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Story Obstacle #2: Wishing Your Story Was Different

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

Last week, I identified Obstacle #1 to storytelling: believing that your story doesn’t matter. Here's Obstacle #2: wishing your story was different.

Both obstacles can arise when you believe that your experiences haven’t been impressive enough, your suffering great enough, or your life interesting enough.

But you might also wish your story was different when you don’t like how it concluded or what it says about you.

Whatever you believe, here's what I believe; whatever happened, there’s a good story in there somewhere. It may just require an open mind and some self-examination to discover what it is.

Here’s an example: I grew up in the Bronx during the seventies and eighties.

Do you know what was happening in the Bronx during the seventies and eighties?

Hip Hop.

It started in 1973 when DJ Kool Herc hooked up two turntables and started scratching at a house party on Sedgwick Avenue (3 miles from where I grew up), went big in 1982 when Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released "The Message," and then exploded in 1986 when KRS One founded Boogie Down Productions. Break dancers, DJs, and beat boxers were all over my home borough, and the music they were creating was changing global culture right in front of my eyes. I must have been pretty excited, right?

Not really.

To my ears, it was just a lot of noise made by people who were going to spend the rest of their lives in The Bronx -- and I was going to get out.

Obviously, I wasn't the only person in the Bronx who didn’t care much for hip hop in the '80s. But once I left home to follow my dreams, I felt embarrassed in front of the academics, artists, and music lovers who wanted the inside scoop from someone who'd actually been there.

I started to wish I'd cared more. I started to wish I had a better story to tell. I started to wish it had been different: which is just another way of saying I started to wish I had been different. But, like it or not, that’s how the younger me felt, and that's who I was.

Over time, though, something shifted: the facts of the story didn't change, but the meaning did. As I learned about the mechanics of racism and anti blackness, I came to see this story as less about musical taste and more about assimilation. It became part of a larger personal mythology which exposed the ways in which my drive for social power, money, and whiteness alienated me from my community -- and myself.

When you start out with a story you wish was different, I can guarantee you that it won't be easy to tell. But I also believe that there's a good chance it can end up teaching you something about yourself that you may not have already known, and it can even end up teaching you something about our world.

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