Living Your Own Story


in Happiness,Personal Growth

Somewhere, east of the sun and west of the moon, a little girl admires her pale pink tights and soft leather slippers. She adjusts her feathery tutu and says, “I’m going to be a ballerina when I grow up.”

From behind the newspaper, her father distantly responds, “That’s a nice, honey, but wouldn’t you like to be a doctor?”

Somewhere, east of the sun and west of the moon, a teenager hunches over his desk, furiously writing in a battered notebook. As his mother opens the door to announce dinner, he says, “Just a second mom, I’ve almost got this story finished.”

His mother sighs and whispers under her breath, “Quit wasting your time with all of this writing and concentrate on your homework.”

Somewhere, east of the sun and west of the moon, a college student plunges off the path of business and into the heart of art. “I’ve decided to change my major to art because I love it,” she tells her parents.

When they have recovered from their shock, they admonish her and say, “You’ll never make any money. You have to have a real job, something secure.”

These conversations happen every day.

These conversations happened to us.

Although the words represent a fleeting moment and seem insignificant, their impact is not.

Most of us can remember those times when the voices of those we loved most – our parents – did not embrace our dreams. They may have responded to us unthinkingly, out of frustration, or from a sincere desire to be helpful but their messages landed deep within us. And why wouldn’t they? Our parents are the ones who provided us with our entire understanding of the world and how things work.

We trusted they knew what they were talking about.

But, what if they were wrong? What if their authority was flawed in some way?

It’s possible. In fact, it may be likely.

It doesn’t matter what age you are, remnants of that messaging still exist. You may wonder what your parents would think of a particular decision. You may hear the little whispers of parental advice from your childhood that you try to shrug off. Or, you may find that the doubting voice inside your head sounds eerily like your mother or your father.

If so, you may be wise to consider the source of your parents’ perspectives.

Every life has a story, complete with triumphs and wounds, that forms the basis of person’s “come from” or how they show up in the world. Knowing that of your parents, helps you to understand the obstacles you unwittingly trip over as parental messaging rears its head.

Look at your parents’ lives and try to understand their story. What did they value? What motivated them? What experiences – good and bad- helped shape their opinions? What scared them? What made them happy?

Knowing their origins will help you know yours.

In fact, until a son can see his father and a daughter can see her mother as just another woman or just another man who had children and dreams that did or didn’t come true and who struggled with personal demons, he or she does not really grow up, and is unlikely to forgive parents for their misdirections and criticisms. Until we understand someone’s history, we can understand neither that person nor on what they base their own voices of authority. ~ Gregg Levoy, Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life

And once you know, you’ll be able to choose wisely for yourself. After all, you aren’t your mom and you aren’t your dad.

You have your own story to live.

What messages did you get from your parents that you are still struggling with?


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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Ronna October 31, 2011 at

Beautiful, Andrea. Particularly knowing pieces of your story, I’m struck by the grace and kindness with which you speak; and more, what you invite from the rest of us.

It’s a thin line, isn’t it? Balancing between an awareness of harm done and “we did the best that we could;” between the desire for endless hope and infinite possibility on our behalf and disseminating practical wisdom. Our parents have certainly fallen to one side or another, multiple times. We undoubtedly do it ourselves with our own children.

Stories have a way of writing themselves – in spite of so much. Oh, for eyes to see that story as vast and full of a multitude of gifts and graces along the way.

Thank you.
Ronna recently posted..your lens


Andrea Olson October 31, 2011 at

Thank you, my friend! To be aware is key. We may not be perfect, as our parents surely weren’t, but awareness may temper the outcome.


Square-Peg Karen October 31, 2011 at

Sometimes when I’m stuck I notice that the struggle relates to old parental messages–one parent used to give me the message: “make waves” and the other’s message was: “don’t rock the boat”. It’s a wonder I love the water (grin)!

It sure helps to notice where those feelings are coming from. And Andrea, I LOVE Gregg Levoy’s book! Thanks for this insightful post!
Square-Peg Karen recently posted..Why Tribe Matters ~ Strengthening YourSELF


Andrea Olson October 31, 2011 at

Thanks, Karen!! Finding your way between contradictory messages must provide for interesting internal conversations. :) And, yes, I love Gregg Levoy’s book too – it’s so beautifully written and rich with fodder for reflection. I highly recommend it.


Rita October 31, 2011 at

You’re the dumbest smart person I know.
Winners never quit. ( Just read a great post on quitting that you might like:

But also: You can be anything you set your mind to.
All three have been, in their own way, helpful–maybe just not in the ways the words were intended!
Rita recently posted..Even a spandex bodysuit couldn’t fix this


Andrea Olson October 31, 2011 at

Wow. Thank you for sharing your parents’ words, Rita. Reading them in print highlights their shocking impact.


Lorrie Jones October 31, 2011 at

My mother always told me”be a nurse or a teacher so you have something to ‘fall back on’ if your husband dies”. She meant well. And gratefully, she insisted on education. I became a nurse…and though I loved caring for people, I was at odds with the medical system and the arrogance of the (at that time) male doctors. Eventually I left hospital nursing. And though I’ve been on many career journeys, I am still wondering: what is my calling (LOVE Gregg Levoy – and Parker Palmer too)? Maybe it’s doing what is most important in the moment…or maybe it’s an experience yet to be had. I’m not sure…but I am grateful my three children live all over the world and are following their passions. Maybe my mother’s words, in a round-a-bout way, were a gift. Thank you for yet another wonderful post, Andrea.


Andrea Olson November 1, 2011 at

Lorrie … I love the thought that your calling is doing “what is most important in the moment.” Beautiful. Thank you!


Jackie Walker November 1, 2011 at

Fabulous post Andrea, and I love the quote from Gregg Levoy, it’s much kinder than the Philip Larkin one!
Jackie Walker recently posted..The hokey cokey of relationships


Andrea Olson November 1, 2011 at

So appreciate your kind words, Jackie! Thanks!


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