Story Telling

When a man possesses his story, he has all he needs for survival; but if he loses his story, he's in peril - Sir Laurens van der Post

"I was a cop for twenty friggin' years. When I was forty my daughter left home and then two years later my son left. Then I got to see that I didn't have much of a relationship with my wife because I had spent all the years of my marriage working and not really participating with the family. With the kids gone we didn't have much use for each other, I guess. After a couple more years, my wife left and all I had was the damn job. The next year I had my twenty [years] in at age forty-six and had to retire. Nobody wants to have too much to do with ex-cops except other ex-cops but they're tapped out & burned out just like me. I got to know what lonely was real fast. There was no real relationship with the kids, and a fat, middle-aged ex-cop doesn't do too well at those singles things. If it hadn't been for my grandkids I would have ended it right then. I still don't have much going with my son, but my daughter and her kids keep me alive... Somewhere along the line I figure I missed something, and I'd sure like to find it before I die. I'd like to know that my life was worth living." Carl, from a Man In Transition workshop, 1992.

For many modern men, our story is our life. The story that we were told as youngsters, the story that we perceived from the input of our peers as we grew up, the story that our teachers told us about our abilities, the story that we assumed because we believed that we are our results. For too many men it is a story of doing rather than being. The story all too often is a self-imposed isolation that creeps silently into all aspects of our relationships with the outer world. Joseph Jastrab said it perceptively in his book Sacred Manhood/Sacred Earth (Harpers Perennial, 1995), "An isolation sets in, the pain of which is often met by further isolation. Keeping one's story to oneself is painful; it exiles a man from the nurturance of community and robs his culture of the gifts of his humanness. It keeps him confirmed in a well-worn and static story that no longer responds to a changing world. In this guarded secrecy, our wounds fester rather than heal. And by our example of secrecy, we teach our children to be afraid of their own truth."

My friend the ex cop was caught in a story of uselessness. When he no longer had the one thing that he had learned to identify himself with, he lost his story and therefore his self-identity. His solution was to recreate his story. After realizing that all of history is merely a collection of stories that we agree to believe in, he decided that if he were gong to survive he would have to change his story. It really wasn't a difficult thing to do. I met him when he was just miserable enough that literally anything would be better than where he was. But Carl was not sick. He, like so many of us, just needed to be heard. As he listened to himself tell his story he began to see things that he had not seen before, things that he could change. So, he changed his story a little at a time. He did it not by going into denial or lying but by simply changing his perspective. He began to look at what he had accomplished in his career rather than the negatives that had so depressed him.. He began referring to himself as an ex Police Officer rather than an ex cop. He joined a health club and became intent upon regaining a reasonable and healthy body, finally became a volunteer trainer at the club specializing in helping seniors citizens plan exercise programs. He went back to school at a local community college and earned a certificate in nutrition. Within three years he had changed his story, his life, his reality.

When I last spoke to Carl he had met a delightful and creative woman, had worked hard at reestablishing contact with his son and couldn't get enough of his grandchildren with whom he had created a powerful bond. His life, he told me, was sweet. It was, he confided, very worth living.

Although I didn't know it at the time, Carl was my first coaching client in my own transition from therapist to life coach. I was also holding on to my story about who I was even though it wasn't working for me. What I realized was that there's a little bit of Carl in every one of us, cop, salesman, engineer, professor, CEO or therapist. We can all change, grow in a specific direction, become better, different, whoever we want to become if we are willing to change our story. So, Carl, wherever you are, thanks for helping me make my life worth living.

© 2007, Kenneth F. Byers

Other Transition Issues, Books

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A permanent state of transition is man's most noble condition. - Juan Ramon Jimenez

Ken Byers holds a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in Men's Studies, one of the few ever awarded in the U.S. Ken is a full time Certified Professional Life Coach specializing in working with men in any form of transition and an instructor of design at San Francisco State University.

His books, "Man In Transition" and "Who Was That Masked man Anyway" are widely acknowledged as primers for men seeking deeper knowledge of creating awareness and understanding of the masculine way. More information on Ken, his work and/or subscription information to the weekly "Spirit Coach" newsletter which deals with elements of the human spirit in short commentary, check the box at or or or E-Mail You are welcome to share any of Ken's columns with anyone without fee from or to him but please credit to the author. Ken can be reached at: 415.239.6929.

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