Master Storytelling: The stories we tell ourselves (and others)

Captain's Island.jpg

All signs pointed to a near-perfect day for a paddleboard/snorkeling adventure.

A cloudless sky. No waves in the cove. Crystal clear water. No wind.

Ronaldo, my expert Tico guide, and I set out for Captain’s Island, about a half a mile offshore. It was a smooth paddle, and I was transfixed by the shimmering turquoise water below.

We arrived at the tiny island flanked on both sides by a reef and covered in sun-blanched shells. I put on my mask, snorkel and fins, and followed Ronaldo’s lead.


I’ve always found peace and calm in being in the water. It’s truly my happy place. When I’m snorkeling, I feel so grateful to get to peek into a whole other world, devoid of sound but full of life and colors.

We slowly swam around the coral and rocks. Ronaldo pointed out a 3-foot long eel that skirted the sand, along with schools of cornet fish and parrot fish. He dived down to retrieve a pufferfish, a blue starfish and three spiny starfish so I could hold and touch them.

To say I was absorbed in the moment is an understatement. My heart felt like it was going to burst from joy.

Panic button

At one point, I was so focused on searching for sealife, I lost sight of Ronaldo. I looked up and he was nowhere around me. I lifted my head out of the water and took off my mask. No Ronaldo.

Instantly, my mind went bananas. You know that dark place.

What if a shark attacked him? What if he drowned?

I looked over to my left. The island was about 50 feet away. Could I outswim a shark?

And then I started to panic. I’m here on the edge of where the bay meets the ocean, the tide is coming in, and the waves are picking up. Could I make it to the island? Could I swim to the shore? What if I was carried out to sea? I started to doubt my own abilities.

Fake fear

In those few seconds of panic, I totally forgot the truth.

I’m a strong swimmer. And Ronaldo was like a fish. I had the advantage of fins. We were in a fairly shallow area surrounded by a reef. Not the best environment for a shark. Yes, the waves were picking up, but they were gently rolling, not breaking.

I scanned around me again and was relieved to see Ronaldo’s head pop up. He was maybe 20 feet in front of me.

I quickly put my mask back on and kicked over to him.

We spent a little more time exploring the reefs and then paddleboarded back to the shore. Even though rationally, I knew I was OK, I felt rattled. The magic had faded, and I just wanted to get back to shore.

Truth telling

I’ve never seen so much marine life while snorkeling. It really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The silly part? I let a not-based-in-truth story overshadow my joy.

Shocker: this is not the first time I’ve let made-up stories steal my sanity.

Like the times I worked myself into a panic thinking I was going to be fired because a boss wanted to talk to me.

Or when I’ve convinced myself that a friend was angry with me because I hadn’t received a text within my timeframe.

And then there’s the lifetime of stories around perceived family dynamics.

It’s fascinating to observe how much your mind influences your reality. I think so many misunderstandings with colleagues, bosses, employees, friends and family are based on these false stories and assumptions we make. We forget our truths (and theirs).

The good news is I recognized my monkey mind before I completely spun out of control in the water. So, I suppose that is progress.

Calling B.S. on ourselves

I’m working on this in some of my relationships thanks to Brene Brown’s approach she shares in her book, Daring Greatly. When she catches her ego in a story-creation mode, she flat out tells the other person involved: “The story I’m making up right now is …”

By owning your story, she contends, you take away the fear and open up a dialogue (because you are showing your vulnerability).

I’ve seen this work. But it does take trust and honesty.

I know I’ve still got work to do in changing the narrative of my stories. I’m curious to know if any of this resonates with you. What stories have you/do you tell yourself and what do you do to reframe them?

“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.”.jpg