No matter who you are or what you do, when you start digging into the heart of your story, some very human stuff comes up.
Shadows. Shame scripts. Guilt. Feelings of vulnerability.
Storytelling is as human as we are: we’ve told stories for as long as humans could speak, to relate to one another, understand each other, and survive.
Today, story is a hot topic in corporate and business. What “branding” was just a few years ago, story has usurped. The story you’re telling is heralded as the Holy Grail. But story isn’t a robotic marketing technique. There are no one-size-fits-all strategies for winning at business using story.
And that’s because story is heart, soul and emotion.
Story is an art of human relation: knowing, feeling, and sharing the experience of being human. So telling your story will never be as easy as following a few tips or techniques laid out in a Buzzfeed post.
Today, I’d like to share with you 3 of the most common (and very human) worries that emerge when we begin to share our stories with the world.
These worries are the ones I hear most frequently when I work with my story clients, and they matter because they reveal a deeper thought pattern beneath the surface that, when examined, will help you tell a better, stronger, and more human story with the world.
Story Hang-Up #1: Self-Labeling
“But I don’t like to define myself with labels and titles.”
Labels and definitions are practical offerings to help people understand you: they’re a quick, easy, short-hand introduction. A few sharp labels or descriptive titles are chances to lasso the right person: someone who’s already interested in who you are and what you do.
But for a lot of people, the idea of self-labeling creates a lot of internal friction.
Labels can be liars. Titles often function like crutches that our egos can lean on for skin-deep identity, or a hollow sense of self-worth. So when we try to capture “Who you are” and “What you do” in three labels or titles in your written story, something chafes: Shouldn’t our goal be to shed our labels? To exist beyond titles?
Our labels could never convey the true heart of who we are, and we should be wary of over-relying on titles for feeling like we matter.
And yet, self-labeling is absolutely vital in the opening of your written story, if only to honor the person who’s reading.
Think of self-labeling as a matter of manners when introducing yourself to someone new. You wouldn’t refuse to introduce yourself in a few terms that are easy and convenient to understand when meeting someone at a cocktail party, right?
(Unless you would, in which case, bless you, but you’re making life a lot harder for yourself just to make a point.)
If you still need some convincing that labeling yourself with a few relatable titles in your story is worth the friction of feeling “constricted” by them, here’s the best reason I can offer:
Stating your titles, front-and-center, conveys a deeper level of commitment to yourself — and to me, meeting you. You’re stating, “I am,” and, “See me.” You’re affirming your place in the world. You’re telling me that you know you’re worth existing, at all.
Describing “who you are” and “what you do” are not just practical entry points into meeting you. When you muster the strength and courage to say “I am,” you’re affirming to yourself and those around you that you’re worth existing, at all.
That’s a commitment to the other person who’s listening. You’re beginning to create a relationship of trust.
And, in your story? That’s vital.
☐ Try It For Yourself: Brainstorm a list of 15-20 titles or labels for yourself. As you brainstorm, look at yourself (who you are personally, professionally, and beyond) from 360-degrees. Then, narrow the list down to 10, then down to 5, until you’re left with just 3 that triangulate three distinct roles, hats, or facets to who you are.
Story Hang-Up #2: Guilty for Feeling
“I want to share my personality, but don’t want to seem overly-emotional or unprofessional.”
When it comes to the voice and tone of a story, most people struggle somewhere between two poles:
- Either you present information and facts coldly, without any emotion, for the sake of appearing “professional,” but it reads to someone else as robotic (or, worse, arrogant).
- Or, you always seem to over-emphasize a struggle or hardship, and can’t seem to tie that past into “who you are” right now or “what you want” in your envisioned future. The story unintentionally becomes too much about suffering in the past, not how you’re better for it now.
Let’s call this dilemma the Robotic-TMI Scale.
On one side of the Robotic-TMI Scale, you often find talented, accomplished professionals who so don’t want to sound like “that mopey unprofessional T.M.I.” type person that they play it safe with cold facts and corporate-lingo verbiage like “proficient in…” and “excels at…” and “strong with…”.
(That’s fine, but it isn’t a story. There’s no voice or personality. It’s neither compelling nor memorable.)
On the other side of the scale?
You often find heart-centered, conscientious folks who are teaching or sharing a mission that they have lived, themselves. Their struggle is connecting their personal stake in their work — which is deep, full of struggle, and overcoming suffering — without going so overboard into the emotion that they erode their own professionalism, poise and authority.
The opposite ends of the Robotic-TMI Scale connect through feel: the finely-tuned mechanism of how to regulate, communicate and experience human emotion.
The corporate realm tends to under-value feel (or freak out about emotion having any role in business).
The non-corporate realm tends to over-value feel as a metric for making business decisions.
The sweet spot? To me, you have to balance the head-and-heart.
Edge towards a balance of the scale between head (wisdom, experience, expertise, command, skill, ability) and heart (caring, stake, desire, relationship, will, empathy, compassion).
☐ Try It For Yourself: Be incremental! Edge the feel factor in the direction of balance. If you’re a Robo-Voice, try to evolve your “list of bulletpoints” with a simple first-person narrative to introduce yourself, even in 3-5 sentences. If you’re on the TMI side of the scale, try to orient your story away from your past and toward the outcome you desire for your prospective client.
Story Hang-Up #3: Owning It
“Who am I to act as if my story is so special?”
What future are you working for? What do you desire for your clients, your readers — and people, everywhere?
Telling your story presses you to take ownership of what you desire for the future. Part of the friction you may feel with telling your story is the curious case of committing to an idea of “what could be” without precisely knowing what you want for your future.
And yet, every told story shapes or influences the future in some way — even if the story isn’t “about” the future, a dream, a goal, a plan.
Every told story influences future relationships, business opportunities, personal connections and understanding.
You don’t have to predict the future, or share precise details about how you want the course of your life to unfold. Owning your vision for the future is more about sharing a vision for the world, your nation, your industry, your community.
Articulate a shared hope you have, and tell me how you’re striving to help make it real.
When you do, you’re stepping out of the bubble of the individual — and communicating a deep, powerful sense of personal leadership, initiative and commitment to more than just your own career advancement.
Don’t take it for granted that someone will know how much love and care you possess.
Step up and say it. What do you want for the world? How will you make it so?
☐ Try It For Yourself: Observe a trend, problem or shortcoming in your world. Then, tell me your personal stake in helping to solve for it. You don’t need to pretend you have the answer — or can solve it yourself. Just volunteer your desire and commitment to being a part of the change. Maybe someone will come knocking, now that they know you’re owning your vision of “what could be.”