The power of storytelling
I looked up at the turquoise blue Colorado sky – cloudless, pure, sparkling with unseen magic and energy. The bright summer sun was shining down on my shoulders and I was lost in my own fantasy world where every rock, tree and flower was alive with its own personality and wisdom. Around and around I went in circles, humming stories and adventures to myself and my nature friends. Heroes and Sheroes battled dark forces and discovered magical powers within themselves that inspired and saved the world.
I was six years old and my life seemed to be an endless stream of one enchanted day after another.
The power of stories
The ability to create and tell myself stories came at a very young age and has formed the backdrop of my life ever since. Shortly after the period that I described in the paragraph above my family moved away from our home in the mountains of Colorado to the harsh, academic town of Cambridge, England. I hated every moment of it -quickly spiraling downwards into the darkness of my own inner isolation and with an ever-present, gnawing sadness at being parted from the land I loved so dearly. In the same way that stories had lifted me upwards in my early years they now provided me with a means of escape and solace from a new environment and culture that I didn’t understand or feel a part of. My ‘imaginary friends’ became my tribe, my family and my source of inner vision. The wilder my imagination became, the further away from my outer world circumstances I was able to travel. Gradually I realized that the stories & creations that I was building inside myself were creating a platform to both deal with the ‘real world’, & to provide a path by which I could envision a different and more fulfilling future.
It was through this early story telling as a child, both the light and dark sides, that I was able to hear the secret call of my life quest. To connect to a reason why I was here beyond the socially acceptable story that I was being force fed by society and the media. (I was never really able to buy the late 80’s Disney version of reality). The stories that rose up from inside my being in my early years were the ones that planted the early seeds of who I would become in my later life and that fed my dreams of entrepreneurialism and leadership. I have come to believe that the human ability to create and tell stories is fundamental to how we live our lives. Stories take us beyond the isolated facts into narratives that make meaning of the world around us. They have the ability to shape and form our core beliefs that sit deeply in the unconscious human psyche and to govern our thoughts, feelings and actions.
Stories are deliberately told in cultures the world over to help us understand some of the fundamental questions and challenges of life as a human being. Questions such as –
• Why am I here?
• What is my life purpose?
• How can I be happy?
• How can I be of service to others and the world?
When we look underneath the surface of all the major world myths, we can see common patterns and narratives that seem to be reflective of our shared human experience. Our need to be connected to each other and ‘divinity’ in some way. Our need to be loved. Our need to be recognized for our brilliance and our need to make a difference in the world come up in almost every cultural story in one way or another. The other common thread in almost all stories is the human ability to overcome any challenge and step into our power, conquering fear, slaying the metaphorical dragon and emerging victorious from our experiences.
How stories changed my life
Through my early deep connection with nature and my massive addiction to Star Wars from age two onwards, I created a story at the core of my being that essentially went like this – ‘The universe always supports you and people are basically good’. This solid foundation subtly influenced my view of the world and even when things looked at their darkest I was always able to find the positive spin and higher lessons in them all. At the time of writing (age 36), I have had numerous encounters with drugs (both good and bad), been arrested for theft (aged 17), had an abortion, been through a painful divorce and dealt with the death of several people close to me. I have also found the man of my dreams, whistle blown on a company involved in malpractice, been a step mother to four children at different times, changed career completely at least five times and started two businesses. In each of these life experiences, whether I labelled them ‘good’ or ‘bad’, I was able to navigate the choppy waters of these experiences using the compass of my core life stories and beliefs. When, at numerous times throughout the process, I inevitably found myself sinking into a pit of panic, fear and despair, there was always a core story singing in the depths of my soul that said ‘You can do or be anything’. This inner voice gave me the courage to move forwards one step at a time on to a new path, into a new lesson or to encounter a teacher, mentor or friend who would show me a new way.
The characters within our stories also play an important role in forming our personal identities. The Heroes and Sheroes that I admired (Luke Skywalker, Zorro, Princess Mononoke, Pocahontas, The Goddess Isis) all wound their way deeply into my subconscious and as I grew up formed the threads on which my personality was based. The aspects of my personality such as ‘the mysterious loner’, ‘the wandering mystic’, ‘the goddess’, and ‘the muse’ all come out at various times and play their roles in shaping my life and my decisions. The more we can become aware of how our imagination and personal stories influence who we are, the more we can start to play with storytelling as a mechanism to create positive change our lives.
The simple truth is I have found stories and the process of storytelling so powerful that I founded my latest business Beyond Human Stories, specifically to work with individuals and organisations using the narrative process. The values and principles of Beyond Human Stories are based on my own life and the real experience that when we have the courage to move beyond the old stories of who we think we are, we are able to tap into our biggest story in the world. I now pinch myself that every single day I am able to harness the playful ability I had as a child to create and tell new stories, and to help others to create powerful transformations by doing the same.
How they can help you too
Storytelling is available to us all as a powerful mechanism for change and growth. Whether we want to use it personally or organizationally to effect change it is something that is so ingrained in the human psyche that anyone and everyone has the ability to use it. The key is to become curious and start to explore the underlying myths that are shaping your beliefs and your decisions and then to take positive action in changing them. One of the most useful ways I have found to start to interact and play with stories is to begin by asking key questions about the narrative that we are living. Sometimes we are so deeply ‘in’ our own story that it’s hard to see its real effect on our lives. Here are some of my favourite questions to ask :-
• Stories are clues – what stories did you love or tell as a child? What was it about the plot or the characters that inspired you and how have these stories and archetypes influenced your life today?
• Stories inspire – you and others. Reflect on the last time you told the story of your life, career or organizational vision to someone. What was the tone of your voice? Were you excited or subdued? If you had to give your life story a theme (eg. Comedy, drama, romance) what would it be and why? Would you be inspired if you heard yourself tell your own story?
• Stories are catalysts – to manifest new realities and expand our boundaries. When was the last time you connected to a new story that made you act or behave differently? When was the last time that you had a dream that inspired a new course of action? What are you currently holding back from that, in doing it, could make all the difference?
• Stories are how we create a new world – who in the world right now is telling and living a new story that you admire? If you could write the biggest story for you, your organisation and the world what would it be? If there were no restrictions, what story would you tell with your life here on earth?
Remember, you are both the writer and the actor in your life story. The only person who has control over the meaning you give to your life experiences is you. At any time, you can chose to engage with the process of creating a story that will inspire you and others to greatness. All you have to do is follow the clues.
‘The biggest question is whether you are going to say a hearty ‘yes’ to your own adventure,’
Joseph Campbell, Author and Mythologist
Do you have a story to share that could help to inspire others? Submit your story here.