Changing your story: An unbelievable personal tale

Technologically speaking, it’s been a hell of month. I wouldn’t believe it if I wasn’t (barely) living through it.

It all started August 9th when hubby, Willow and I were driving from Detroit to Montreal. We purposely chose to do the 10 hour drive during a work day so that I could work most of the day from the car, as I’ve done many times before.

As soon as we were in the land of our neighbors to the north (which requires driving south of Detroit, but anyway…), the landscape turns markedly less marked, W is napping in the backseat and it’s time to dig in. I plug in my mobile broadband stick and…nothing. Well, nothing but a nice, bright red light ‘danger’ light.

After an unnecessarily long support call, I’m told I have no mobile broadband service in Canada.


(Although you’re probably thinking this is my fault for not checking before we left—not technology’s fault—I don’t care. This is a story about technology. I blamed it then so I have to tell the story that way now).

I do as much as I can offline until we finally find a Wi-Fi spot where I can connect and send some off some materials.

Except when I boot up and anxiously prepare to transmit a few hours worth of work (quickly, before Willow completely dumps the chocolate milk I’m bribing her with) I notice things are moving slowly. Very slowly. I get a blue screen that says something about a critical error. My computer shuts itself down, that’s how pissed it is.

Okay, fine. I’m not supposed to work on this drive. I painstakingly send what I can via blackberry and decide to scrap the rest until we reach our Wi-Fi ready destination late that night. Napping and hand puppets with W and banter with the hubby sound more fun anyway.

We finally reach our destination, tired and starving, around 10pm. After eating and putting Willow to bed, I sit down to start my work day. Except the Wi-Fi in the house we’re borrowing doesn’t work. Hubby and I spend 3 hours unplugging and replugging a router that’s not ours to begin with, calling every tech support number ever published, and doing whatever we can to get it to work lest we turn around and drive back to Michigan.

It eventually works—intermittently. For the next 6 days, it works when it wants to and promptly kicks me offline when it’s had enough. This is around the time I start doing exactly what I know NOT to do: paying attention to the problem, focusing on it, marveling in my bad luck. Giving it lots and lots of devoted attention and adding some frustration and negative emotion into the mix. Before I know it, we’re on “the trip with the technology problems”. Not exactly the reality I want to create but I feel lost in my story.

And little did I know, that trip was just the beginning. My story was so pervasive and convincingly told and emotion-laden that it followed me home and hung out for the next month. The list gets long, so here’s where we switch to bullets:

  • We leave Montreal 4 days earlier than planned. Me feeling totally defeated and antsy about the work I have to catch up on, hubby and W frustrated with not understanding French and my technology-dependent mood swings.
  • Back in Detroit, excited to plug in and catch up, my laptop won’t connect to the internet at all. It’s not the Wi-fi, it’s my hard drive.
  • I have to wait 3 full days before I can drop off my broken laptop to the tech gods in Chicago and pick up a loaner laptop to use while mine is out of service.
  • That day finally comes. The exchange promised to be quick and easy but ends up taking 3 hours because all the loaners they try have issues of their own. The tech gods finally find one they feel safe sending me home with.
  • I take it home and work 16 hour days for the rest of the week. The loaner works perfectly for 4 days. It dies on the 5th day. Suddenly, with no warning symptoms. Much of the data is unrecoverable; I lose about 2 days worth of work.
  • My technology-is-the-devil-and-this-is-too-stressful-and-I-should-just-go-back-to-bartending-and-what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-my-energy story continues. It picks up steam as I share it with friends (and yes, I still intellectually know this story is totally contributing to the problem.)
  • I finally got my laptop back with a brand new hard drive. Wonderful, except random things go wrong, like Microsoft excel refuses to open half the time and the machine is making some ominous noises. But still, it’s a great feeling. This quiets my story a little.
  • Later that week, every time I tried to dial out on my phone I get a busy signal. The phone wouldn’t complete a call for anything.
  • In full awareness that my technology story lingers and knowing I need a nature escape, I loaded up my iPod and hit the trails for a cathartic walk. Half way through, my iPod stops working. Fully charged, no apparent problem, it just stops. I’m almost home by the time I finally get it playing again.
  • The next day, hubby’s phone stops working. My technology voodoo obviously rubbed off on him.
  • Still seeking escape, we spend that weekend trying to watch movies. Nope. Something is going on with our router or Netflix or the Play Station or all of the above. Hubby spends half a day running wires through the wall so we can move the router closer to the TV. It doesn’t help.
  • And finally, in an amazing and impressive grand finale…I discover that the Modern Enlightenment newsletter that I work so hard on each week—the one I thought was going out to around 1000 people—had only been going out to a fraction of that  (a small fraction, not a big fraction). SINCE APRIL. For 5 months, I’ve been not keeping my word to several hundred people who were promised a weekly newsletter. (And I’ve put out some good, unread newsletters in that time!).

Because I couldn’t bring myself to take full responsibility for my technology story and the reality it was obviously creating, I did some research. Apparently, Mercury has been in retrograde since early August. They say it’ll be back on track by September 9th. I’m writing this on September 8th, so I can only pray this is true.

But I’m not convinced, and I know I need to be believe it before I see it.

And I know it would behoove me big time to not work on changing my story, anyway. So here’s how I’ve set out to change my story:

  • Praising, celebrating, and kissing technology’s butt as much as is humanly possible. The printer prints something…halleluiah. The AC or microwave works…it’s a modern miracle. No more taking “small” successes for granted.
  • Realizing how time consuming it is to appreciate every single technological success clearly means there are lots of them. Tons of them. Way more than I can even notice or appreciate. Even when it seems like everything is falling apart, much more is always working than not working.
  • Reframing the facts. If the laptop or phone or iPod worked intermittently, that means they worked at least some of the time. Focusing on that fact rather than just on when they didn’t work.
  • Recounting the other things that worked during my month of doom. Our cars didn’t die. The camera and camcorder both worked fine. The DVD player always worked so Willow never missed a morning of My Baby Can Read (which I highly recommend, by the way. It’ll drive you crazy but your kid will be smarter than you by the time they’re 3). Most important, the ultrasound machine worked, although my story had me questioning that, too. I was so sure we were having another girl I wondered if my energy was causing penis shaped shadows to show up between our little girl’s legs.
  • Taking the hint to revel in the technology-free times. More time in silence. More time reading. More time playing on the floor with nothing in the background, fully present with the baby and blocks. More time visualizing and dreaming.
  • And last but not least, saying thank you. Annoyingly often. Thank you not only for functioning technology—that’s just scratching the surface. Thank you for functioning body parts and an earth that’s still turning and shelter and peace and good hair days and veggie burgers. Thank you for all of it, as consistently and often as possible.

That’s how I’m trying to change my story. And this is how you can change any story you’re telling.

If that thing that’s driving you nuts only gets worse with time, that’s because you’re powering it with your focus, attention and emotion.

Ironically, the more justified you feel in the story you’re telling the more of it you’re going to see your story play out around you.  I thought my reality was pretty horrid and my story totally justified. And that’s the problem. The more I said “I’m just describing reality”, the more credence I gave to “reality”.  As if it was something out there I couldn’t control. As if I was an innocent bystander, victim of circumstances.

Um, not true.

As hard as it is, tell a different story.

I’m happy to report that it’s been 46 full hours since I’ve had any tech problems. The effects of my new story might be starting to take physical form. Or maybe it really is the end of mercury retrograde. Either way, my new story feels better and ensures a much more tech-friendly future so I’m not as tempted to go back to bartending.

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