When running your own company and representing your own brand, it’s important to tell a story. And so often the story told is too general or isn’t rooted in true experiences. These stories lack structure and aren’t actually about the person running the show. (Hint: That person is you.)
Before you can jump into a brand story or a customer story, it’s necessary for you to find a story that answers the question: How did you get to where you are now?
This is an Origin Story.
In the world of comic books, this phrase is used time and time again to let the reader know how a particular character (a superhero) gained their super powers. It’s a hero’s journey where the listener can learn about all of the obstacles and adventures that happened along the way.
Despite the “How To” in the title of this article, there is no template for telling a great story. The good news: Beyond it needing a beginning, middle, and end, great stories take all shapes and forms. Stories can be physical, bizarre, visceral, uncomfortable, long, grounded, and hilarious. Give yourself permission to tell it however you want to tell it, so long as you are speaking your truth.
Photo by Joanna Nowak
Here are some tips for finding and sharing the life experiences that have impacted you personally and professionally.
Dare to share. There’s a natural inclination to separate the personal and professional. Don’t be afraid to share the parts of yourself that go beyond the blazer. Recently, when working with a client on the Origin Story of her consulting business, she shared that she spent a year living in a convent and a year in beauty school. Both of these things came up casually in tangential conversations. However, when we explored the stories that went along with those life experiences, they ended up playing a huge role in how she got to where she is now. The more we can communicate the full, 360 degree version of ourselves, the more our audience will be able to connect.
This is not your entire life story. Your Origin Story is not every moment of every day from the moment you were born until now. Find the small moments that transform into big stories. Think back to a time when everything started to make sense for you. Or a moment where everything went horribly wrong and it forced you to set off on a new path. The stories that stick with us are usually the best ones to share.
Work backwards. If you are feeling overwhelmed while brainstorming your Origin Story, break the story prompt into two parts: Where are you now? How did you get there? You might have more than one answer to each of these questions. That’s OK. Think of it as Choose Your Own Adventure. You might have two different stories that take you to the same ending. Play with both and find the one that resonates with you the most.
Showcase your Superpowers. It’s easy to doubt our stories and downplay our accomplishments. There is the worry that if we share too much of ourselves, including what we’ve achieved, we run the risk of sounding like we are bragging. In an Origin Story, our superpowers usually arise from action or conflict (whether internal or external). If you bring your audience along for the ride and share both the positive and negative moments that led you to your great feats, then the risk of judgement and assumption dissipates. Storytelling is a path to understanding.
Have fun. Tell the stories that you want to tell. If you find you are answering the story prompt in ways that make you feel less than or nervous to share your story, then continue the search. You should never tell a story that you aren’t proud of. There might be real life moments within the story that you aren’t proud of, but usually we tell those stories because we love who we are when the story ends. You can also have fun by playing with your story structure and digging in to the humor of everyday life.
Be the main character of your story. Brené Brown says, “When we own our stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in stories someone else is telling.” Your business’ story begins with you. If you are in business with other people, each person should have their own Origin Story. This will only strengthen the mission, vision, and values of your whole company.
Hillary is the founder of Tell Me A Story, a company that supports you and your stories through artistic guidance and educational practice. She is also the producer and host of the narrative storytelling podcast Rashomon.