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What’s Your Story?

Where should I begin...

The question comes up more often than you realize. “What’s your story?”  At a job interview or when meeting someone new or when your child asks you about when you were younger…what’s your story?

I don’t know where to begin.  I tend to say too much or go too deep, and I’ve learned that most people just aren’t that interested in the details. Keep it short and don’t go on and on, I tell myself.  But where I begin has a lot to do with who I’m talking to.

Where do you come from? I was born in Venezuela and raised in New Mexico. I’ve lived in Texas the majority of my adult life, but there’s more to the story.  Details.

How did you get into this line of work? It wasn’t what I studied in university, but I found it through a series of events that surprises even me (another time, another story).

Where you begin with your story has a lot to do with the context and what’s relevant to the person you’re talking to.  That’s an important principle of communication.  Seek common ground.  Build a bridge by relating to the person or group you’re speaking to.

Some of the best stories aren't in books

Back to School

When I went to school as a young boy we had story time.  I loved story time.  I’m convinced that leaders can learn a lot by spending time with young children, and story time is a good example.  My parents who read to me and my teachers who taught me didn’t spend a lot of time telling me how the language worked.  They read stories to me.  Humans love stories: characters we can relate to facing a challenge or difficulty that pulls us in and has us eager to know what happens next?

If you went back to school as an adult, I think you would be surprised.  We learn by observing, by listening and absorbing the story.  Studying facts and trying to put together abstract ideas may be common as you get older, but that doesn’t mean it’s the most effective.  We learn more from stories than we realize.  Maybe that’s why novels and movies (basically, stories) are still the dominant form of entertainment even for adults. 

Once there was a man who after fighting in a long war returned home.  But the long journey home was made even longer through all kinds of hardships along the way.  When he finally reached home he found his family besieged by rivals, and it took all his wit and cunning to drive out.  That’s the basic story of Homer’s Odyssey that features who else but Odysseus.  It has all the elements of a good story that I mentioned: characters in a particular place and time (setting) facing challenges or obstacles in a sequence that bring us to a resolution (plot).  But what does this have to do with leadership or self development? 

The Story of Life

Leadership and being effective with people is all about connection, and one of the best ways to connect with people is through a story.  The fact is, people do want to hear your story.  Further, if you are a good leader you will help them tell their story. So, how does that work?

When you tell your story, it makes you human and relatable, especially if you steer away from always making yourself the hero of your own stories!  If you’re not a natural storyteller, this might take a little work and some practice to get get at it.  This is a learnable skill, though, so don’t excuse yourself because you’re not good at it.

When I started making videos, I made several short ones that featured items in my office that expressed something about who I am.  These videos were my own experiment in storytelling.  I’m not saying they’re good, but they were an important step in my process of articulating who I am and what I do.  If you are curious to see them, you can check out the mindset, coaching or servant leadership video.

Good stories are curious because they are very particular.  A generalized story lacking vivid details or a character in a relatable situation is boring! You don’t have to be Greek or even a man to relate to Odysseus.  However, the details and particulars of a story should also connect to something larger and more universal, a theme of human experience that lift us above the particulars of this story and make us think or reflect on life.

What’s your story?  Can you tell it in a paragraph?  Take time to write out your story and then share it with someone who doesn’t mind listening to you tell it.  Don’t explain or take a lot of time to set it up.  Just ask if they mind listening to a very brief version of your story, and see where it goes.  Let me know how it goes, and if you want some help in developing your story just get in touch with me.

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