Storytelling is one of the oldest human traditions. As early as 30,000 B.C., humans told tales of their lives, loves, triumphs, and trials with primitive cave drawings and murals. Fast forward 32,000 years, and we’ve taken this art form to a whole new level.
I could easily argue we’re obsessed with stories because they’re the foundation of what we love to do. There are those who like to read, while others enjoy listening to podcasts or watching TV and movies. Some stories are works of fiction. Others reveal realities we didn’t know existed.
So whether you’re a Real Housewives fan or prefer to devour the latest biography to make the New York Times Best Sellers list, you’re feeding your soul with what humanity has always connected with: stories.
How do you tell your authentic story?
You know yourself, but how do you tell the narrative of your life? Or better yet, do you share your authentic story with others?
Despite how much we enjoy consuming stories, sharing our own can be difficult. Most of us have been taught that talking about ourselves is boastful or egotistic. Nothing could be further from the truth.
There is so much that makes you unique. Everything from your personality to your DNA distinguishes you as an individual set apart from all others.
No one has lived your exact life, not even the closest of siblings. For better or worse, we all experience the world differently, and much of what influences us is out of our control. The circumstances of our birth, our innate nature and personalities, and the situations we encounter as we move through the world combine to create the narratives of our lives.
These stories are never perfect, but they’re incredibly valuable. So what’s stopping you from sharing? Are you worried you’ll be judged? Maybe you don’t like feeling vulnerable or think no one is truly interested. You may just feel that your life experiences should be private. Whatever your reason, sometimes challenging your beliefs can be valuable.
Am I an imposter?
The successes in your past can have a dark underbelly. Rather than being proud of reaching your goals and enjoying your accomplishments, you chalk them up to chance.
You couldn’t possibly be smart enough to earn that job. There’s no way you have enough influence to spur real change. You haven’t really earned this nice vacation.
We tell ourselves these lies because we haven’t done everything we think we’re supposed to do before gaining such accolades and rewards. Feeling accomplished might seem wrong because we haven't followed the prescribed path of those before us.
There’s something else going on here, too. Our stories should make us proud, but pride makes us uncomfortable. Being proud of something you’ve truly earned can feel indulgent, even vain.
We’re more comfortable hiding ourselves and our stories from the world in the smallest possible place. Revealing ourselves to the world by opening up and telling our stories doesn’t just risk our pride. Sharing can also bring up feelings of vulnerability.
The pride predicament
Pride has a bad rap, but why? Why are we so afraid to be proud of ourselves?
I’ll admit, I feel uncomfortable when I see people reading my bio. Knowing what they’re reading, wondering how they’re evaluating my journey by their standards, and ultimately judging me, is completely unnerving.
I’ve done a great deal to get to this point in my life, but is what I’ve done enough to deserve a written bio dedicated to my accomplishments? Or to have the authority to teach this class? Do I really have the insights to lead this workshop? Absolutely.
The truth is, I’ve worked hard, struggled, and made many sacrifices to get to where I am. I’ve climbed the mountain and have every right to tell the tale of who I really am with pride.
Bring your story, bring yourself
If you don’t tell your story, who will? There is so much value in sharing yourself, your true self, with others. This includes everyone from your friends and neighbors, loved ones, partners, and even those with whom you work and negotiate.
We share experiences and discover common ground when we tell our stories. Our narratives make us accessible and human. So rather than being seen as adversaries at the bargaining table, our stories let us show up as fellow human beings.
When negotiating, there’s something so powerful about acknowledging, “Hey, I’m not just like you, I’m me. But you and I have some things in common.”
Sharing your stories keeps the focus on how you’re alike and helps you to see people as human beings instead of negotiating adversaries. With this perspective, you can build a positive to satisfy all parties.
Even I struggle with this. When I walk into a Goldman Sachs event to speak to 400 people, I sometimes want to crawl into that small space. But remembering that every single audience member is a flawed human being with a unique background, just like me, helps me feel accepted and at ease.
A matter of perception
How do we get here? How do we arrive at a place where we’re not just comfortable with our stories but proud to tell them? By widening your perception.
So many of us have a narrow view of our capabilities. We keep our scope small and our goals incremental because we fear failure. That perspective can get us into trouble.
We think we can’t get the next big promotion because we haven’t gone to a particular school, learned a specific skill, or have exactly the right experience. Is there another way to look at each of these attributes? Could your unconventional credentials actually be your advantage?
This is what our authentic stories are made of.
Having enough pride in your narrative to leverage your history to reach your goals—that’s powerful. Hiding in the small spaces to cast shadows over where there should be honor—that’s a missed opportunity.
When we're left behind, it can be because we don't go.
Don’t be left behind. Instead, stand by your story with pride and let the power of your narrative change your life.