Can You Tell Your Life Story in Only 6 Words?
If you are in business, perhaps the most important question you can ask yourself is, “What’s your story?” Stories are how we make sense of the world and understand one another, and asking questions is how we begin to construct our stories.
James’ life is always in a whirlwind — demanding job, active, busy kids, and he is always moving at 100 miles an hour, often going through the motions with little time to come up for air.
Ask Sydney how her life is going, and you are most likely to hear the latest awful tale — getting screwed by her boss, struggling with money, or being the only one in her family to catch the flu.
Tim is always anxious and worried. If it is not about work, it is about his health, his finances, or his relationship. He walks on eggshells, always looking around corners, and is always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Whether you are aware of it or do not think about it much, you have a relationship with your life. And like any other relationship, you have expectations, you have good and bad times that you work through (or not), and times when you take responsibility or blame others. And with your relationship to your life also comes a story that casts you and events in a particular light.
What James, Sydney, and Tim have in common is that they are reactive — life happens to them.
- For James, much of life is going on autopilot trying to meet the demands of the day. He is prone to stress and exhaustion, though for him he sees it as “just life.”
- For Sydney, life is against her. It is always kicking her in the butt, especially her when she is down. She is the perpetual victim of events. She is often down and feeling, “Why bother?”
- For Tim, life is a bit frightening. He is always worrying about the worst possible scenarios, filling his thoughts, and shaping what he constantly feels he needs to do to avoid what seems like ever-present danger.
You can’t not have a story. The events of your life are often relatively neutral. It is the story, what we say next, and what we say to ourselves about what happened that determines their impact. We tend to line up events to fit the narrative we have created; the narrative becomes the foundation on which we build and maintain the relationship with our lives.
- What if you had a different relationship with your life?
- What if you changed the story that you tell yourself over and over?
- How would your life be different?
Like many things in life, it is all about attitude. You can think of life as something neutral — a timespan, an indeterminate number of years to move through in good or bad ways.
You can think of it as something you endure or adapt to, or constantly respond to, as it comes at you 24/7. Or you can think of your life and your relationship to your life as something you create. Here we think of life like a painter’s canvas. It starts out blank, and we create our own painting.
For many, the painting seems at least half-filled with little room to change — life has a sense of destiny, whether it be good or bad. But what if, even if the canvas is partially filled in, we have the ability to paint over and change it, not just once but over and over again? This is a different stance, proactive rather than reactive. Rather than accepting or complaining or adapting to what we get, we see ourselves as creators of our own story and our own relationship to life.
What is Your Story?
Your story is the culmination of your entire experience both personal and professional. Within your life story, there are dozens of chapters. Within each chapter are nuggets of wisdom. You may not even know some of these insights because each person who hears your story may walk away learning a different lesson.
“What’s Your Story? is a meditation on purposeful being, thinking, and action. It offers a clear and attainable blueprint for unbinding ourselves from the stories of who we once were and sets us on a path of who we are becoming.
So, what is your story?
People ask that question to find out more about a person. People ask that question to find out more about a person. It is an invitation to launch into a narrative of our lives — to tell something from long ago or yesterday, something short or long, something that reflects who we are, where we have been and where we are headed.
WRITING YOUR LIFE STORY, ONE MAGICAL MEMORY AT A TIME
You are a Boomer. So what? By now, you are probably retired. Or at the very least, retirement is on your radar. Studies have shown that the average retired person has 7.5 hours of leisure time every day.
This is a beautiful thing, if you are a golfer or live in a climate where you can putter around in the garden year-round. But, for many, so much freedom represents hours of sitcoms to escape the boredom. Is there something more rewarding to occupy that time? Absolutely!
Write Your Life Story
This activity will turn your television into a silent dust collector. More importantly, you will remember things you had forgotten, and you will reconnect with your soul-self, the juicy part of you that knows exactly what she wants.
Those of us born between 1943 and 1960 are fondly referred to as the rebel generation. In our 50-70 plus years on the planet, we have lived through unprecedented change. These events are the backdrop for our own stories. They helped to define the people we would become.
As you think about writing down your own story, first take a walk down memory lane. I hope that my own experiences help you when it comes to writing your life story.
A miracle called the telephone was installed in our parents’ living room. We were the first to watch The Wizard of Oz on TV and witness men walking on the moon. Our friends went to Vietnam. Some did not come back. Those who did were changed forever.
In school classrooms throughout the United States, heart-stopping news came over the PA system that President Kennedy had been shot. 5 years prior to this, Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Bouffant hair preceded the women’s liberation movement. Wearing tie-dye bell bottoms and halter tops, we preached peace, love, and antidisestablishmentarianism.
“We burned our bras, and we burned our dinners,” sings K.T. Oslin in her 1987 tribute to “80’s Ladies”. We pushed boundaries. The edgy new genres of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Motown fed our rebellious souls.
Later We Grew Up, Sort Of
We installed wall-to-wall shag carpeting in burnt orange or avocado and bought appliances to match. The shag matted and flattened, forming well-worn trails to the TV, the kitchen, and the front door. As it aged, dog hair and toenail clippings tangled in its fibers.
Sponge-painted rooms with wallpaper borders of beribboned geese parading nose to tail around the perimeter reassured us that all was calm all was bright in our pastoral, domesticated world.
Our Shared History Left Its Mark
We did not emerge unscathed from all this history. In our psyches, there are memories that have not been touched for years. These same memories hold silent messages that secretly run the show.
A strong belief system, which may or may not fit who we are today, was formed in the turbulence of those often violent and rapidly changing times.
Personally, I like to know what behind-the-scenes chatter drives my behavior. Self-awareness is high on my “must have” list, and nothing propels me into a deeper understanding of my own subconscious than an honest look at my stories.
Where to Begin?
The task of writing my life felt overwhelming, until I took myself back to the first event that I could recall in detail. I told the story of that experience and the floodgates opened.
There were moments when conjuring up old ghosts left me drained and weeping. It’s tough to revisit those places but that’s where the deepest revelations can yield explosions of joy.
Often, I questioned my truth. Did it really happen that way or is this what I chose to believe about it? Sometimes, I enlisted the help of others: What year did we go to…? Was mom with us at…? Remember when you got sick in the taxi after drinking purple passion that night in…? Or was it being me who got sick? No! Are you sure?
With each recalled episode three more sprang to life. Then, as I wrote them down, a new reality took shape.
When perspective and life experience were brought to bear on those old tales, they looked different. The edges had softened and blurred.
I saw the part I played more clearly as I took ownership of the past and made peace with the darkness there. But the most important thing I achieved from the journey was a deep compassion for my younger self.
If the task seems daunting, tell yourself, “I don’t have to finish. I only have to start.” Once you begin to excavate your memories, you will have no trouble finding the next story… and the next… and the next.
What If I Do not Like to Write?
If you do not fancy writing, get a family member, or close friend involved. One Christmas, I gave my precious Gram a book entitled, Grandmother Remembers. It asked questions and had great expanses of lined space for answers.
She and her daughter, my mother, worked on it together. The following Christmas, I received a copy of the finished book. Now, her great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren cherish that heirloom and enjoy reading the accounts of her life as a sixteen-year-old teacher in a one room schoolhouse in northern Minnesota.
Nobody Else Can Tell Your Story
Reading about my grandmother’s life forever changed my impression of her. I always loved the way she smelled, her pretty fingernail polish and the mints she brought when she came to visit.
But the image of her when she was no more than a child, trudging through snowdrifts in the dark bitter chill of winter mornings to unlock the door of a lonely schoolhouse, shivering while she built a fire in the potbelly stove so the room would be warm when her students arrived, birthed within me huge admiration and fierce respect.
So, give it serious thought. You have time – 7.5 hours a day, in fact! What you remember matters!
Has anyone in your family written an account of their life? Did it change the way you perceived them? What is holding you back from writing your life story? Please join the conversation. Use the diagram below to identify each area of your life and rate it.
How can you do this?
1. Realize that you have a relationship with your life.
Try to think of your life as a companion with whom you have a relationship. Thinking this way helps you take your life as a whole, rather than a simple series of events. It enables you to step back and view the entire canvas for what it is.
2. See yourself as the creator.
This is about being proactive, but also stepping out of the roles of victim or martyr. Creating is about realizing that you have choices and actually making a choice, rather than falling into default mode. Your life at the end is the completed painting, but before that, it is ever before you, ready for you to step up and create something new.
3. Realize that life is teaching you about life.
To sidestep feeling like the victim, you want to see problems as potential lessons to learn. As the poet Rilke said, “Ultimately each one of us experiences only one conflict in life which constantly reappears under a different guise.” What is your one conflict? What is it that your life and your problems are trying most to teach you?
4. Realize that you can change the story.
This is where attitude and proactivity kick in. Regardless of your story, it is still a narrative, and, like a painting, it can be changed. Will changing the story bring you all that you want? Not necessarily. But can it cast you and your life in different roles that are less trapped, les stressed, less anxious? Yes, it can. Your story can become the blueprint for your life — the starting point, the vision that may or may not come to pass. But without the vision or the blueprint, nothing creative happens.
5. You need to care for the relationship.
Any relationship is capable of falling into disconnection and conflict when not nurtured, when problems are ignored, or when everyday life creates tunnel vision. To avoid this, you need to step back — daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly — to ask the important but difficult questions:
- How are me and my life doing?
- Are we on the same track?
- Are we moving in the same direction?
- Are there problems that keep us from moving forward and feeling fulfilled? This type of reflection is invaluable and necessary, but all too easy to push to the side. Do not.
Here are five tips on how to construct your own personal story
1. What is it all about? Identify the main themes of your story.
People like causality. They like to know that this happened because of that – and not that everything is a meaningless series of unlinked episodes lacking any sense of continuity. Examine your life and establish a list of key events or stages that have caused you to be who you are and note how these stages are linked. Look for the overarching themes of your life. Some examples: the importance of family; the value of perseverance; the journey of self-discovery. Every life will have different themes. And the easiest way to find the main themes of your life is to…
2. Identify the particulars: people and experiences
When constructing your personal story, think of particular people and events that helped you to become the person you are today.
These will illustrate the major themes of your story.
For instance, if you are pursuing a career in business, you might recount a story about an instructor who inspired and encouraged you – or maybe you can remember the first business program you ever wrote, the sense of delight and accomplishment you felt, how it solidified your desire to delve deeper into the world of business.
Think up as many significant moments as possible – not because you will have time to recount them all in an interview, but because not all of them will be relevant. Which brings us to the next point…
3. Tell the stories that fit the job
If you are interviewing for a position in sales and you are asked about interests or hobbies, discard the story about how you spent countless solitary hours hunched over a desk unsuccessfully working out a unified theory of everything, and focus instead on what you learned about yourself and your fellow human beings when you were a member of your university’s dragon boat team: the comradery, the competition, the desire for victory. Always tailor your stories to fit the job. Never lie, though. Just keep a variety of stories catalogued in your mind – and choose wisely.
4. Be the author of your own destiny
Except when you are describing mentors who have positively influenced the course of your life, strive to present yourself as an active character, one who faced problems, made decisions, acted, and succeeded.
The fact that you may be looking for a new job because you were laid off from your old one due to cost-cutting measures is not going to make you a compelling character in the eyes of an interviewer.
Avoid recounting stories in which you seem simply the victim of circumstance – someone in the wrong place at the wrong time. You want to inspire confidence, not pity. That is why you need to…
5. Know the moral of your story
Know why you are telling a particular story: the point it is meant to illustrate about you and your values.
If, during an interview, you admit that you are actively seeking the position with Company B because Company A, where you are now working, does not even pay half of what Company B is paying, you are basically saying that, in your opinion, greed is good.
And, while there may be sectors in the economy where such a sentiment might be encouraged, it is generally not a good idea to highlight that as one of your primary beliefs.
Instead, focus on stories that show how you value positive attributes like dedication, loyalty, personal and professional development, and a strong team spirit.
It might take some time and practice to work out your story, but if you want people to identify and engage with you meaningfully, it is absolutely necessary. Doing so will not only help you to shape the perceptions of potential employers but will also give you a greater sense of confidence because you will have a clearer sense of who you actually are. And that is when you can truly control the narrative.
6 Ways to Tell Your Personal Story
A great way to engage your followers and build better rapport with your audience is by telling your personal story.
To begin telling your personal story, you first need to decide exactly what message you want to put out there. This, of course, will depend greatly on your particular story and individual goals for your brand.
Here is a selection of different options to consider when determining how you want to approach your personal brand and tell your own story. The list is by no means comprehensive, but it is intended to get your creative juices flowing.
1. Discuss a difficult time in your life, and how you overcame it
One effective strategy for personal storytelling involves finding a challenging time in your life and talking about how you got past those challenges. By offering up your real challenges and sharing stories of both successful and unsuccessful attempts to meet them, you can engage your followers while allowing them to learn new ways to overcome obstacles in their own lives.
Such stories are both educational and motivational, arming your fans with both useful information and the feeling that the struggles they themselves are facing are struggles that others have overcome.
This, in turn, can help them believe in their own eventual success.
2. Talk about a funny moment, that changed the way you think and feel about something
A great example of this strategy would be the old story of the truck that got stuck in a too-short underpass. Every solution all the experts on the scene proposed to get the truck out would damage either the truck or the underpass. Finally, a young child asked why they did not just let some of the air out of the tires then back the truck out, and the child became a hero for seeing the problem differently than all the adults.
Stories like this, like fables, illustrate simple life lessons in ways that personalize the learning, which can lead to deeper understanding.
3. Share something you learned during your career that changed the trajectory of your gifts
Most of us did not start on the career path that we are currently following. A recent Wall Street Journal article estimates Americans change careers somewhere between four and seven times in their work-lives, and this means that a substantial number of your followers are either in the middle of, or are considering, a career change at any given time. As such, the twists and turns of other successful people’s careers can make for valuable, engaging reading.
4. Talk about how learning from the best mentors around you launched your career
Chances are, you did not get to where you are now without a few good mentors.
Since your followers are generally inclined to view you as a guide (or potential mentor), stories about how your life and career was influenced by significant mentors will not only enable your followers to get to know you better, but they can also reinforce the value of mentorship and community, while still conveying valuable business lessons.
5. Show how failing fast got you to success
Stories of dark times, crisis, or unfortunate events, often lead to dramatic decisions or significant changes in directions. These can also make for engaging stories that build the value of your personal brand in the telling.
The particular value of this type of story is that it has near universal appeal, since almost all of us have faced those moments when we realize that continuing on as we have been no longer a viable option and we have to change.
6. Find and share a deep moment that defined you
Take a look back at your career and compare yourself to who you are now. Chances are who you are as a professional has changed in a few significant ways.
Key into the events that lead to those changes and talk to your followers about what happened and how it changed you.
The more you can share the process you went through – in addition to the conclusions and results – the more engaging your readers will find it.
Again, these examples are not a comprehensive list of options for telling your personal story, they are a jumping-off point, to get you started. The ones that lead you to feel excited are likely to be those that your followers will be most engaged by.
The essence of this strategy is to take a few key nuggets of learning, wrap them up with a few tasty morsels of who you are, and create a kind of mental appetizer that gets your followers thinking – and connects them in genuine ways to your brand and story.
3 Reasons Why You Must Become an Expert at Telling Your Own Story
What is the first thing you do when you meet someone new? You ask him to tell you his story. But few people know how to do this well.
They give too much back story, drone on for 20 or 30 minutes, list arbitrary details that mean nothing to you, and putter out at the end, leaving you wondering what the point was. It can leave you feeling confused and unfulfilled.
This is not okay. Because you have a story to tell, and it deserves to be told well.
You need to practice. You need to become an expert at telling your own story. Consider some of the basic elements of any good story and how they apply to your story:
- What is the conflict?
- Who is the hero?
- Where is the suspense?
- How will the conflict resolve?
- What is the point?
- Why does it matter to me?
Classic stories, myths, and fairy tales tend to happen in three acts. They raise each of the above questions and then answer them. The conflict gets worse for the protagonist before it gets better.
The movement of the hero undergoes a major complication at some point before he starts winning again. All seems lost before redemption happens. And so, you must apply these same elements to your own tale.
Here are three reasons why you are becoming an expert of your own story is essential:
1. Nobody cares about your resume
For many professional fields, the resume is dead. This is especially true for creatives. What people want to know is your story. What happens when I Google you? What does your “bio” say? Future employers want to know: What are your life experiences, and how have they shaped you? You need to be ready to tell them.
2. Story is the new marketing
Think about the organizations you know that are really making a difference. Chances are, they are telling a compelling story. I can think of several that immediately come to mind:
- TOMS Shoes began with a story that Blake told and continues every time someone buys a pair of shoes.
- Charity: Water starts with the story of a birthday party and still offers you the chance to donate your birthday to help people lacking clean drinking water.
- Apple‘s story is about the underdog eventually beating out the competitor who wronged him. Every customer gets to live out this same story each time they buy a Mac or iPhone.
Do you see a pattern here? Influential organizations and individuals tell a story that is so compelling others cannot help but want to join it.
3. You do not know your story as well as you think
Telling your story helps you make sense of your life — why certain events happened the way they did. You begin to examine what has happened to and through you.
You begin to make sense of who you are.
Telling your story can be incredibly therapeutic, and the practice often leads to greater confidence and understanding of self. Most people do not take the time to do this. They take their stories for granted; they do not steward them.
Take the time to learn your story. We need it. And we need you to tell it. If we’re going to be changed by it, you need to tell your story well.
The Critical Importance of Telling Your Story
So, why is it so important to share your story?
Your story allows people to connect with you.
Sharing your story allows your readers to connect to you. It builds roads to their heart and mind and reveals that you are not so different from them.
Your story is also a big red stop sign for the people that are not right for you. That is a good thing. You want to keep the people that resonate with you and shoo away those that do not. That is how you build an audience of people that you love interacting with. And that is how you build a business.
What if you do not have a story to tell?
We all have a story to tell. If you feel like you don’t have anything to say, it’s most likely because you feel like nothing you say has value. You are so afraid of what people will think that you have suppressed what comes naturally to you. But this is not just about telling a random story. You have to keep your readers in mind. Think about how you can help them overcome obstacles and slay dragons.
So, how do you tell your story in the right way?
You share what is relevant to the reader. You share what will make their life easier. You solve a problem. It could mean sharing one of your biggest mistakes and what you learned from it.
In my writing, I’m honest and transparent, because I want to demonstrate that you don’t have to be perfect to do what you love. I do not try to come across as an expert. My primary goal is to show you that it is possible to follow your passion and craft the lifestyle of your dreams. That is why I mix life lessons with business advice.
If you have read enough of my articles, you probably feel like you know me. That is the story effect in play.
But here is where you may run into a problem.
You may not feel comfortable sharing your story. And that is fine. I am not telling you to share your deepest secrets. In the past, I have had trouble sharing some of my mistakes and fears. But what I have noticed when I am scared of sharing something is that the focus is all on me.
It is about what people will think of me. What will happen to me? But when I shift the focus to you, my reader, I start thinking of what will help you the most. So, turn the spotlight on the people you help. Ask yourself what will help them move forward, and you will know where to start.
Embrace your story because it is who you are.
We seem to have this tendency of wanting to be someone we are not, but we are who we are. You have to use the cards you have been dealt. When you accept that, you become less serious about sharing your faults. I have plenty of faults, just like everyone else. And the more I have shared, where relevant, the more thank you emails and comments I have received.
Why is this? It is because deep down we are all the same. Fears. Dreams. Insecurities. Worries. Deep down, it is all (mostly) the same. We want people to like us. We want to do well in life. We want to be valuable, and we want to find meaning. Deep down, we are all the same.
Sharing your story reminds your readers of that sameness. We are all in this game together. When you share your story, people connect with you and your business. Your audience grows, and you filter out the people that are not the right fit. So, embrace your story. Share what you have gone through and what you have learned, because that is where the power is.
Conclusion: Your story is really your Hero’s Journey!
Let’s discuss your story and Hero’s Journey if you feel you are not on the right track. Contact us.
Michael Kissinger and Sydney Reitenbach. Phone 415-678-9965