For a view on storytelling in organisations, see my other post The power of storytelling.
Come then, and let us pass a leisure hour in storytelling, and our story shall be the education of our heroes — Plato
Let’s talk about storytelling in the context of our own lives.
We tell stories every day of our lives. We tell stories of who we met today, our difficult journey to the office, our joy at our child’s top marks in maths, and of our struggle to get back to the gym. In voicing these stories, we make sense of our lives and give allow others a glimpse of who we are. The truth is that we are unconscious storytellers.
We use stories to make sense of the world. Storytelling is a primal form of communication. Evolutionists think we transfer knowledge and share understanding through stories across generation. Sociologists say that telling of stories brings us together. Psychologists tell us it’s how we make meaning of life.
And the beauty of it is that we are all heroes of our own story.
If I was to ask you to tell me your story of how you got to where you are today, what might your response be? Nervous? Self-conscious? Excited? Squirming?
In the past, when talking about my own story, I made it hard work. I’d stumble, speak fast and more often or not apologise for being me and taking up space. I had to learn to tell my story. It was through reflection and some practice that I have learnt to tell the variety of stories that help you get to know me in my different aspects of my life.
Being tasked to tell a story will awaken the gremlins in many of us. We make up rules about that we aren’t good at telling a story, that stories need to have a certain length or have a certain impact. We tell ourselves that storytelling is for 5 year olds and its facts that matter. These are all normal self-limiting beliefs that get in the way of us owning our story.
Where would you start with the story? What’s shaped your journey to this point in your life? What’s the journey been like?
Learning to tell our own story is a powerful way of giving us a voice. As Catherine Burns (Director of The moth) says:
“The process of putting your life into order with a beginning, middle, and end forces you to see cause and effect.”
Even though we may be unaware of it, we are asked to tell our stories all the time – in job interviews, on first dates, on our website, in a sales pitch. In all these examples, the person opposite you wants to see you for who you are. They want to experience your humanity. The beautiful quote from Antony de Mello sums it up:
“The shortest distance between a human being and the truth is a story.”
Stories matter. And so it matters that we learn to become more masterful at telling our stories.