Choose your own story

People instinctively follow what has been imposed on them by institutions, parents, friends, colleagues, culture, clergy, and on and on. Most of us never stop to consider the common path laid out before us: go to college, get a high paying job, buy a house, settle down, get married, have children, etc. These are the stories we are told will lead to a fulfilling life. We follow the pre-determined script without much thought, assuming that since it seems right for so many, it must also be right for us. But people are rarely right, and the stories we tell ourselves are rarely true.

  • For most of human history, it was believed the Earth was flat and located at the center of the universe.
  • For thousands of years, it was believed that life could spontaneously arise from mud when exposed to sunlight.
  • Until the 1800s it was believed that California was an island.
  • 19th century scientists believed there was another planet between Mercury and Venus called Vulcan.
  • Until the 1970s, women weren’t allowed to run in marathons because they were considered too strenuous and believed to cause infertility.
  • Smoking was once considered healthy.
  • Mercury was once used as a treatment for syphilis.
  • Just fifty years ago, people used vibrating belt machines in an attempt to jiggle fat off their bodies.
  • In 1999 computer users and programmers predicted that computers would stop working on December 31.
  • Insane asylums once housed women who were disobedient to their husbands.
  • Child marriage is still common in many societies.
  • Homosexuality is currently punishable by death in several countries.

Everyone is wrong almost all of the time. We’re often happy being wrong. It fulfills a need we have. But we can choose another path. We can venture into the unknown, the unscripted, and do what brings us peace and joy and comfort. We can do “the next right thing.” We can refuse to live according to everyone else’s story.

Each of us is unique. Each of us has our own, individual path. Following this path sometimes means saying no to everyone else’s expectations. It means saying no to the beliefs they hold and the stories they tell.

You have the right to choose your own story.


(Adapted from The Power of No, by James and Claudia Altucher)


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