Since I began my work at the Minnesota Humanities Center, I’ve been learning about the importance of story. Not only is story a powerful and engaging mechanism for teaching history and culture, what stories are/are not told, who tells them, and when, provides a lens through which we can look critically at our society. The very nature of stories allows us to address current societal narratives so that we can go about creating a more inclusive and relevant societal narrative for everyone.
It seems like storytelling has been showing up wherever I go. I recently came across a tweet from the Bush Foundation:
Stories should be abt real people who need something, hopefully something that your org provides. Storytelling tips: http://t.co/sRA1HLe0kN— Bush Foundation (@BushFoundation)
Just a day earlier, Blois Olson tweeted an article with a similar sentiment.
Great read. How Nate Silver Won the Internet (and You Can Too) http://t.co/i2jjuOEViP— Blois Olson (@bloisolson)
Several weeks ago, this article was circulating around my social networks, urging the Twin Cities to work toward a more holistic narrative of itself: one that goes beyond Mary Tyler Moore, Snow, and the Mall of America.
The common thread between these articles is simple: the stories that we tell about ourselves matter.
I think as #quarterlifers in 2013, we are in constant search of making ourselves unique and marketable. In world of increasing interconnections, it’s easier than ever to find any old Tom, Dick, or Harry that has the same or comparable experiences and credentials as you on paper. The thing that matters the most (other than having an internal connection) is the stories that you can tell about what you’ve done and who you are.
The mark of a truly talented storyteller, in my mind, is someone who is able to string series of life’s random moments, see the connections and thematically create something that makes sense and is complete. On a micro-scale in terms of employment, it may be easy to see how you got from one job to the next: first I was an assistant, then got promoted to associate, then I switched companies and became a specialist, but once you take a more macro view it may feel random. It may be a bit harder to see the overall story of where you’ve been and what you can offer.
Zoom out a bit. What are the little threads that connect? What challenges did you overcome? What inspired you? How did that change how you did things? What relationships did you build? How did all of that bring you here to this place? All of these little questions help in creating that narrative. My friend, a marketing guru (like my friend @djohns03) would probably call this “#buildingabrand.” However, my more arts/humanities slanted mind thinks that “telling a story” is a bit more compelling because it addresses not only what you’ve done, but challenges oneself to look beyond just what “happened” and more closely at one those happenings mean. Think about what makes a good story: a good mixture of characters, events, details, lessons, and of course, a hero. Psst, that’s you.
Now, I don’t know that I can’t comfortably delve into the complications that arise when society begins to tell us stories about ourselves— whether it be about our culture, race, gender, sexuality, age, intelligence— that may be inaccurate or incomplete. The confines of this blog entry can’t address what it means when certain stories are Absent Narratives from the collective zeitgeist—I’ll leave that to my employer 🙂 But suffice it to say, being able to comfortably and compellingly articulate our experiences—our story— provides solid platform to begin greater sharing and understanding of who we are as employees—and as people.
Don’t get me wrong. That doesn’t mean that you can settle for the cop-out answer, “I have a unique perspective” or “I have diverse experiences.” Dig deeper. Why? What does that mean and how does it make you who you are? What’s the theme of your story? My junior year of high school, I had probably the most challenging English teacher of my academic career (English 11 IB, represent)! I won’t call her out in case she offhandedly reads this and is appalled by my writing.
She was probably the first person who got me thinking in these critical ways about literature and forced me to delve into not only WHAT I thought, but also HOW and WHY . Think about the implications that this same approach to ourselves: WHAT have we done, and HOW did we get here, and WHY does that matter?
When you’re reading a story, you can always tell when it’s crappy because pieces are missing, or maybe it jumps around too much, or there’s too many characters that you don’t know enough about. Perhaps it’s too general, or maybe it’s just a series of image-heavy vignettes with no overarching plot. The same holds true for telling your own story. It could be that you just aren’t practiced or you haven’t thought critically enough about your own experiences to be able to see the connections. Or maybe, once you see the connections you’ll notice there’s a link missing; something that can make your story more compelling: a class, or a degree, or an experience. But it’s only after we take some time writing our narratives that we can see is truly a chapter missing.
As #quarterlifers in crisis, we often busy ourselves chasing after certificates or jobs or running to grad school for new degrees. As a generation raised with the world literally at our fingertips, sometimes it’s easier to look outward into the than inward. And most of the time, this offers us a global perspective and the ability to see the things that bind our world community together. Think of what we could accomplish if we turned that same eye onto ourselves.