that transitions from good ("we were happy together in LA") to bad ("... until he made us move to New York, and then it fell apart.")
Here's the interesting thing: According to one study, people who tell redemption stories tend to be more "generative" (i.e. driven to contribute to society and future generations), and tend to rate their lives as more meaningful.
People who tell contamination stories, conversely, tend to be less generative, more anxious and depressed -- and tend to rate their lives as less coherent -- compared to those who tell redemptive stories.
Which seems important, doesn't it? Who among us doesn't want to make a contribution? Who among us doesn't want to be free from depression and anxiety? Who among us doesn't want to feel that our lives have meaning?
So, if you were to be brutally honest: When shitty things happen, which kind of story do you choose to tell?
Because it is always a choice. Which means you can change it, at any moment. Which is the definition of agency.
And if you are a leader, to whom others look in times of disaster or uncertainty -- well then, it will fall to YOU to know how to reframe the story, so that others might see some redemption in it.