1. Determine what you want your story to be about…every story needs a topic right?
There is a great amount of power in exercising the freedom to create any narrative that you may want for yourself.
What was Lebron’s narrative in the new Nike “I Believe” commercial??
In this commercial, a reporter asks 19 year old Lebron James, “How much pressure do you have to succeed from day one?” To which, Lebron responds, “There’s no pressure, there’s no pressure at all. I’ve been getting pressure since I was 10 years old. I’m doing something that love to do and that’s play the game of basketball. It hasn’t kicked in yet what I’ve gotten myself into, I hope they accept me for who I am as a basketball player and a person. One of the long-term dreams that I’ve always had was to play in the NBA.”
For me it’s a simple story, but on the flipside…to expect that type of clarity and foresight from a young high school student is profound. He also acknowledges in his response that he has dreams outside of basketball and he has truly lived up to that expectation. Aside: “I’m proud of you Lebron. Keep being true to who you are.”
Now more importantly, as it relates to you…how do you create that type of vision for yourself?
Self-reflection, some people call it meditation, is probably the most important activity that you can partake in throughout life. Complete the following exercise as a starting point to determining the starting part and components of your unique life narrative.
Take the next 30 seconds to close your eyes and reflect on your life. I want you to think about where you’ve come from (your family/how your life journey started), the trials you’ve faced to get to this point today, and your happiest moment since you’ve been in school.
As you progress in your journey, from time to time, I want you to take a few moments to yourself and reflect on the decisions that you’ve made, and really think about what you wanted to happen and what actually happened with those respective decisions.
Use this activity to both orient your direction and to keep you on track with the visions that you have already set for yourself.
2. Write feverishly and fearlessly!
Easily the hardest part of the doctoral process is writing the dissertation. My advice to you all is to write everything that’s on your mind. Get it all out on paper then worry about editing later.
Don’t let your desire for perfection keep you from writing anything at all.
Write, write, and write some more.
You probably wouldn’t think it, but life can be very much the same way.
Have you ever heard the saying, “live life to the fullest?”
The point is to really have as many life experiences as you can because the reality is that you only get one life to live and father time is undefeated. Don’t live a life where you have regrets. There’s nothing worse than a person with “shoulda, coulda, woulda syndrome.”
“I should have done that, I could have done this, but I would have done that…”
Don’t be that person. Enjoy all of your life’s moments and opportunities because it is important for you to enjoy life!
Another important part of enjoying life is being fearless. Don’t let life scare you from fulfilling your destinies!
I’m going to say that again…
DO NOT LET LIFE SCARE YOU FROM FULFILLING YOUR DESTINIES.
You probably won’t believe it but I get major anxiety every time I give a talk. Can you imagine me giving in to my anxiety and not speaking at all?
In my mind, I believe that I have a speaking destiny and I refuse to let my anxiety hold me back from that destiny.
3. Hire Many Editors
You know the good thing about editors…they don’t have to be your best friend. You don’t even really have to like each other all that much.
Your editors have a single job to do and that’s it. Their job is to keep it 100 with you.
You need to know when you slacking and you also need to know if you are really killing it. You need the truth. It’s impossible to be the best version of yourself without people around you to tell you the truth.
Share what you’ve written so far in your life with your editors. Also remember that you don’t have to give the whole book of your life to one editor. Split your life into chapters or a few paragraphs and give one editor a few paragraphs to look over, then give a few paragraphs to another editor. If they do a great job then give them more.
In this world, you can never have enough good editors to keep you accountable to yourself and to keep you at your best.
The 4th and Final Step…
4. Share Your Story
People need to hear your story. This type of communication with others is absolutely critical.
You will never fully realize whose life you may change or SAVE by sharing your story.
You have to understand that what we do in academia is VERY DIFFICULT!
Let me drop a few statistics on yawl…
In a 2017 study of roughly 4,000 PhD students in Belgium found that roughly 32% of those students were at risk of having or developing a psychiatric disorder such as depression. Another study from Emory in 2014 showed that among their students more than 7% reported having suicidal thoughts and more than 2% reported having plans for suicide.
What we do in academia is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT!
Our sad reality is that some people die and some people turn to substance abuse during this training process.
Here are some stories regarding the mental health struggles of students across the nation:
1. Crisis on Campus: the Untold Story of Student Suicides – COLLEGE DEGREE SEARCH
2. His College Knew of His Despair. His Parents Didn’t, Until It Was Too Late. – THE NEW YORK TIMES
3. Parents blindsided…hope her story helps save others – CBS NEWS
4. A Filmmaker’s Story – CBS8
So I don’t take this lightly when I say it…
Sharing your story will save lives. Share your successes, but equally important share your hardships and work through both with your friends and editors.
My charge to all of you reading this article, no matter what walk of life you come from or what career you hold…Take some time to identify your mental health support structure. Where do you turn when your problems become too much to handle? Develop a protocol for yourself. If you are not sure how to, then utilize the campus or professional resources available to help you out.
Just To recap, my 4 Steps to Writing Your Own Story are:
Step 1. Choose your life narrative
Step 2. Write your narrative frequently and without fear
Step 3. Hire editors to keep it 100
Step 4. Share your narratives openly for group progress
Your life is a story that you’ve written and one day someone else will have to read it.
That someone may be your children, your family, your friends, your colleagues; honestly, it could be anyone. What have you written on the pages of your life? How do you want to be remembered? How will you be remembered???
Now it’s up to you to write your own story...
If you are wrestling with your own mental health in any fashion, please seek professional help. You are important and I value you as a human being. You deserve to see your destiny realized.
See more stories of the faces of mental health trauma and seeking professional help (Unresolved Trauma in Everyday Spaces).
Dr. Gabriel Burks is dedicated to increasing higher education awareness and showing aspiring scholars the power of science.