What are the most powerful words in the English language?
According to the legendary Don Hewitt, the legendary creator and long-time producer of 60 Minutes, they are these four, in sequence:
Tell Me a Story.
For the record, Hewitt is also quoted as having said, “I plan to die at my desk” which I don’t advise.
I don’t want to get side-tracked here, so let’s focus on story…
From our earliest years, we learn to listen to stories and to tell them.
Stories inform and inspire and entertain. Stories connect us, make us relatable, make us care.
Ever have a terrible day and think, “Well, this will make a great story someday”? Like when you forget where you put your coffee cup when you get in your car and then, just as you accelerate down the driveway, a deluge of brown liquid pours over your windshield and THAT’S when you recall placing it momentarily on the roof of the car while you tried to find your keys?
No? Just me, I guess. Guilty of that more than once. You’d think I’d have learned the first time.
But I digress…
I’ve been fortunate to have spent two decades in television telling stories. I’ve told stories of celebrities, athletes, and coaches. I’ve told stories of regular, everyday people you’d otherwise never hear of.
Would it surprise you to know the regular, everyday people are always more interesting? Each story is unique, defined by its details:
… The guy who ran 7 marathons in 7 days without training…
… The summer camp in Maine where kids from warring countries convene…
… The town in Tennessee built entirely on one side of the road…
But amidst the work to put all of these stories on TV, many other stories were told. Perhaps because I love stories so much, people would seek me out to tell me theirs. And because we were at work while telling these stories, the stories themselves were often about work.
Some stories were bane and predictable, others wildly unexpected.
Most focused on career, the craziness of our days, frustrations, and double standards. Others were about that hyphen phrase I hate: “work-life balance.”
A colleague might ask for a minute of my time and we’d inevitably wind up spending an hour talking and laughing about and trying to solve her recent dilemma.
Take, for example, the colleague whose idea was usurped at a meeting by a male colleague who basically repeated what she had said earlier and somehow walked away with the credit.
“What? That never happens!”, you say.
No, you don’t. Of course, you don’t. You get it. You’ve seen it.
It’s just one example of Everyday Sexism at work, those little micro-aggressions that add up to a major challenge.
And what I realized as I heard this story, like many others, is that there wasn’t just one story being told to me.
There were actually three:
- The first, of course, is the story itself. In this case, it’s about the guy who “bro-propriated” the idea in the meeting and walked away with the accolades while she fumed silently.
- The second, even more interesting, is the one she’s not entirely aware of — her own personal, subjective take on the story — her belief WHY that happened.
- The third is the most fascinating. It’s the one she cannot yet see but it’s there and ready to be written. It’s the future of the story. What happens next?
Long story short… I took my background in storytelling and my love of these career strategy conversations and created my signature workshop: “What’s Your Story? Storytelling Strategies for Success.”
Participants explore the basics of storytelling from character to plot lines to foreshadowing and red herrings. In doing so, they learn how to take greater authorship of their current story and their next chapter.
An amazing thing happens when I present “What’s Your Story?” in front of a group. People start sharing their stories – with me and with each other. The room is abuzz in stories. So many stories all around us – invisible, ever-changing, amazing stories.
Past, present, and future.
It’s just one of a dozen workshops now offered through Commander-in-She that can help current and future leaders change the story.
Curious, but not quite sure your story is worth exploring? I’ll go back to Mr. Hewitt’s powerful phrase: Tell Me a Story. Tell Me Your Story. And we’ll figure out — in a very Choose Your Own Adventure type of way — just what comes next.
I don’t know your personal story. What I do know is this:
You have the capability at any given point to say this is not how the story ends!
You have the capability at any time to assess the cast of characters in your story and decide which ones are worthy of a leading role.
You have the capability, as often as needed, to rewrite your narrator – the one whispering in your head – with a voice that better serves you.
You have the capability, on any day, to draw inspiration from a blank page, to end storylines that keep you stuck on the same chapter, and instead create positive plot points for your next one.
This is the power of your story. It’s yours to author.
What do you want it to say?
Tell me a story.
Valerie Gordon is a lifelong storyteller, a former 10x Emmy-winning television producer, and the founder of career and communications strategy firm Commander-in-She. She speaks at conferences and runs group and corporate workshops, training high achievers to harness the power of story for greater success and satisfaction at work. Book a discovery call for your organization.