Here's what stood out to me:
1. We progress as storytellers from actors (simply going about our lives and playing roles), to agents (working to control our lives and make decisions with desired outcomes), to authors (bundling our ideas about what we want in the future with our past experiences to form a 'narrative self').
2. There are many different types of narrative sequences - the article focuses on redemption sequences and contamination sequences, which can, at times, be different ways to frame the same series of events with either a positive or negative spin.
3. The types of narrative sequences we tell, and the way we perceive our own agency within these sequences, is linked to our mental health. "Having redemption themes in one’s life story is generally associated with greater well-being, while contamination themes tend to coincide with poorer mental health."
4. The ability to frame our narrative sequences in a redemptive way - where we glean positive outcomes even from negative events - is a privilege.
"The redemptive American tale is one of privilege, and for those who can’t control their circumstances, and have little reason to believe things will get better, it can be an illogical and unattainable choice. There are things that happen to people that cannot be redeemed."
5. With the perception of agency in our stories, we also run the risk of making the other characters in our lives 'extras'. This could create a self-perception that we are the most important and that the world is centered around us, flattening others to two-dimensional supporting roles. Bad news.
6. Our memories are imperfect. "Any creation of a narrative is a bit of a lie." Monisha Pasupathi, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Utah says:
"[...] the act of telling is a rehearsal of the story, Pasupathi says. “And rehearsal strengthens connections between some pieces of information in your mind and diminishes connections between others. So the things I tell you become more accessible to me and more memorable to me."
7. To quote the article: "A life story is written in chalk, not ink, and it can be changed. “You’re both the narrator and the main character of your story,” Jonathon Adler (an assistant professor of psychology at Olin College of Engineering) says. “That can sometimes be a revelation—‘Oh, I’m not just living out this story, I am actually in charge of this story.’” and “It’s sort of like people put out a new version of themselves and lived their way into it.”
8. "There is power in rewriting."
The way we write and rewrite our narratives can be an empowering exercise that reshapes the way we view ourselves in the world and conveys our deepest principles, morals and sense of purpose to those around us.
Right now I'm preparing to tell a true story to an audience of 500+ people at the New Orleans MOTH Grand Slam in March. Doing so requires digging up some new material, and despite all the work and reading I do around storytelling, narrative structure, etc... crafting my own isn't easy!
It can be scary to tell our own stories. Doing so requires some deep digging to find the 'plot points' that we don't always like to face head-on. But these depths are the groundwork for identifying our own moments of profound change, redemptive or otherwise, and allow us to revisit our sense of agency in the great big journey.