Chapter One: What's your story?
When I was a kid, my mother told me stories about my grandfather, who was an NBC radio broadcaster during World War II. Later in his career, he went on to develop a children’s television show and ultimately acted in and directed plays for a dinner theater he owned in Central Illinois. I romanticized about his life and imagined mine would be equally adventurous when I grew up.
There are several chapters in this part of my family history. Many are complex, and it wasn’t until I was a young adult that I was able to fully discern the good from the not-so-good. What my mother didn’t communicate directly to me as a child is that my grandfather’s career and the lifestyle that came with the entertainment business was fraught with temptations that were not conducive to a quiet family life. For the longest time, I too wanted to be an actor on stage or a singer performing in front of an enthusiastic audience, until I slowly began to understand the influence my grandfather’s life and career had on my mother, and subsequently on me as well.
The key word here is influence. Family history can only influence your choices; it doesn’t control them. We do not have to be victims of past generational mistakes, nor can we realistically lay claim to the successes of the previous generation. We are merely downstream — genetically, emotionally and psychologically.
I was heavily influenced by my grandfather’s creative forces, but I wanted to choose my own path in how to express them. And that’s why I decided to take my professional life in a different direction. While I grew up around art and music, I wove those threads of creativity into my lifestyle but not my livelihood. These outlets help me remain curious, playful and young-hearted. I consciously integrate them into my life, even though I don’t make a living from them.
This is an example of me developing my own, new story. I chose to be a Transition Person in my family. In this scenario, I am the G3 grandchild who admired and wanted to be like his grandfather. But I didn’t want to go into a profession that may have led me into a lifestyle incompatible with the family life I envisioned —not to say that all entertainers have troubled family lives.
The Transition Person takes the positive values and patterns from the previous generation(s), sorts through and heals from the negative patterns, and ultimately chooses new, healthier ones for their own life and future family. This essentially makes that person the new G1. This is a departure from the commonly held family enterprise paradigm that G1 must always start with the wealth creator. Contentment and well-being have more to do with being clear on your values and living them — not your generational position, your birth order, your gender or an inherited family script. Essentially, you can be the G1 in your own life story.
So what story are you writing for yourself? Will you take some chapters from your family’s history and courageously edit and fit them into the vision for your life’s purpose? Will you dare to write completely new chapters based on your true passions and desires?
When a great songwriter creates a perfect union of melody and lyrics to a song, people open up emotionally and fall in love with that song. It creates an emotional anchor deep in the subconscious. That’s why certain music can trigger emotional memories and has the potential to become a catalyst to recalling life’s most precious moments. Think of the song the first time you danced, or kissed, or were reminded of a loved one who has passed away.
Story work is like that in a way. It can open neural pathways for unresolved emotions and can provide a safe passage for expression and exploration. Most importantly, it can facilitate healing. If you feel your life is predetermined and don’t know how to do your own story work, think of the Rose of Jericho. It is the only flower that can be dying of thirst and will come back to life with one splash of water. If you feel you are living someone else’s story, commit to do the work it takes to sort through what you truly believe and desire for yourself. It’s your story, so get busy writing it.
Jeff Strese is a consultant and columnist for Family Business magazine.