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How You Shape Your World With Macro and Micro Stories

Published 8/23/2021

We see the world through stories. We communicate about the world through stories. So, the stories we tell turn out to be incredibly important to the way we operate in the world.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
If I were to ask you to tell me about your breakfast this morning, I want you to think for about three seconds about how you would respond, even if you didn't have breakfast. Most people would respond something like this. Well, I woke up a little bit late, so I went to the pantry and I grabbed a bar, an energy bar. So I could get out the door and get my kids to school on time. Or the alternative is just as possible. I woke up early, I made myself my favorite breakfast. I really enjoy cooking breakfast in the morning and it's part of my ritual, my routine. And regardless of your answer, it's not really about breakfast today. Only what we're talking about is the way that we see and communicate about the world. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on this show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. For example, you probably wouldn't say that you had 214 grams of food. And 25 of those were in the form of coffee and the rest of it was cereal. This seems like a ridiculous idea that you would go through the process of giving me absolute specifics. And so how is it that we see and communicate about the world? And almost invariably, with some exceptions, and we'll talk a little bit about those, we see the world through the lens of stories. We've talked about stories quite a bit on the show, but I want to talk today about the importance of recognizing our persistent stories and the importance of seeing the stories that we are actively engaging or the story, the narrative of the day that we're experiencing in the moment or in a particular time period. So stories are a way of engaging an idea, engaging an experience so that you understand what happens, you can kind of tell yourself a story, and because you experience life through this lens of narrative, you may be able to gather a lot of extra information that otherwise would be obscure, difficult to obtain if you tell yourself a story. And I want to be clear about something, because it might sound like, when we say, tell yourself a story, we're talking about a fiction. And in one way that is true and that all stories are kind of like models, models of reality, they are an approximation and they leave out a lot of detail. And so it's not a complete picture, but it's not necessarily us deceiving ourselves. These are not necessarily wrong or inaccurate per se, they can be. But telling yourself a story is choosing where your attention is focused, right? That's kind of the primary concept. Where your attention is focused, what are the tension points in that story? What is kind of the main character maybe, the main plot of that story? Is there some kind of imperative that's coming from the story? These are all things that you might include in the stories that you tell yourself. And here's what's interesting. A lot of the stories that we tell ourselves are actually repeats. They're essentially like a revised version of the same story that we've been telling ourselves over and over. We're going to talk a little bit more about how we tell ourselves the same stories and also how that's changing our day to day experiences. Right after we talk about today's sponsor, gun.io. If you're listening to this podcast, there's a very high likelihood that at some point you've thought about kind of striking it out on your own, doing your own thing, making an agency, doing consulting work, somehow managing your own work as a freelancer. Contract work offers more autonomy over your work day. And it's really good for developers of all experience levels. So it can work as a way of developing experience when you're young in your career, building your portfolio midway through or in high level consulting gigs as you become more senior. But often becoming a freelance developer kind of comes with a lot of extra work, extra administrative work, being a bill collector, maybe having a market yourself, being a sales person, administrative assistant. Honestly, none of us have time for that. None of us really want to do those things. And a lot of it is just tedious work that you don't really want to do as development. When you're talking about doing consulting work, you're thinking about doing that work, not necessarily spending the time in spreadsheets. So if you're looking for freelance or work full-time work without all of that overhead, check out gun.io. The team at gun.io personally vets each client on the platform and pitches you to expertly matched projects when you're open to new work. You can get full support from the team on client interviews and like gun.io handled the contracts, the invoicing and getting you paid on time. It's freelancing without the overhead and risk and with a platform partner who knows you by name. I'd like to join today at gun.io slash T. That's gun.io slash T.E.A. Thank you so much to gun.io for their support. If we see the world through the lens of story, then the stories that we tell ourselves in many ways make up the sum of our experience, how we react to those stories and especially the recurring stories we tell ourselves. I'm going to call these macro stories for the sake of this podcast and really going with this framework of narrative and story as a lens through which we see the world, a way that you can imagine this affecting you is by recognizing let's say a strength of yours or a fault of yours, something that you're weak and kind of weak at. Try to remember a few experiences where you knew that that was the strength. The stories that you tell yourself about those experiences are reinforcing something. They're reinforcing a belief, they're reinforcing maybe a perspective, right? It's kind of a belief about the world or the people around you. Maybe they're reinforcing a bias that you have. But if you think about the things that are recurring, which is why I say think about a strength because you're likely to have experienced it multiple times, if you're identifying it as a strength, think about the stories that are happening to you over and over. Another version of this concept is personality traits. Personality traits are somewhat static and so I want to avoid those when we're talking about how we view the world in an active way. But if you imagine that your role in life is to be a smart developer, for example, well, then your story about how you are living your life out. If you were to experience a failure, you are kind of failing in your storyline. In other words, the character that you've laid out for yourself, the role that you're playing for yourself, you are not leaving up to that character. You've set out these expectations of being the smart developer and possibly in your story, a smart developer wouldn't fail at these things. If however you were to alter that story, if you were to understand that you were telling yourself this narrative, which is why we're talking about it, by the way. And instead of telling yourself the narrative that you are a smart developer, you adjust some of the terminology. You just kind of the identity language in this narrative that you are a smart developer who is also persistent and tolerant of failure. Now when you kind of experience that failure in the moment, it doesn't jar against your story. Now this might seem like a nuance, but the way that we see ourselves, the way that we narratively understand our situation in life, our situation at work, all of these things matter to how we are relating to them. How you relate to the world is heavily dependent on this narrative storytelling. Now we mentioned the macro stories, these are kind of the templates that you find yourself using over and over and over. If you find yourself constantly dissatisfied with jobs for example, or maybe you find yourself overly optimistic. And again, these sound like personality traits, but actually these are stories that you're kind of copying and pasting into new environments. And as you play out those stories, you may also experience micro stories. Just like what we were just talking about where you have a moment of failure, your macro story is that you are a smart, your competent developer, but the micro story was a failure. And so there are times when we have these kind of collisions between what we're experiencing in the moment and our larger picture kind of defaults, what we expect from the world, our macro stories. Now here's the thing, we might see these two things as antagonistic towards each other. We might see our micro stories, our day-to-day experiences and how we perceive those to be antagonistic to those macro stories, our larger kind of identity and recurring themes in our lives. But the truth is that they do coexist. And so instead of seeing one in service to the other, in other words, your macro story kind of trying to control or judge your micro story, or instead of seeing your day-to-day moment as a judgment on that macro story, a way of saying, you're going to use this day-to-day micro story as justification for changing something in a much larger sense. I want you to develop a curiosity, that's kind of a soft word for a podcast about software engineering, but develop a curiosity about how they fit together. How is it that a smart developer is making mistakes? Well maybe my understanding of what a smart developer is could be updated. Instead of saying, I'm going to throw out the idea that I'm a smart developer, right? The macro story of being intelligent or offering to the world your brain power. Instead of imagining that as now invalid, what happens when you try to combine these stories together, even if they seem paradoxical? If you open yourself up to that curiosity, then you're much more likely to change the way you relate to the stories that you're telling yourself. And possibly you'll start changing the way that you tell those stories at a fundamental level. There might be recurring stories that you really should let go of. And it's possible that your micro stories, these day-to-day experiences, your perception of them is skewed. And so as you watch these two things merge together in a harmonized way, it's likely that you'll soften the way that you judge that macro story. You'll soften the way that you judge the micro story. Instead you'll see it as a progression together. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode. Thank you again to today's sponsor gun.io. If you want to get started as a freelancer, but you don't want to get started doing a bunch of paperwork to support that venture, gun.io has your back. Head to gun.io slash T. That's gun.io slash T.E.A. to get started today. If you enjoy Developer Tea and you want us to keep doing what we are doing, then the best way to make that happen is to share the show with other engineers like you who are looking to level up in their careers who you believe will enjoy the episodes who can benefit from the content we're talking about here. You can share it directly. You can also kind of do an indirect thing by leaving a rating and a review in whatever platform you use. Of course, iTunes is still the big dominant one. So if you don't know which one to use, that's a good one to start with. Those ratings and reviews make a huge difference. And the last kind of forever, the oldest ratings and reviews of the show are still around and people will still go and read those to decide what podcast they want to listen to today. So there's an incredibly helpful. Also last thing, if you are enjoying these episodes and you wish you could take another step, you wish you could engage the content more or maybe discuss it with someone or you just kind of feel like you're like-minded to this pursuit of becoming a better developer both in your life and in your career. Then join the Developer Tea Discord. That's where you can tool all those things. developertea.com slash Discord. We have a great community there and it's really one of the most kind of the calmest social community that I'm a part of. So I really appreciate the level-headedness of that group. Thanks so much for listening. And until next time, enjoy your tea.