To Get Ahead in Life, Learn to Write Your Own Story

The following is adapted from The Standout Experience.

“All the world’s a stage,” said William Shakespeare, “And all the men and women merely players.”

It’s great prose, but terrible life advice. Do you want to be merely a player, reciting lines from a script? Do you want to leave your story to chance, or worse, in the hands of someone else? 

Or would you prefer to take control of your life and write your own story?

If you are unhappy or dissatisfied with your career, your relationships, or your life as a whole, you have likely relegated yourself to merely a player, accepting what comes your way instead of taking an active role in your own life. 

To get ahead and begin living the life you want, you must step into the position of author. You must choose your role, take control of the plot, develop your character, and own your ending.

Choose Your Role: Victim, Villain, Guide, or Hero

The first step in writing your own story is to decide what role you want to play. You have four options: victim, villain, guide, or hero.

Obviously, you don’t want to be the villain in your own story. Most would also say they don’t want to be the victim, but that’s exactly the role many unconsciously play.

When you play a victim role, you live a story that’s given to you, as if it’s being read to you while you go to sleep at night, and all you have to do is follow the words—verbatim—when you wake up in the morning.

Do you blame others or fate for the negative aspects of your life? Have you followed a path that was laid out for you by others instead of pursuing your own goals? Do you let others make all your decisions for you?

If so, you are playing the victim, not the hero or guide. To be the hero of your story, you must decide which paths to take or create your own path. To be a guide, you must decide which people you impact (and how) and the difference you make in the world. 

Whether you believe it yet or not, you were born to do incredible things. To accomplish those incredible things, you have to make a conscious decision about what role you want to play. 

You must choose to be the hero. And then, with time, you may then choose to transform into the guide, helping others to reach their potential and step into their own hero stories.

Take Control of the Plot

Once you’ve chosen the role you want to play, it’s time to step into your author shoes and take control of the plot.

Things beyond your control will undoubtedly happen to you throughout your lifetime—the death of a loved one, layoffs, major weather events, and the effects of another person’s choices. We’re all impacted by things that happen around us.

But we have a choice in how we respond to and move forward from those things.

My parents got divorced when I was a teenager, and I found myself battling periods of homelessness during and after high school. During this period, people I trusted stole all my personal possessions and money, not once, not twice, but three times. 

I probably missed more than half my senior year but somehow managed to still graduate on time. After graduation, I bounced around from job to job, living paycheck to paycheck and often going days without food or shelter. 

It would be easy to blame my parents, bosses, teachers, friends, and exes for the negative situations of my life and the painful feelings that came with them, but that would be wrong.

I couldn’t control everything that happened to me, but I was in control of my actions. I was lazy, immature, and lacked a work ethic that could keep me employed for more than a few months at a time. 

The challenges at the time were real, the situations were difficult, and the emotions were raw and hurtful. But I was the only one who could write a better life for myself.

I turned my work ethic around, and in my mid-twenties, I settled into a steady job with a good salary. Inspired by the successful people around me, I pursued a college degree at the University of Virginia.

Many people doubted whether I’d even be able to get in, let alone graduate, but I did both. After graduating with distinction (honors), I received multiple offers from investment banks, consulting firms, and Fortune 500 companies. I had successfully taken control of the plot of my story.

Develop Your Character

In the best stories, characters don’t remain static. They grow and develop in response to their challenges and victories.

Just like your role and the plot, you can’t stand by idle and expect to experience character growth. You must choose to develop yourself. 

After college, I started working at Disney. I did all the things I was “supposed” to. I worked hard, leveraged my strengths, took on big projects, and was a team player. 

I steadily advanced for nine years, but then my career plateaued. I spent the next eight years stuck at the same level.

Then, I received feedback from a leader that I was a highly valuable, high-performing, and well-liked leader in the organization, but I needed to work on a few things before I moved into higher-level roles.

It bruised my work ego, but in hindsight, it was exactly what I needed, because it was a catalyst for growth. 

I worked tirelessly to take every worthwhile self-development and leadership course that I could find. I became a ferocious reader and listened to two to three podcasts every day in a continuous effort to enhance my skills. I spent hours with my executive coach, got advice from multiple mentors, and studied the “best of the best” in the company. 

Because of my commitment to develop my character, I was chosen to take a higher-level executive role to help launch Disney+ in New York City. And I met the wonderful, amazing, and beautiful woman who would become my wife.

To this day, I’m always learning, growing, and striving to be better. Developing your character is a task that never ends. It requires continual time, effort, and energy, but it returns exponential dividends.

Own Your Ending

When writing this life story, nobody else holds the pen, so you must own your ending.

Decide now where you want to go and who you want to become. Then plan out the plot that will get you there, and continual work on your character development. 

You’re in complete control of your life. Life doesn’t happen to you; it happens because of you, and it happens for you. By learning to write your own story, you will transform from merely a player to the author of your destiny.

For more advice on how to achieve your goals, you can find The Standout Experience on Amazon.

John Walsh is an inspirational and successful executive, entrepreneur, author, husband and dad with a passion for impacting the lives of others. John faced many challenges, uncertainty and failures early in his life but he created a purposeful and happy life with a lot of hard work and help from others. Over time, he created a playbook that allowed him to make the journey from homeless in high school to a senior executive with Disney and Madison Square Garden. He is also the founder and CEO of a company whose mission is to inspire and help millions of young adults stand out in their own lives and careers.