This story was originally published on LinkedIn.
Here is a quote that I’m sure you have heard before. I’ve seen it attributed to several different people, but the version I like is by Harvey MacKay: “Our lives change in two ways: through the people we meet and the books we read.”
Storytelling is so ubiquitous in our daily lives — from the narratives that emerge when we scan the headlines, to the recap your kids give you when you ask about their day, to the stories that you hear as you make your way through your calendar. We get opportunities daily to learn about all sorts of subjects told through the viewpoint of unique narrators.
Nearly every conversation we have or invite into our lives has the power to shape us and to even change us, but do we ever give our own stories a lot of thought?
Probably like many of you, for years I have asked people I interview in traditional fashion to walk me through their resume. Not too long ago, I made a slight alteration to this and began to ask them to “tell me your story.” The change in the answers has been fascinating. Not always, but often, I am spared a dry monologue about going from one job to another and instead get a sense of the arc of their life, which occasionally includes fascinating tales about life experiences I have never contemplated. Hopefully this improves the quality of the evaluation, but at a minimum, interviews have gotten a lot more interesting for me.
It occurred to me recently that if this question generated these results in an interview, it may also lead to more interesting social conversations. So, I began to weave it in whenever I thought appropriate. It’s hard to describe the richness of some of the stories I have heard.
It’s quite surprising how transparent and authentic people will be when given the opportunity to tell their story to an attentive and highly interested listener. Just over the past few weeks, I have been treated to tales about childhoods spent growing up on a farm, living as a minority in a community and being moved around the country as a military brat. Most impressive was the introspection from each of these individuals as to how those experiences shaped the person they have become – their passions, career and relationships.
Because of my job and stage of life I am often afforded the opportunity to interact with brilliant, accomplished individuals. It seems that I always gain some nugget that impacts my life view from each of their stories. But it’s not just the seemingly successful people who have a worthwhile story to tell. In fact, often there is more to learn from the person you would least suspect. Every person has gone on a unique journey in their life, and generally, the more different theirs is from mine the more valuable it is for me to experience their story.
As I write this, I am struck by two thoughts. First, let’s challenge ourselves to absorb all the richness we can from all the stories we can hear — to approach the world and the people around us with curiosity. We’ll be better for it.
Second, let’s take the time to consider our story and the narrative of our lives. Let’s be able to tell that as a great story. The world will be better for it.