meaningful work podcast

Episode 5: The power of story

Mar 5, 2023 | Podcast

Conversation highlights

0.20: What is the power of story?
2.37: The power of story in my life
4:27: The power of our minds to create emotion
6.28: Is this belief of mine helping or hindering me?
8.16: What is a shadow belief and how does it impact our lives?
12.01: How do you benchmark your business?
14.40: How to model the behaviour you want from someone.
19.23: Why so many people struggle to talk about themselves
21.18: Look for the stores that are well oiled that you have told 1000 times before.


So today, I want to talk about the power of story. And these are the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves, as well as the stories that we tell others about ourselves. And you know, oftentimes, it’s not necessarily an obvious story about ourselves. But there’s an inference that the listener can derive from that’s intentional, you know, when we’re telling the story, often a well-versed story, a story that we’ve told many times before, in order to communicate something about ourselves to the listener.

So the first thing I want to think about is the event that happens and the event is normally an event involving yourself and other people. But it could just be also an event that was just you. And then there’s your experience of the event. So this is, of course, different from the other people involved. Everybody’s going to have a different perspective of the event and what happened. And then the third piece of the puzzle is the story that you create about the event.

Now the story might be created, you know, shortly thereafter, but it could also be, you know, upon reflection with the benefit of hindsight, and you know, the lens that you’re looking through your particular lens, everybody’s got a particular lens or bias, to create to craft a story that then goes on to create meaning in that in that event.

Now, I know, I know, 100% the power of story, I’ve experienced it in my own life multiple different times before. One quick story I’ll share is when I was a tour leader, at age 2223, I was taking groups of passengers packs, I was as we used to call them, between Cambodia, Vietnam, in and out of Bangkok. And in one particular tour, we crossed the border, we crossed the land border between Vietnam and Cambodia, and we picked up our bus and all the passengers of myself piled into the bus for the bus ride into Phnom Penh And the bus ride was, I can’t remember exactly, but it would have been about six or seven hours. So you know, fairly long bus ride.

So I must have chit-chatted a little. But I had a seat to myself. And I spent the majority of that bus trip looking out the window. I wasn’t reading for whatever reason. Those are many years ago, before we had such a thing as podcasts. So I was just looking out the window and thinking. And in this particular day, I got on the bus in a perfectly fine, normal mood. And I got off the bus six or seven hours later in absolute despair. And of course, nobody knew that because I was the tour leader. So I was always excellent at putting on a happy face and pretending everything was marvelous, even when it wasn’t. But I was in the absolute doldrums.

I had managed in those six or seven hours to tell myself things to you know, create stories in my mind that made me absolutely miserable. And I’ve never really I’ve never forgotten this, I’ve never forgotten this because it really goes to illustrate to me the power of our minds, the power of our stories, and the power of our thoughts to create emotion and not just, you know, a little emotion but a lot of emotion. So, thoughts become beliefs. And what I mean by that is when we think things repeatedly over time, it becomes almost like a broken record. It’s like the old vinyl record where the needle we would get stuck in groove. And it would just go round and round and round and round. And it would play that sound over and over again.

And you know, this is how thoughts become beliefs, we think them repeatedly, until they become something that we don’t really even question they become the lens through which we view the world. They become the bias and the agendas that we’re not really even aware of, we’re not aware, most of the time that we’re wearing this lens, we’re wearing these glasses.

As we view the world, and you know, the people in our life, you know, were looking at things, not in an objective manner, we’re looking at things through the lens of our beliefs, our thoughts, our opinions, our attitude. And our beliefs are the most powerful thing as they are, how we interpret reality. They are how we draw conclusions on, you know, the reality outside of ourselves. So this is really, really important. The power of story is really, really important, particularly for business owners, particularly for people who do indeed want meaningful work and a remarkable life. Because this has a massive, powerful impact.

The stories that we tell ourselves, and we tell to others, has a massive impact on our emotions, on our thoughts on our beliefs. And, you know, one of the my favourite coaching questions that I love to ask my clients, and as you are a podcast listener, I now consider you a client of mine. If you’d like to entertain that idea, a question I’d like to pose to you right now is, is this belief of mine? Helping or hindering me is this belief of mine, going to move me in the direction that I want to be moved in? Is this belief of mine going to prevent me or actively help me from getting what I want? And this, these questions, and they’re all kind of similar, these questions are really, really useful for interpreting our reality, interpreting our inner landscape interpreting our thoughts, beliefs, opinions, attitude.

I don’t love the word mindset. I don’t like the word mindset at all, because it’s such a silly little word for such a massively complex subject. And, you know, it also has that inference in said that our minds can be set and absolutely, our minds can be changed, our minds can absolutely be changed, our thoughts can be changed, our beliefs can be changed. It’s not necessarily easy. It’s not like, you know, clearing out a pantry cupboard. You know, it’s not, it’s not straightforward.

Oftentimes, it does require some stamina. But absolutely, you can change your thoughts and beliefs. I’ve seen it, you know, multiple times, not just in myself, but in my clients and others as well. So oftentimes, we’re not even really aware of these beliefs.

Like I said, we’re wearing this lens, these glasses, we’re not aware that we’re wearing you know, these glasses. And this, this kind of unconscious belief, I guess, has been coined a shadow belief. That was originally from Carl Jung, he came up with that term. And it’s, you know, it’s something that’s been adopted shadow belief is something that’s been adopted by people such as Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson, this unconscious limiting belief that influences our lives. And I see this at play all the time. All the time.

This unconscious self-limiting belief, I can do this, I can’t do that. I can’t I’m not the kind of person who that’s a great clue. I’m not the kind of person who, and I, you know, certainly I’ve, I’ve, I’ve used that phrase multiple times in my life, almost always before, you know, a big breakthrough. I’m not the kind of person who I can’t do this.

These really definitive you know, my work is this my work is that you can do this, you can’t do that. I am, I am not. These are almost always clues as to beliefs or shadow beliefs that can have a massive influence on our entire lives. If we want more than what we’ve currently got, if we are keen on creating more meaning on deriving more meaning from our work on deriving more useful meaning, more constructive stories, more happy stories, more stories about ourselves and our business and our work that makes us feel good. That gets us closer to our goals. So what we want that creates, you know, a life that we’re in love with The life that we 100% enjoying, then taking control of this is really, really important.

So there are a lot of things that you can do in order to kind of take control. And one thing I like to say with Michael, I want one piece of homework rather, with my, with my clients is I’ll ask them to find evidence, you know, they’ll say, I’m not good at this, I’m not good at that. I had a client recently who had a story that she wasn’t creative, I’m not creative. And of course, you know, she wanted to be creative. She had a desire to be creative that sat alongside this story that she was telling herself. So I asked clients, can you find me evidence of this, go and find me evidence of this, and you know, a big one is money and pricing. People won’t pay that, that’s too expensive, nobody will be able to afford this. The price is too high. You know, people won’t pay it.

So I ask clients, “Show me the evidence go and find me evidence that you know that this is actually true that this story is true”. And you know, it oftentimes relates as well. So in in relation to money and pricing, clients will go off then and they will find people who are charging the same or more than that, what they want to charge. And that can quickly demonstrate that yes, there is a market for this. Yes, there are, it is possible to charge this price.

That might seem high, or, you know, expensive, or whatever the story is. But a lot of clients also want to see the had the belief that they’re not good, you know, that they’re not good enough yet to do this. They’re not good enough yet to, you know, to do the thing to launch the thing, to charge the price to be you know, who am I to do this? I’m not good enough yet. I’m not there yet. I’m not ready yet. I don’t know enough. I’m not qualified enough. Really, really, really common.

And it’s certainly something that I have grappled with. Absolutely, definitely. And in the first few years of my life, the first few years of my business, a hell of a lot more. The story or not the story, but the pursuit that I had, for the first few years of of my business was, well, where do I sit in the market? How good am I am I am I okay, am I good? Am I better? Am I best? Where is the benchmark? You know, where is the evidence of, you know, where I sit, I almost was looking for a number, you know, like, I’m in 12th position, I’m in 10th, position, whatever.

And, of course, you know, after many years, it became clear that there was no such thing, there was no way to benchmark my professional abilities, my, my skills alongside my peers, there’s no such thing, you know, I’d love to see. And I know that there, there are certain kind of websites that can give you some clues. But you know, it’s very, very difficult to actually benchmark yourself for a lot of this kind of stuff. And especially when we’re talking about emerging skills, we’re talking about things that are not, you know, how competent, are you with this particular software program? We’re talking about more complicated things.

So one of the pieces of evidence that, you know, are you good enough, you’re good enough, you put the offer out there, whatever the offer is, you put a price on the offer, and somebody buys it. And you know, maybe you put the price on the offer, because it’s on your website, or maybe you do it through a proposal or a quotation.

But you put it out there, somebody says, yes, they purchase it. Great. So now you have evidence that you can charge that amount for that piece of work, and one person has shown it to be possible. And then how do you know if you’re good, because they come back for more? Four years, I didn’t get a lot of positive reinforcement in my business. And certainly, nobody volunteered compliments or you know, I mean, sometimes they volunteer compliments, but nobody volunteered testimonials. Nobody volunteered Google reviews, nobody volunteered LinkedIn recommendations.

And I was looking for that really clear and obvious evidence to you know, reinforce the story that I was good. And, you know, somebody much smarter than I said, you know, you know, your good or the thank you that you’ll get is when they pay the invoice like that’s it. Don’t expect don’t expect any more. Anything more. But me being me. I did I did want more. Of course. I’m insatiable. Absolutely. I wanted a thank you letter. I wanted a thank you card. You know, and one of the saddest kind of, you know, at the time when it happened, I’ve found it really lonely. So I had my first baby. And when I had my first baby, I had a handful of clients that I was speaking to every single day, in some cases multiple times a day.

So you know, it was, we were fairly close, we were pretty close. And I had my first-ever baby, which of course they knew about. And I didn’t get so much as one goddamn card in the mail, that’s all I wanted, I wanted a card in the mail saying, congratulations, you’ve just birthed a baby, like, it’s a pretty big deal, right? I got a text message two or three days later in response to the text message that I sent to my clients. But that was it. So what I did to change the story there is I started sending notes in the mail to my clients. Because of course, if you want something, you have to model the behaviour, if there is behaviour that you want, somebody you want from somebody, one of the best, and most direct ways of getting that is to model that behaviour for them. So I started sending my clients notes in the mail, thank you cards.

And finally, I can’t remember what your business was. But let’s say you know, year six, in business, I finally got a Christmas card from a client. And I’m sure I’ve still got that Christmas card in my memory box somewhere, one of my memory boxes, because it meant, you know, a hell of a lot the story that was wrapped up in that card was that, you know, I was appreciated that I was valued, that my clients would be bothered to, you know, put a stamp on an envelope. But of course, how would they know that I wanted that, until I actually demonstrated that.

And now you know, if you’re a subscriber on my newsletter, my signature at the bottom of every mass email that I send says, you know, please send poetry, love letters, you know, wine, good times party invitations to Pio box for one to two castlecrag, New South Wales 2068. So please go ahead, if you feel inclined, send me a poem, I’d love to receive it.

So the power of story in your life, the power of story in your business, I would love you to consider talking about your life as if it is the most astonishing thing, to take up space in a group of people to talk about what you’re doing, or what you’ve done, to talk about what you are astonished by to talk about the conversations, you’re having the ideas that are getting you excited, you know, it doesn’t need to be about sucking the oxygen or I’m not talking here about sucking the oxygen from the room. And, you know, blathering on and not reading social cues. You know, ignoring people when they’re looking disinterested.

I’m talking about the enthusiasm that you hopefully have for your life, and sharing that enthusiasm with others with others with the expectation that they will understand it, that they’ll that you’re actually doing people a community service by expressing this enthusiasm, because enthusiasm is contagious. And again, it doesn’t need to be, you know, it shouldn’t be if I could use the word should apologies for the word shoot. You know, it shouldn’t be about listing your accolades or, you know, tooting your own horn. “I’m great at this. I’m awesome at that, you know, I’m really very, you know, very good at this, that now, this is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about, you know, what, where you’ve come from where and where you’re going next.

And the joy of story is that you can make it up as you go along. You can craft it and edit it and change it and evolve it. This is going to be a future episode restoring because you’re reinforcing to others and you’re reinforcing to yourself. You’re values, your you know, what gets you excited, what wakes you up in the morning, what what puts the spring in your step, so to speak. And this is a powerful thing.

So many people really struggle to talk about themselves. They are in a massive, massive problem when it comes to talking about themselves. And in my work. I have been lucky enough I’ve been privileged enough to interview people. And it’s always a privilege listening to somebody’s story and asking people vulnerable questions and having them reveal themselves to me. And over and over and over. I’m struck by the fact that so many people don’t recognise the fabulous stories. They have, you know, in evidence that they don’t actually think it interesting or they don’t think are relevant, or they don’t take up the space to share them with others regularly.

So many people, when I’m writing somebody else’s bio, when I’m interviewing somebody, they will tell the most extraordinary stories, and yet believed that it’s not relevant to their future or that it’s not relevant to their goals, or it’s not relevant to their work. And at 100% Is it 100% Is, and the joy of storytelling is that you can weave this in, you can create those connecting threads to make something powerful, relevant, interesting, useful, valuable, not just to others, but to yourself as well. And this is, you know, the power of restoring.

So the stories that we tell to ourselves and the stories we tell about ourselves. Are these stories useful? Are these stories helpful? Are these stories, empowering you or making you feel good about yourself good about your life good about your future? Or are they keeping you stuck? Are they justifying inaction? Are they justifying?

You know, what more of what you don’t want, look for the repetitions, look for the stories that are well oiled, that you’ve told 1000 times before, and look for whether or not they’re actually, you know, useful their stories that you wish to continue, you know, into your future. I once interviewed a woman for a bio and about page, she spoke at me for an hour and a half, she really, you know, there was very little that I needed to do apart from, you know, take notes. I didn’t ask her hardly any questions she just talked to talk to talk for an hour and a half.

And the story was obviously very well polished. It was a story that she had clearly told 1000 times before. And there was one part of the story where she mentioned something negative, she mentioned somebody who’d taken advantage of her and I think that’s how she worded it. And I said, Oh, tell me more about that. And she just clammed up said, you know, no, that’s, that’s not relevant type thing.

You know, and so it always struck me, as you know, this story had no room for growth, it was a story that was well worn. And it was a story that obviously told her, her, you know, position to her in a positive light. But there was no room for growth or change in that story. And there certainly wasn’t any room for learning when there’s no room for, you know, growth or change or interpretation or an alternative interpretation.

So, please, consider the power of story, consider taking up space, consider using the next experience that you have, when you’re meeting people who don’t know you very well, maybe you’re meeting them for the first time. Consider yourself in that scenario as a bit of an entertainer. And consider what makes a good story good.

You know, what makes somebody’s story entertaining, and it doesn’t, you know, doesn’t have to be all positive. And, you know, everything was peachy, oftentimes the best stories, stories of great vulnerability, of you know, of sacrifice of, you know, difficulty, hindrances hardships, consider using that opportunity, the next time you meet people to practice getting more comfortable with the power of your story, and the details that you choose to share with others.

And I you know, I need to warn you, of course, that there may well be a vulnerability hangover. But oftentimes strangers are a hell of a lot safer than friends. They are, you know, people that we don’t we don’t really care that much right? About You know, what their reactions or responses are that’s why we’re oftentimes more comfortable you know, talking to a stranger on public transport about some you know, horrible event than we are telling friends and family. And why we we can often reveal ourselves to strangers far more easily than we can reveal vulnerabilities to friends and family. So give this a red hot go. And let me know about the power of your story.

This podcast was produced by Morgan Sebastian Brown of Brown Tree Productions, and the original music was produced by Sean Windsor.

Brook McCarthy Business Coach

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