In the beginning, in a dimension beyond space and time, your soul was longing to be born. It was looking for new adventures, new challenges, and lessons to be learned. Something about planet Earth in the 21st Century called to your spirit. You were not born in this place, in this time, in this family, by accident. Whatever you experienced growing up, it is part of your soul’s journey to understand who you were born to be and what you were meant to do on this planet at this time. This is your origin story, and it is the source of your greatest strengths, the super powers that will help you on your journey. It is also the source of your inner kryptonite, the vulnerabilities you need to understand to avoid danger.
Every Super Hero has an origin story. Superman was born on the planet Krypton, before being rocketed to Earth as an infant moments before Krypton’s destruction. He was discovered and adopted by a farm couple from Kansas and raised as Clark Kent. As Clark grows up on Earth, he and his adoptive parents discover that he has superhuman powers. His parents teach Clark to use these powers responsibly to help others and fight crime. Superman possesses superhuman strength, speed, durability, and longevity, but he does have one fatal weakness – exposure to the radioactive Kryptonite from his home planet.
Each of us has an origin story, too, usually a combination of the stories we have heard from family mixed in with key emotional memories from our childhood. I call them our origin myths, because they were passed down to us through the eyes of others. Too often they concentrate on the weaknesses and disappointments in our early years. Rarely do they empower us to be the super heroes of our own lives. For example, my own origin myth goes something like this.
I was born too soon to parents who were too young and not ready to care for a child. My mother loved playing house and dressing me up as a baby doll. When I was good and quiet and well-behaved, she loved showing me off to the neighbors in my pretty outfits and second-hand stroller. When I cried or fussed, she did not know what to do with me, so she followed Dr. Spock’s advice to let me cry myself to sleep. I could amuse myself for hours on the couch with a book, so that is where I spent most of my time. When I got a little older, I used to hide behind my mother’s skirt when we met a stranger. Everyone said I was painfully shy and overly sensitive. When I got to school, they put me in the advanced reading group and left me alone in the corner to do my work. My parents assumed that I would grow up, get married, and be a housewife just like my mother. I would live in our small town, have a family, and go home to my parents’ house every week-end for Sunday dinner.
This origin myth taught me to keep my feelings to myself, never create conflict, and do my best to stay hidden in the background. It taught me I had nothing important to say, and if I spoke, nobody would listen. The problem was it was based on a family myth that robbed me of my true personality and power.
In my imagination, I was the heroine of every book I ever read. I was brave and fearless. I solved crimes with Nancy Drew, cut off my hair to save the family fortunes like Jo in Little Women, and traveled to exotic places like the South Pacific with cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead. But in real life I was the sweet, shy wallflower standing on the sidelines waiting to be asked to dance.
I wasted way too many years feeling like the victim of my origin story, wondering why??? Why couldn’t I have been born to a family that valued learning? Why didn’t my parents and teachers see that I was born to go to college and do something important in the world? Why couldn’t I have lived with a family that talked about art, politics, and culture over the dinner table? Why didn’t we ever go to movies, museums, or vacations in interesting places? Why did I always have to do everything for myself, without any financial or emotional support?
These questions inevitably led to a downward spiral of pain, depression, and loneliness — a pity party for and by myself. Every time I accomplished something I was proud of, like paying my own way through college and law school, I hoped in vain that I would finally get the praise and recognition I was looking for. But I was looking for love in all the wrong places. These were not accomplishments that my family valued. They would have preferred me to live at home and give them some grandchildren.
The saving grace was that my childhood gave me hidden strengths that helped me break through the family myths and create a life that suited my personality. All the time I spent alone reading and daydreaming about a life of adventure gave me the courage to go out into the world on my shero’s journey. We all have to embark on that path alone, no matter how much love and support may surround us. Just like the young Diana had to leave the safety of her mother’s love and the island that protected her to become Super Woman, we each have to strike out on our own to embrace our destiny.
We don’t have to be satisfied with the origin myth that has been handed down to us. Instead of asking “why,” we can reframe the question to “how” our choice of birth place and time armed us for the life we choose to live. We have the power to rewrite the story so make it more empowering, to make it worthy of a shero’s journey. Here is what happened when I rewrote mine.
I was born to a young couple who were desperately in love and just starting out in life. They were thrilled when I came along, even though they were also a bit terrified. They dressed me in the finest clothing their budget would allow and taught me to be just like them. They had visions of me growing up, getting married, having children and visiting for Sunday dinner every weekend. They thought if I was quiet I was happy, so they plopped me on the couch with my favorite book and let me keep myself occupied. Through those books, I explored the world and fantasized about a life of adventure and travel. All that independence and quiet time equipped me well to set out into the world and become a lawyer and global retreat leader.
This reframing of the family myth enabled me to embrace the love my parents felt for me while rejecting their vision of what makes for a happy life. I realized that my origin story was the source of my greatest strengths and vulnerabilities. Out of my experience alone on a sofa, immersed in books, the super powers of imagination, creativity, independence, and adventurousness were born. From those same experiences emerged a life-long susceptibility to keeping quiet, staying on the sidelines, trying to stay invisible – my kryptonite. Now that I understand their origins, I am no longer captive to their power.
You can see the power of the origin story in many women’s lives – real and fictional. Take Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. You could say, “Poor Dorothy,” left an orphan with only her dog Toto to really love her. She was raised by a nice but distant Aunt and Uncle on a desolate farm in Kansas. When an evil neighbor tried to take away her only companion, Dorothy had no choice but to run away. Then a tornado struck, and she was left all alone again in a strange new land.
Or you could put it this way. Dorothy was fortunate to have a loving aunt and uncle who took her in when her parents tragically died. They gave her a sweet little dog to keep her company and she spent her days exploring the world on her bicycle. She had lots of freedom and independence, which equipped her well for what would happen when the tornado struck. She dreamed of living over the rainbow, far away from her evil neighbor. When the call came, she used her ingenuity to lead a scraggly band of allies to victory over their demons and dragons. In the end, Dorothy realized she had the power all along, and found her way back home.
See the difference? In one story, Dorothy is the tragic victim. In the other, she is a shero in the making, just waiting for opportunity to strike.
Would you like to reimagine your origin story? Sign up here to get updates on the Shero’s Return and I will give you a template for each chapter so you can recreate your life story. This week’s template has some cool questions, a guided visualization, and a fun project you can do with those childhood photos.