Recently, a young man told me that he couldn’t read books because he has a learning disability that prevents him from being able to read. No one believes they have a learning disability until someone tells them they have one. The same people diagnosed as not being able to learn seem to know all kinds of things and are super competent in different areas. This is not to suggest that people don’t have dyslexia or challenges with some forms of learning, some of which might stem from people with teaching disabilities, like believing there is only one way people learn.
I asked this young man how long he has been clinging to the story about his learning disability. His learning disability is a story he tells himself and other people, and that means it is part of his identity, making it challenging to disown. When you have told people you are something for a long time, your desire to remain consistent prevents you from changing your story.
General George Patton was arguably one of the most effective General Officers in history, and a person whose leadership had a great deal to do with the outcome of World War II. Patton also had dyslexia and struggled to read, even though he read hundreds of books, including everything great generals had written over the thousands of years before he commanded an Army. He also wrote poetry and kept a diary. The first volume of Patton’s collected writings is 912 pages, and I can’t tell the number of the second volume, but it is similar in size. I have read both volumes cover to cover, and the fact that Patton’s work has letters in the wrong order and grammatical errors does nothing whatsoever to lessen his genius.
But then, Patton told himself a different story, one that did not interpret his disability as something that should prevent him from reading, writing, learning, or commanding an army. It certainly never stopped him from winning.
What Story Do You Tell Yourself?
The story you tell is a frame through which you view the meaning of the events and what it means about who you are, what you are capable of, and what is possible for you in the future. How you frame the events and the meaning you infuse them with can be positive or negative, which is why two people can interpret the same events differently.
Maybe you tell yourself the story that the circumstances of your birth prevent you from being able to do something now. You had the wrong parents, didn’t go to the right schools, and struggled with difficult circumstances. One person might tell this story to explain why no one should expect them to succeed, while another person with those same circumstances would confirm that their unfortunate events were why they had to succeed.
Yesterday I met with a local guy here in Columbus named Brian Wagner. He had a very similar brain issue to the one I experienced. He woke up blind and had no sight for six months. He now has to keep one eye shut. Brian will tell you that with his one eye, he can see more than we can. His event provided him with a different kind of vision. Brian speaks and provides workshops now. He doesn’t frame his story as being negative or in any way debilitating.
Why We Love Our Disempowering Stories
We love our excuses. They provide us with all the reasons we need not “to be” or “to do” something. Your disempowering stories prove that no one should expect you to be able to do something based on past events and the all-too-handy labels society provides for you, should you accept them.
We cling to these stories, telling them to ourselves and other people until the account of events is burned into our identity. We keep the story alive because it absolves us of responsibility to be something or do something more, something bigger, something more significant. There may be no greater fear than the fear of letting go of a story you have used to define your identity for another story—even when that other story would open up new possibilities, new results, and a better life.
I told my young friend that he can listen to books on audio and learn precisely the same content he would find in the book. I also suggested he can watch videos to gain new knowledge. I also told him I hoped he would give up the story that he has a learning disability, especially since he has learned how to do all kinds of things that other people don’t know how to do. I asked him when he was going to give up the story that he “can’t read.”
How long are you going to keep the stories that disempower you? How long are you going define yourself by what you can’t do because something happened in the past, or you allowed someone to provide you with an identity based on something they believe—and something you could easily reject?
If your story disempowers you, trade it for a story that empowers you. And never let anyone feed you their fears or identify you by the way they would frame your story if it were them.
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Filed under: Mindset