My friend Jay Delaney knows a lot about storytelling. I think of Jay as a mentor in some respects, as another thing he does very well is to take a big concept and make it operational; this is something I work hard at doing. Jay is really good at it. He asks great questions, like “How do you see that actually working?” Which can be a very important question, as you might imagine.
Choosing to own and tell your story is a big step forward for you. Many people spend more time trying to fit themselves into the story they think others want to hear than crafting their personal story–the one that explains who they are and how they got here, and why it matters.. But Jay has written this amazing post that illustrates how your story fits into your career, and he is permitting me to share it, for which I am grateful. And here it is:
So the truth is this: we need you. You may not realize it yet, but we do. Yes, you. Just as you are, with all of your scars, war stories, failures, street smarts, lessons, victories, and heart. Nobody has walked the same paths you have walked. Nobody has experienced the same heartaches, the same successes, the same loneliness, or the same connectedness as you.
And while you have been spending so much of your time trying to blend in, trying to be like everybody else, trying to conform to the norm, trying to follow the paths of others, we’ve been here waiting on you. As patiently as possible. But it is time. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not next month. Not after you’ve read those books. Not after you’ve landed that dream job. Not after you’ve developed expertise in some new field. Not after you’ve achieved all you want to achieve. It’s time now. There where you are. Today. In this moment. It’s time for you to stand up and own your story. We’re counting on you.
What does it take to own your story?
It takes a lot of courage.
It takes a lot of faith.
It takes a lot of love.
But your story is what we are interested in, so why hide it from us? Why keep it from the people you come into contact with each day? Why lose sight of who you are? Why not step into it and embrace who you are and the unique story you have already crafted through your decisions and your actions?
Here are three ideas to help kickstart the process of owning your story:
1. Embrace your role as the hero of your own story. When it comes to your life and your story, you are the hero. Heroes rarely have it easy; just think of all the good stories that involve heroes who overcome the obstacles in their path by learning to unleash the power within themselves. To unleash your full potential and achieve the kind of success you desire, you have to take pride in your own story, know who you are, and know how to communicate your story to others. Your story is not just about the successes you have experienced. Your story is about who you are, where you came from, what you value, what motivates you, what you care about, and what failures you have faced. Remember, it’s both the good and the bad that make for an interesting story. And it is often the most painful and darkest moments that provide the greatest lessons and the greatest source of encouragement to others. Embracing your role as the hero of your own story also means taking full ownership of your story. If there is something you don’t like about where you currently are in your life story, then it’s up to you to take responsibility to figure out what to actions you need to take to create the story you want to create with your life. Your greatest artistic creation will be the life that you lead and the legacy that you leave. (And yes, this applies to you, even if you do not consider yourself to be an artist.)
2. Remember that stories are not always linear. When I was in college, nearly 15 years ago now, I developed a list of potential careers. While on one hand, I felt this pressure to choose one and focus on it, the other part of me wanted to be all of these things. That list included things like: filmmaker, chamber of commerce executive, career development coach, city council member, and ambassador. As I reflect back on the past several years of my life, I can see that I have been working my way through this list. In 2008, I premiered a documentary I produced and directed at the SXSW Film Festival. From 2008-2012, I served as the CEO of a neighborhood chamber of commerce in Chicago. And since 2012, I have been working in career development for a law school. I haven’t yet been a city council member or an ambassador, but I still have a lot of life left to live. These experiences certainly did not happen in a linear way, but they are all manifestations of my desire to connect people with each other, with ideas, and with stories that will help us tap into our own creative potential to lead lives of significance. If your path doesn’t follow what others may consider to be a traditional path, don’t let that get you down; realize it’s a strength that you can use to your advantage. You will likely be able to see connections others will not see, and you will likely have valuable insight and perspective from your own mashup of experiences.
3. Know the lessons from your story, and learn from them. This is sometimes easier said than done because we try to do this work in our heads instead of through the written word. How many of us repeat the same patterns again and again? Many of us at times compare ourselves to others, but we forget that everyone is on her own timeframe and his own journey. You have rich experiences in your past that serve as valuable lessons. Do you take time to mine those experiences? Do you take time to reflect on where you have come from, what you have already overcome, and how you have failed along the way? Your secret weapon is to get all of this out of your head and onto paper. There’s a spiritual power in writing things down on paper. One way to learn from your experiences is to sit down and develop a list of 5-10 stories from your past that stand out to you as meaningful or significant. Failures, successes, and transitions are often good places to start the search for these stories. Once you have developed a written list of stories, then write at the top of a new sheet of paper, “What did I learn from experience X?” Fill up at least one page with freewriting for each story and see what lessons emerge. Then, it’s up to you to do the heavy lifting of altering your actions based on the insights you discover from this process. Commit to making one small change at a time instead of getting overwhelmed by making big, massive changes in one fell swoop.
We’re ready for you to step into your story and own it. What are you waiting for?