I grew up in a storytelling culture. Stories were everywhere and yet people didn’t talk about themselves as much. Their stories were about the world or about something fantastic they had seen or heard. They served more to spread news and to entertain. You experienced people through your interaction, not the stories they told about themselves.
So, when someone says “Tell me about yourself”, I struggle. Of all the stories I could possibly craft, which one will I choose? And choose I do. And because there is a performance element to these stories, I don’t always know how the story will go or how it will end. There are moments when I think:
- Why did I tell that bit? or
- Why did I say it like that? or
- Why didn’t I tell them about that?
In truth, how can you condense your life’s experience into a short story?
Breaking Up with Stories
I sometimes find that I am getting tired of some of the ways I talk about myself or about some part of my life experience. In fact, I am tired talking about myself in general.
Other people’s stories interest me more, but even there you can sense when a story has been told too often. When it has been curated to show the hero in a certain light and in that moment you know you are listening to a performance. It often carries a tiredness and I wonder if I can hear the tiredness, how must the person telling the story feel?
Do you know the feeling?
- What story am I tired of?
- How am I tired of it?
- Might I stop telling it?
- Might I let go parts of it?
- Might I tell it differently?
- Might I change the ending?
The next time you find yourself swapping stories with someone new, the invitation is to listen deeply to the stories you both tell and ask yourself:
- What is this story really about?
- What purpose is it serving?
Remember, most people’s stories are about the past – they optimise the past. And yet, the person you were yesterday is no more.
So, who are the stories you are telling about?
Questions in the Image:
- What story have I told too many times?
- How am I tired of this story?
- What story might I tell instead?
Want to Read More Around This Topic?
Maps of Narrative Practice by Michael White (link to Amazon.co.uk). Micheal White was one of the founders of Narrative Therapy and his works are full of fascinating insights. The opening chapter alone on Externalizing Conversations is worth its weight in gold.
Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day. There is a storm raging as I write so it feels like the world is angry. My grandfather used to say that God created storms when he was angry with the world so that surely is my inspiration. I am curious, however, as to how we might be angry with ourselves? What do we feel we should have accomplished that we haven’t? Who should we be that we aren’t?
What Thoughts Would You Like to Share? My name is Tom O’Leary, and I envision a world in which curiosity shapes leadership. In this world, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning. My mission is to shift leadership focus from authority, over-measurement and control to curiosity, learning and innovation, empowering leaders to prioritise the essential. My journey, lived in a number of countries and through various languages, has always been driven by a profound sense of curiosity. In fact, life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential. I welcome your thoughts, feedback, or personal experiences related to these questions or any insights they may have sparked.