Have you reflected recently on your life story? Its ups and downs. How it plays out day by day with you as the main character. Sometimes a drama or tragedy. Other days a comedy. Have you marveled at how it just keeps going on, and though you know you don’t directly control every little thing in it, somehow you have a nagging feeling perhaps you could be doing this story a bit better? There must be a way, you think, to steer or direct this film so the poor little old heroine gets more of what she wants and less of what she doesn’t want.
But how? How do people really take charge over their life story and direct it in a way that keeps them on the right path? Clearly some people do this. They seem more content, more happy. They handle things better than most and they have loving, kind people in their lives. What’s their secret?
Perhaps it’s that they actually understand that their life is a story, and they take charge of it the same way any professional story teller or film maker might approach the task of crafting an excellent story. This approach could be called “Life Framing,” framing your life as a story, one that you are in charge of, and one that could be done well if you focus on doing the things that must happen in order to have a well-directed, excellent story.
For example, in professional film-making the three most important jobs are the script writer, the director and the lead actress or actor. Each has the most direct decision-making authority over the story but in different ways and at different times. You need to do each of these three roles well in order to practice Life Framing and take charge of your life story.
The Script Writer
The script writer is the over-arching master of the story. It is their ideas that will be brought to life. If she decides the main actress will marry her life-long crush in scene 12, then a wedding happens. It’s in the script. If the two characters eventually move to a small town off the coast of Lake Erie and remodel a bed and breakfast, then get out the paint brush. It’s in the script.
All major decisions in a professional story are made by the script writer because the story must stay on track. It has to follow a certain trajectory, a particular path, or it won’t end where the script writer has decided it will end. It’s the script writer’s job to have a vision of where the story is heading at each major plot turn, but it is also her responsibility.
So one might ask, “How are you doing at script writing your life?” Have you sat quietly, thought through where you want to end up and who you want in your life and plotted out how to make that happen? Are you staying on the path, “staying true to the script” as they say in film making, or are you being pulled “off script” by people, events or accidents? If we don’t have a vision of how we want this story to go, how can we ever direct it in that direction? Script writing your life is your responsibility.
The director of a film is the problem solver. Their job is to make the script a reality. They must work with team mates, follow through on logistics and solve problems of all types but at all times, stay true to the script! Yes, even if they are a big name director, they still do not get to rewrite the script. The story is still a comedy or love story or whatever was originally decided, and they do not get to change the direction of the story just because a problem pops up or an actor gets sick. The director is a very busy person with immense responsibilities, but they still answer to the script writer.
Have you gone off script recently? Has the need to solve a problem or respond to something unexpected caused you to veer off course? Can you still remember what your vision is, of what you want your story to look like in the future? Maybe you spend a lot of your time in director-mode and much too little time reflecting and creating your life as the script writer.
The Lead Actor/Actress
There are times in your life when you must execute; you must step up and play the part you have written for yourself. Some of these times you know what to do, but you get scared or can’t find the words. You’re worried about your “performance” (how others will think of you) or you take the easy way out and convince yourself it is okay to re-write the script and not necessarily stay on the story’s path.
If we look at professional film making we might learn that good acting means, first, having the courage to play the part as written. If our life story says the main character would always put ethics before money, then we have to follow through on that choice. If a professional actress momentarily forgets her lines, it’s okay for her to ad lib as long as she stays true to the script – as long as her words and actions do not deviate from what needs to be accomplished in that scene.
Can you say that about your performance? Are you acting in a way congruent with the life story you want to have? Importantly, are you the person you want the lead character to be? Or have you become someone you wouldn’t want as the lead in your story? Critically, at the most stressful or tempting moments – are you staying true to the script?
Separating the Roles
What is most important to learn from professional story telling is that never are these roles played by the same person at the same time. The script writer, the director and the lead actor/actress have different responsibilities; different skill sets and their talents are required at different points in the story telling process. Not surprisingly, the script writer is active very early on and is only “called on set” when a major event has occurred and the script needs to be partially re-written to get it back on track. Notably, the script writer typically works alone, perhaps in a quiet place, and reflects about the major points of the story. How should this story unfold from here on out, over the course of years? For you, the lesson is you should never try to re-write the script while you are in problem solving mode or while you are executing/acting as the main character in a busy scene. Leave script writing for the quieter calmer moments. That’s what all professional story tellers do.
Similarly, there are many moments in each day when you are problem solving. You need to accomplish this task, plan a menu or fix the car. But does your problem solving reflect the major parts of the life story plot? If you’ve decided that certain people will be important in your life, are you planning those activities accordingly? Have you created scenes where that message will come through loud and clear? Have you managed your finances so the characters can do the important things in the plot instead of being sidetracked by unimportant things? Have you made your health a priority so, in the long-term, other people’s stories aren’t all about taking care of you? Life framing is about perspective. Where do you want your story to go and are you problem solving in that direction?
Most importantly, when you are executing, do you have the courage to perform as the script writer wants? Do you have the confidence to ad lib because you know the script inside and out? Are you treating the other characters as you should because you know what you want in the long term? Staying true to the script in the heat of the moment is perhaps the hardest thing each of us has to do. But if you’ve decided the significant features of the main character in your life story – she is kind, forgiving, quick to laugh and an eager friend to those who are close to her – wouldn’t it be easier to stay true to the script?
Life framing is a change in perspective that allows each of us to examine our life in a broader “frame” and to stay true to the things we actually hold most dear. What kind of character or person are we? How do we want this story to play out in the long run? And who do we really want us as the principle, supporting actors in our life story? Importantly, Life Framing tells us that there is a time and place for acting, problem solving and writing our script. Each of these must be done well, though never at the same time. And, ultimately, the goal must be to stay true to the script.