One of the things I enjoy about my job as an Employment Counsellor is the many people it brings me into contact with and hearing their life stories. Ask somebody to tell you their story – and give them the time to tell it – and you’ll learn some amazing things.
There are a lot of people for example who chose at some point to drop out of school. Some of them saw getting a job the fast track to moving on with life at the time. Others dropped out to support their family, and in others, their families placed a low value on education. The ones going back realize that getting their grade 12 is important, and it’s their current struggles and success they relate that draw you in.
Oh and the job seekers? Ah, they have fantastic stories to tell. Their tales involve hopes and dreams, rejection and heartbreak. Their stories extol resilience, tests of self-confidence, self-esteem, documents composed, communications both sent and received. Here are the peaks and valleys, the aspirations, the musings of how a single job offer could be life-changing and how much they’ve got riding on a single application. They relate investments of energy, time, precious funds, negotiating debts, losses and new hopes rising.
You want more stories? I hear people I interact with daily tell me their stories of dysfunctional families, being cast out themselves; relationships they had high hopes for dashed. There’s suffering, abuse, death, birth, joy and pain, sorrow and ecstasy. Their stories sometimes involve police chases, crime, scandal, rehabilitation, drugs, sex, fresh beginnings, re-settlement and fears. There are greedy landlords, kind bus drivers, relentless bill collectors, volunteers in soup kitchens, shelters and bargain stores in their lives.
It’s interesting because if you think about the movies and books you love most, don’t you find that many of the tales involve some heroic figure overcoming their disadvantages; working through their challenges? They are constantly faced with setbacks, they sometimes fall into despair or if they don’t, they have every reason to. At times, they undertake a quest, some journey to an end; helped along the way by people that come and go, sometimes misled by others. When the book ends; the journey complete, they feel a sense of accomplishment, and they almost always are better people for what they’ve undertaken.
There are such real life stories all around us where the hero or the heroine is walking past you on the street, making your sandwich at noon, reading a book at the next table in the library. They don’t look remarkable in any way, blending in as they do with all the other people moving about. They don’t have bulging muscles, don’t carry swords, daggers and axes; don’t have rings, gems, treasure maps or traveling cloaks. They are however real and they exist not in the pages of some book but right here before you.
The really cool part is when you suddenly realize that if someone were chronicling their journey and writing the novel of their life, this is the chapter where they came into contact with…you! Now what will they write about your influence on this person? How does your own life interweaving with theirs influence their path? Will you be the person who could have provided help and assistance but was too busy to lend a hand, or will you go down as the kindly character that gave aid in a dark time when aid was unexpected and sped the hero or heroine upon their way?
Another thing that’s pretty awesome to think about is this. Think of someone in a series of movies or books that you admire. Frodo, Anne of Green Gables, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Wonder Woman or Luke Skywalker. These characters are in a finite number of books or movies. You and I however, touch a significant number of lives each day and are thus interwoven as characters in many stories. In a single day, you and I are characters – major, minor or incidental – in more people’s stories than all the books that exist for any one of those I mentioned above. Sherlock Holmes helped clear up many problems and assisted many people, but when the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stopped writing his stories, you could count them and they were over.
Every time someone says, “Can you help me?”, “I’ve decided to go back to school” or you overhear, “I’m so frustrated!”, you’ve got an opening. This is the moment you get a choice on how you’ll be thought of and written up in their story. This interaction could change the course of their day, brighten their day and lighten their load…Who knows? It may be a small and incidental thing yes or maybe something bigger.
So how does it feel to see yourself as a character in literally thousands upon thousands of books chronicling the stories of the people you come into contact with? In any given day, you and I might be a helpful soul, a listener, a supplier of money, a purveyor of goods and services, someone who could have helped but didn’t, a jester or wise man with wisdom to impart. Why we might even be someone who learns from the main character.
You and I; we get all kinds of chances with each interaction throughout a single day to be supportive, helpful or a roadblock. How will you be portrayed in their journey?