WE ALL CARRY A STORY INSIDE OF US
When you speak up to tell your story, watch how the world quiets around you…
How it might put down its phones
Stop its typing fingers
Take off its armour
Slow its racing pace
And listen to what you have to say
Come… tell me where you’ve come from, tell me what fires you up, tell me the shape of your childhood, tell me what scares you, tell me where you were born, tell me who you call family and why?
As a species we began telling stories through grunts to warn of danger coming, to survive until tomorrow and then to teach each other how to evolve. Today we have more information than ever before and yet no campfires, no places to become an expert in our stories and unravel the filing cabinet of us. We have no place to hear the stories of life experience of those people our paths collide with.
No story you have to tell is as powerful as the one that you have lived
We each sit on a gold mine of life experiences that carry meaning, emotion and wisdom. Stories that can tell us who are, how we got here unlocking the door to where we want to go and what we want to create for ourselves and those we care about tomorrow.
Is the story you carry fully utilised?
How often do you peer into its depths and share what it has to offer others?
Although our story has so much to offer us, self-awareness, growth and insight to name a few. It arguably has much more to offer others. Some of those offerings are engagement, entertainment, inspiration, wisdom and growth through simulation.
So how do we better mine its potential?
SEARCH THE FILING CABINET
I'd be rich if I had a dollar for every person I've met who has said “I don’t have a story.” Two things are usually going on here. One, they don’t believe people will be interested enough to hear their story or two, they often downplay or have forgotten their own life experience.
We each have a movie-worthy story; we often don’t know how to share it.
We need to begin by looking back at our life and remembering the rich experiences we have lived.
OWN YOUR OWN STORY
Easier said than done. I often think of my life experience as separated into two buckets. Those experiences I’m comfortable with sharing and those that I’m not. I imagine my stories in an incubator. Some are not ripe to tell yet because they are too sensitive and I haven’t gotten comfortable with them and yet others are ready to go. The more stories that get out of the incubator, the stronger our arsenal of stories is to engage, connect with and influence those we meet. Telling our stories is intimate.
A master acting teacher I learned from described intimacy as a willingness to let someone else see you without a filter. He’d say “it says it on the label in-to-me-see.” When we tell a story honestly, we let people see into us. We open ourselves and remove the armour in direct correlation to the level of detail with which we share. Personally, I want people to know me intimately and I want to know them inspiring a powerful and meaningful relationship built on a robust foundation of trust.
Ben Quilty is a great Australian artist who won the Pulitzer Prize for his portrait of Margeret Ollie; he talks in the quote below about the quality of intimacy and trust he requires to paint his subjects self-portraits. I believe it is analogous to the recipe of building deep relationships of reciprocity and investment. The skill of getting metaphorically naked and revealing who we are is hugely influential in creating powerful and rewarding relationships in both business and life.
“I always ask my subjects if they will pose naked. I want to know that the subject is willing to give me everything, and in as much in an emotional sense as a physical sense that they're willing to trust me. My studio practice is one of the most important things in my life and my studio is a sort of a shrine to paint I guess. I don't want to have people in there who are only willing to go halfway, if they're not willing to give me everything then I'm not interested in painting them and strangely enough everybody I've asked has said yes.” - Ben Quilty
When we talk about authenticity, we are often talking about whether what you see is what you get. Do I get the full person or do I get a small portion with the rest left behind a secret curtain? We all know what it is like to be around someone who is comfortable with themselves and accepts who they are. It is so much easier to reveal ourselves and connect with and trust that person. They have a commanding presence that draws others in. We are looking to harness our ability to engage and influence people and so it is important that we go on the journey to discover what we are made of and grow comfortable with sharing it. If we don’t open, we cannot connect. That’s the complicated thing about genuine relationships, they cost the safety of our separateness and require us to risk opening our protective persona to be truly seen.
STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS
One of the benefits of understanding our story and owning it is that we stand on the solid ground of a concrete understanding of where we come from. A mentor of mine once said in looking for your next job go back and articulate how you have been building to this particular role your whole life. When you look back at your interconnected life narrative that leads to where and who you are today you do what the late Steve Jobs coined “joining the dots” in his 2005 Stanford commencement speech below.
“You can't connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards.”
TAKE THEM ON THE JOURNEY Beat poets have a lot to teach us about storytelling. They use sensory rich material also known as a sensory barcode to tell emotive stories. We experience the world through the threshold of our senses of touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. Every experience we have carries a rich barcode of this sensory material that our senses have individually gathered. Sharing that detail is the key to putting someone in our shoes enabling them to have a compelling and memorable experience of the life experience we are sharing versus a generalised brushstroke idea of what we have experienced. It's been proven that giving the sensory detail (which can be personal and revealing) allows the listener/s to simulate the experience with their own sensory detail. Through this, they effectively live the experience and gaining its value vicariously through the generosity of the teller. The listener's brain lights up in the same areas yours would have as you lived the real thing. You can read more about simulation in the following article: http://www.ethos3.com/2014/10/the-neuroscience-of-storytelling/
So where do we start? CREATE CAMPFIRES
In losing the campfire, we have lost the place to tell face to face stories and gain a deeper understanding of who we are. We have also lost the art of engaging a live audience through tracking the moment to moment feedback communicated in our audience's body language. We aren’t even expected to engage our friends anymore because at first sight of a lull in conversation it has become acceptable to turn to the screen of our phones. We need to re-build the practice pitch. The place to fumble and awkwardly cultivate new abilities.