Be the Hero of Your Own Life Story

Image Credit: Ben Smith/www.freeimages.com

Image Credit: Ben Smith/www.freeimages.com

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Those of you who regularly read my blog might have noticed that I disappeared for over a month. That’s because 2015 went out worse than it came in. After driving to the hospital every day for a week to be with my husband, and another week full of follow-up appointments, I was easy-pickings for a Goliath of a cold/flu bug.

I ended 2015 tired—the deep kind of tired that settles into your bones and your soul because it’s only partly physical and mostly emotional.

Since the start of 2015 my family has faced a car accident (the repercussions of which we’re still dealing with nearly a year later), a fractured pelvis, a sinus infection made worse by a previously unknown allergy to the prescribed antibiotic, pneumonia, sick pets, mental illness, and a stroke.

And that’s not even all of it. That’s the abbreviated version.

Boy do I wish I was joking. When I write it out that way, it sounds more like a poor man’s version of Downton Abbey than someone’s actual life. But it is my life.

Although I managed to maintain my regular editing schedule in 2015 and even taught a few classes in the latter half of the year, I only published two books of the five I’d scheduled and my blogging and social media interaction suffered greatly. As in, Facebook and Twitter died on the vine, my blog and newsletter are on life support, and we won’t talk about my email inbox.

All I could think when I sat down to decide on goals and plans for 2016 was “I hope 2016 is better than 2015.”

Unfortunately, the things that knocked me down were also things that were outside of my control. I can’t guarantee this year will be any better or any easier. All I have control over is my reaction to what comes.

So I decided that since my life has gained a frightening resemblance to fiction, I’d figure out how to become the hero of my story. What do I know about writing a good story that can help me weather this weird stage of life?

Heroes Need Allies

Want a slow, boring book? Let your hero spend unhealthy amounts of time alone, thinking. It’s not any smarter to do in life either. The more time we spend alone in our own heads, the more opportunities we give unhealthy thought patterns to grow.

Allies give us someone to discuss our options with. They provide fresh perspectives that we might not have thought of on our own. We grow our view of the world when they disagree with us.

But allies provide more benefits than simply keeping us from becoming the scary person who talks to themselves all the time.

Our allies—our friends—are the ones who watch our backs. Who hold our hands when we’re scared. Who tell us they believe in us, they’re proud of us. Who have skills that make up for our weaknesses. Who say, “I can’t fix this for you, but I can make sure you don’t have to go through it alone.”

And, in return, we have to be their ally when they need it.

No one can do it all alone.

The Cavalry Isn’t Coming

When life goes sideways, it’s easy to wish for someone or something to rescue us. We dream about winning the lottery. We wish for miracle cures. We fantasize that someone will come in and make the best possible decisions for us and take care of all the problems we’d rather not face.

But books where the cavalry sweeps in at the end and solves all the hero’s problems are unsatisfying and unrealistic. The truth is that in life we have a better chance of getting cancer than we do of winning the lottery.

The cavalry isn’t coming.

No one can fix our problems for us, not even our allies. They can help us, but we have to be willing to help ourselves too.

A hero isn’t going to ride in on a white horse to save us because we are the hero. Or, at least, we have the potential to be.

Unless we want our life story to be a tragedy, we have to make choices and act. We have to pull it together and find strength we never knew we had. We have to take responsibility for our lives and for fighting to make them what we want them to be. We have to be brave enough to find joy in the small things even when we’re broken and bleeding and terrified.

We have to keep the faith, keep hoping, and never give up. Ever. It’s the only way we’ll have a chance to win.

Crises Force Growth

Change is hard. The old ways and old patterns are easier and feel safer. Often it takes struggles to bring us to the point where we’re willing and able to change. The hallmark of a satisfying, memorable story is a hero who learns and changes for the better because of the challenges they face.

We could be the anti-hero with the negative character arc, but is that really the way you want your story to end? It’s not what I want for mine.

I want to come out better than I went in. Stronger. Wiser. Kinder. Braver.

I never want to stop growing as a person.

So that’s how I’m heading in to 2016.

How was your 2015? Feel free to share the good and the bad. Have you set goals for the new year?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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