Fiction is easier than real life. In fiction, everything that happens moves the plot along, and everything you encounter has a larger meaning or will play a part before the final story is over. In fiction, characters change, and their experiences cause them to see through new eyes. In fiction, enemies become friends and friends become enemies. In fiction, there is order, because that’s what a narrative is.

Real life, as you’ve noticed, is not exactly that way. Real life has a way of not making sense. Real life features a great deal of things that are not important to the storyline. In real life, sometimes people don’t change, and sometimes things don’t have a reason.

Which is why I encourage you to imagine your life as a story.

Will they tell your story? – Hamilton

For every couple you encounter at a dinner party that says, “Yeah, he didn’t want to date anyone at first, until he met me”, or actors who tell Oprah or Ellen harrowing and stark narratives about living on Ramen and sleeping in their car to achieve their dreams, or parents whose child was cured of a vicious disease, there is a narrative.

They know their lives are not stories, but they believe and live as if they are. Disparate facts about you will be compiled into the story of who you are when you are gone, so why not live as if your life is a story today?

This has pragmatic benefits.

The first is that in order to imbue your life with a sense of purpose and passion, it is an option to just pretend that it has one. When events in your life happen, catalogue them away into your understanding of yourself, a new page in the book that you’ve not yet completed.

The second is that you can add an introspective quality to your own life. You can better understand things that went wrong, mistakes you made, and view yourself from the third person. Making your life into a story helps with that.

And he saw corruption everywhere, except within. – The Hunchback of Notre Dame

You can more readily identify mistakes in other people – in friends, in family – than you can in yourself, so imagine your life as a story. Imagine yourself as the protagonist. Imagine yourself in the third person to better know your place in the narrative.

The third benefit to this kind of story-worldview is the most important: It allows you to remember your arc. If you watch a Disney movie, you will understand that the moment comes when the hero is tested. Carl in Up has to make choices between his devotion to the living or to the dead, Hercules has to summon the willpower to save Meg, Simba spends his time in the wilderness under a shadow of loneliness and betrayal.

They would be like that if you stopped watching there.

So don’t lose hope when you’re forlorn. Just keep your eyes, upon the skies, cause every night a star is born. – Hercules

But what you have to remember is that stories have arcs. Some stories, like Disney movies, have happy endings. Some, like My Girl, certainly do not. Some, like the biblical story of Jonah, literally cut-off mid story, leaving the reader blind.

No one knows yet what your story will be. But you can get through more hard times better and stronger if you collect all of your experiences and bind them to your character. If you remember your story arc, and consider that a moment of trial doesn’t necessarily preclude a happy ending. Collect the disparate, disassembled pieces of your meaningless life and put them together to create what you want it to be. Create something beautiful.

That’s the heart of what art is, and it just happens to be the heart of life as well.

I know the heart of life is good. – John Mayer

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Photographer: Lolla Li

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