“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story”
Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
When was the last time you heard a good story? Jojo Moyes’ One Plus One comes into my mind. An unlikely tale of a single Mum roping in a reluctant acquaintance on a road trip through the UK with her two children. Victoria Wood, talking about her eccentric upbringing in Yorkshire on a vintage Desert Island Discs comes rushing forward too. Oh yes, and there’s the song Sunrise, Sunset that Topol sings in Fiddler on the Roof, which captures in 14 poignant lines everything that touches me about time passing.
From the Tortoise and the Hare, to Little Red Riding Hood through to Star Wars and Harry Potter, story-telling takes us out of our own experience whilst paradoxically teaching us something new about it. Fables shed new light on old problems. Tales give us hope, provide us with inspiration and that feeling of not being the only one, making sense of our relationships, ourselves and our society.
When Chi-chi Nwanoku founded Chineke! Europe’s first BME orchestra, inspiration for the name came from Chinua Achebe’s story Things Fall Apart. “Chi”, in the Igbo language means “the spirit of creation”, and she first came across the word in Achebe’s novel. “I want black musicians to walk to the stage and know they belong”, she told The Guardian, and since 2015 they have been both playing together and developing young musicians around the world in this spirit of creation.
So, when was the last time you told a good story about yourself?
Barak Obama wrote a good one when he was elected as President. His autobiography set the tone for how the rest of the world viewed him and gave us a sense of the man behind the powerful title.
Steve Hewlett presenter of Radio 4’s The Media Show died last year. His regular telling of his terminal cancer story, gave a pragmatic and sensitive voice to a taboo subject and helped others give voice to their experience too.
From Anne Frank to Malala Yousafzai, from Maya Angelou to Hilary Rodham Clinton, women’s stories about themselves delight, shock and challenge, many of us finding our own personal coaches in paperback form.
Recently, I coached a potential manager, her story about herself began to change drastically. She says, “Metaphorically, I was walking around with my eyes closed. It wasn’t sudden but over the course of the coaching, I gradually felt I could see clearly and with more certainty. Now I know what I want and I am more confident to say ‘yes’ to new things. I’ve realised how much I limit myself and just how much I can influence situations.”
Telling aloud a new story about herself, hearing herself afresh and reassessing the abilities and skill she had taken for granted, is transforming her self-image. She knows now what she can offer and is turning the page onto a new, yet unwritten chapter, and trusting herself in a different way.
For one of our clients we are currently designing a new programme to develop women. With their gender pay gap research that less women move into technical roles, firmly in mind, we’ll be offering women the chance to reflect on their stories, the highs and lows of their career, the values and beliefs they honoured to get there, the people who have helped them along the way and with the commitment of the organisation behind them, start planning their next chapters with resourcefulness and determination.