Stories have been a part of our lives since humans drew pictures on cave walls. We use stories to teach, to enlighten, to pass on culture, and to lull our children to sleep. At work, telling stories of what went well in the past to help us determine what we should do with the problems we are facing today is an organizational development tool called Appreciative Inquiry.
What about the story you are living right now? Even if you a planning a story you want to live in the future, are you conscious of the character and scenes that you are creating every day?
I was thinking about my own story as I read Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.His writing is not only funny and powerful, but, page by page, the book takes you deeper into the examination of what is motivating your own choices each day of your life. When Miller was asked to help turn his memoir into a movie, he learned what makes a movie meaningful and memorable. This realization launched him to take his current life, which had become stale, and write risk, uncertainty, loss, meaning, connection and love into his real-life pages.
The book left me eager to create new stories of my own. The day after I read most of the book, I began teaching a week-long leadership class. That morning, I asked myself what story I wanted to create that week. Then when I began the class, I asked the participants the same question. I told them the week was going to be a journey where they would overcome obstacles, take on new challenges and begin to see their role as leader in a new way. Throughout the week I took pictures of them as they completed their exercises. I created a short video program of the pictures with music using Animoto.com. We enjoyed the story at the end of the week together, and they have it to remind them of their experience forever. Truly, it was one of the most amazing classes I have led in my nearly thirty years of training. I have a fabulous story to tell.
Noah Blumenthal in his book, Be the Hero, asks this question of all leaders. He believes that everyone, even in the most difficult times, can change their stories to act with a hero’s resolve. He shares how to do this first with a wonderful parable anyone can relate to. Then, although the lessons of the parable are evident, he helps the reader translate the lessons to their own lives with specific tools and exercises. Be the Hero asks you to define your story by living up to the hero in you. The book is also a great gift you can give to your work team and friends.
Take a moment to ask yourself about the story you are living right now. Is this the best story for you? For your work team? For your family? Here are some tips I gleaned from both Miller and Blumenthal’s books:
Brain Tip #1. The point of the story you are living now is what you are experiencing, realizing and learning, not what things you are accumulating or working for to create a better future.
Brain Tip #2. Create a new story by asking yourself, “What is in me that wants to be free? What am I longing to experience? What doesn’t want to play by the rules? What would I do “if only…?” Can you share your life with the voice that is answering these questions? Don’t just choose a story that is comfortable or familiar if you aren’t passionately happy about telling this story to others.
Brain Tip #3. Twists and turns will happen in your story. The unexpected situations make your story interesting. Can you choose to see these occurrences as possibilities of creating a good story instead of as problems to avoid or quickly fix? Remember, it’s not how you end your stories that counts, but what you become on the way to the end. The good news is that one good story leads to another.
Brain Tip #4. The easy story is boring. Tension helps you discover what you stand for. Conflict, if you take it on, moves your life forward. “You can either get bitter or better,” says Miller. If you take ownership of the story you are living, you choose to lose or learn from all of your experiences.
Brain Tip #5. You aren’t living your story in isolation. What part of the grander story both at work and in your life do you want to play?
Brain Tip #6. Miller says, “A good storyteller doesn’t just tell a better story, though. He invites other people into the story with him, giving them a better story too.” How about trying this out at work?
If you consciously choose the story you are living today, you will enjoy repeating your stories over and over. One good story leads to another.