What's Your Personal Story? Here's How to Discover and Share It, According to an Expert
Have you ever stopped to think about the story of your life?
All of us have one. Our stories consist of our identities, and the feelings and events of our pasts, presents and features. We may not be aware of them much of the time, but they're constantly unfolding, and looking into our stories—and taking the time to share them—can grant insights and improvements you might have never imagined.
Linda Olson is a strong believer in the importance of telling our stories. She's a speaker, story coach and author of Your Story Matters: Own Your Story and Tell it with Clarity, Confidence & Impact, and we got the opportunity to chat with her and learn all about the unknown power of the story.
Sweety High: Why is it so important for all of us to discover our personal stories and learn how to tell them?
Linda Olson: Storytelling is a broad subject. Everything we do is part of our story, because our story is who we are.
So often, we wander through life without a real purpose, not really knowing where we're going. Since everything we do is based on who we are, the better we can understand and grasp who we are, the more clarity and purpose we have. For example, if we understand what our gifts, strengths and talents are, we might have an understanding of what we want to pursue in college, or the area we want to work in. If you're somebody who likes to help and serve others serve, that can guide you. You may be looking more at the social sciences as a college major, so you can help people. That can give you a direction in life.
SH: How can we all discover our own personal stories?
LO: For many people, it's a lifetime journey. However, there are also personality tests and things like leadership assessments that are free online that can point you the right way. Walk through them and answer the questions to discover your strengths.
Of course, part of knowing your strengths is also knowing your weaknesses. It's a trap to focus only on what you're good at. Being aware of your weaknesses means that when we build teams, we know what holes we need to fill.
It can also be valuable to simply sit down with people who know you well. Start with parents, or family members, or best friends or people you've worked with, and ask them what they see as your strengths. You might learn some things you didn't realize about yourself. People see us differently than we see ourselves.
In my book, Uncovering the Champion Within: 101 Truths to a Powerful You, is an assessment listing a number of traits. I suggest taking it yourself, really deciding whether each one fits you or not, then giving to somebody who knows you well and asking them to take it with you in mind. It will give you a good idea of how well they really know you, and what strengths you project to the world.
SH: Can you tell us about your five C's of storytelling?
LO: So often with, stories, we don't know where to start. We all know what a story is—Webster's dictionary defines it as an experience that you share with one another. Every great story has conflict, and a story can be as simple as a conflict and its resolution. We're often looking for those big stories, but we can think of it as just talking with a friend and sharing experience.
"I went to the store and all I wanted was to pick up two things and be in and out in five minutes, but I couldn't find what I wanted. I wound up walking through every aisle…" This little conflict builds. "I never found what I needed, but I ended up running into someone I've needed to talk to for a long time." Sometimes, things don't work out the way we thought they would, but there was a connection we made that was even more helpful than what we were seeking out. That can be the story.
The first C is the clarity to find your story to share with others. The second is to create it and frame it, and that really is about conflict resolution. It has an introduction, a conflict (which is usually about 60% of the story) and a resolution.
Another C is the courage to follow your story through its conflict resolution. Our path unfolds before us every day. So often, we're so anxious to get to that goal we aren't willing to go through the process to get to that goal. Often, we may try and take shortcuts instead of addressing the conflict that comes up. We may run, and do everything we can to avoid it, but in the long term, it'll come back to bite us. So we need the courage to take us through.
And if we do take the time and walk through that path and recognize that there is a reason for everything happening, we will gain confidence (another C) through our story.
The final C is connection—really learning to use story to connect with others. The key to that is listening to what others need and want. Often as we listen to someone's story, they'll come back and ask us about ourselves. By taking the care to engage, you'll be asked your own story.
SH: What else should we know about the importance of sharing stories?
LO: Everyone's story comes down to valuing yourself, having self-esteem and knowing you're important. We want others to listen to us so we're understood and accepted. We should give the same message to others. You are important. I do want to listen to you, and to hear what you're going through.
It can be easy for teenagers to withdraw. They can say everything is fine. If they don't trust parents or teachers enough to really share what's genuinely going on, they turn to peers for answers, when often they're struggling just as much. The key is being willing to be vulnerable, but that's also the hardest part because vulnerability is about taking that risk. We don't know whether we'll be accepted or not, so it comes down to trust.
When someone is willing to be open and vulnerable in sharing their story, and whomever they share with is genuine in listening to them and accepting them, they realize that it's okay to talk about going through a painful time. It's okay to share their heart. Hopefully, the next time they're in a painful situation, they will know it is okay and gain a little bit of confidence to share, rather than keeping it to themself. If someone is willing to share their story and ask for help when things are not going well, even if the person they're sharing with doesn't have the answers, they can give them a resource or refer them to somebody who does. Sharing is connection, and that's why it's so important.
Want to take that next step in sharing your story? Click HERE for some tips on how to have a real conversation with your parents, according to a communication expert.