What’s Their Story?

I recently came across this impactful statement by author Muriel Rukeyser: “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” I believe this is true. Yes, the universe may technically be made up of atoms, but the world that you and I live in is populated by people – and when it comes to people, it’s all about stories. You have stories. I have stories. We all have stories – some made up (in our minds) and some based upon our real life experiences. These stories – the ones about our life experiences – are the basis for our vital connections and thus, our relationships. Sadly, we live in a world where our stories have become less appreciated and, therefore, our connections and relationships are suffering, both professionally and personally.

I was recently reminded of this story gap (or even vacuum) when I was reading my good friend Tommy Spaulding’s new best-seller – The Heart Led Leader (Crown Business 2015). Tommy shares an experience he had in working with a small group of leaders in a company when he stumbled upon one of the team member’s current life struggles (one of her stories). Tommy then discovered that no one else on the team knew her story. He then had the team members share some of their stories with each other, which resulted in deeper understanding, greater compassion and empathy, stronger connections and deeper relationships. Somehow they had failed to connect through their stories – most likely being too busy with the day-to-day of business to ask, listen or share their stories

This reminded me of a client that I worked with several years ago. I started off the engagement by meeting with every team member in order to get to know them. One of the team members (known as their best writer) shared with me that she not only had a desire to publish a book, but in fact had already worked on a book project and even had secured a publisher to publish the book! This was not just a passing interest—she was well down the road to actually writing and publishing a book. Yet after asking her several more questions about her book writing journey, she said, “I’ve worked here three years, and no one here knows this story. In fact, no one has ever asked me about book writing.”

There was no magic to my question – with someone who loves writing as much as she does, asking about writing a book was logical and easy – yet her fellow team members had never even inquired. While they may have been interested, somehow that topic had never come up with her. Sadly, this is the nature of our work, our relationships and our lives – so much doing and too little story sharing and connecting.

My friend Jack Ricchiuto wrote a book titled The Stories That Connect Us, and one of the most memorable lines in the book relates to the connection we form when we share and listen to each other’s stories: “We listen each other into existence.” Indeed, our stories do connect us, and those connections are the foundation for our relationships. Without our stories, we lack or limit connection, and without connection our relationships in turn are lacking or limited.

Now is the time to embrace and revel in our stories, and this is one of the best and most assured ways of building up, connecting and engaging your team members, friends and relationships. Even in a busy world, there’s always time for asking about and sharing stories. You have stories. Your team members, friends and family have stories. We ALL have stories, but a story isn’t a story unless it’s told and shared. Don’t leave your stories untold, and don’t allow the stories inside the people around you to remain unshared. The next time you’re with people, find a way to ask or invite an answer to this question: What’s your story? You’ll be amazed at what you learn and even more astounded at the connections that build and the relationships that grow. Happy Storytelling!

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