How a Metaphor Can Trip Up Your Life

We use metaphors, quotes, and analogies in writing and books all the time, but what about metaphors, quotes, and analogies about writing and books that apply to life? No surprise, there are tons.

Novelist Brian Faulkner wrote one that has tons of variants but shares the same lesson, “Life is like a book. There are good chapters, and there are bad chapters. But when you get to a bad chapter, you don’t stop reading the book! If you do… then you never get to find out what happens next!”

Colson Whitehead gave us this deep quote about the act of writing and life, “What isn’t said is as important as what is said.” Graphic Novelist Alan Moore provided levity in this writing-as-life metaphor, “My experience of life is that it is not divided up into genres; it’s a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel. You know, with a bit of pornography if you’re lucky.”

I love metaphors, quotes and analogies. They capture an idea or lesson concisely and with effect. However, they can trip you up. While many are truisms, they are not absolutes. Every situation is different, so to try to apply them over and over is a risk to relevancy or just plain wrong. Many of us, me included, use them as rigid guideposts and that is dangerous.

Another reason I enjoy, employ and have been guided by metaphors, quotes and analogies, is that they are mini-stories. As Umberto Eco says, “To survive, you must tell stories.” I am in marketing and becoming more and more a writer. At my core is storytelling but I am also a hiker, a recreation replete with well-meaning metaphors.

Journalist Andy Rooney said of hiking and life, “Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you are climbing it.” Professional rock climber, Greg Child, offers, “Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb.”

I have been known to sail, so Willa Cather’s observation resonates, “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” Oliver Wendell Holmes Senior gave us this metaphor, “To reach a port we must sail, sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it. But we must not drift or lie at anchor.”

Golf continues to be a love and challenge (Aha! Just like life!). Bobby Jones was came up with, “The main idea in golf as in life, I suppose is to learn to accept what cannot be altered and to keep on doing one’s own reasoned and resolute best whether the prospect be bleak or rosy.” Sam Sneed was pithier and more direct, “Of all the hazards, fear is the worst.”

My career has been in strategic branding and marketing. A profession that demands creative storytelling and solid writing skills. Both I have developed and honed over time. Both require life-long learning and I continue to be a student. It was no grand plan to pursue this field, instead, it drew me.

As good as it all has been, I have recognized it began to hold me back in a weird way. I was preparing stories in advance when going to a cocktail party or meeting a prospective client. There was this need to entertain as a storyteller does. Yet, what I was doing was distancing myself from everyone, treating all people in my life as an audience. Worst, I was breaking a principle my mother knowingly shared, “Be interested, not interesting.” This is my bad practice and habit number one.

The second was justifying any situation and outcome, both personal and professional, through comparatives. I became so good (and a bit delusional) at this that I could always find a reference that was worse off. This came from both marketing and storytelling. In marketing, we always compare against the competition. In storytelling, every story has already been told, so a vindicating narrative is always at hand. These two things converged to make me defensive and, at times, avoidant.

The last epiphany is one of those greatest strengths, greatest weaknesses truisms. Both marketing and writing require curiosity, observation, and insight. These are powerful skills and tools but, if left unchecked or wrongly channeled, can devolve into an air of superiority. So, to sum up bad practice number three, one that deeply embarrasses, I caught myself judging, criticizing and turning jaded.

Now I feel like I am in the second step of a multi-step program. Having identified these problems, the real work has begun. I trapped myself in metaphors and stories that once worked, but no longer, and am now forced to turn the page (sorry, I couldn’t resist). I look forward to losing or aggressively managing these three bad habits. Doing so will help me be a better marketer and storyteller. Hopefully, a better person too.

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