What is your story?

What is your passion?

What is your pain?

I recently had the opportunity to share some of my story on the KILTER&MINT podcast hosted by Ashley Viel. Doing the podcast reminded me how much our stories matter.


The stories we live by:

  • Shape who we are and how we show up in the world
  • Define the impact we have on those around us
  • Define our present and our future
  • Create the contexts in which we live whether at home, school, work or in community

It is a tried and true fact, that we humans are storytelling beings and that we form and transform our worlds by the stories we choose to listen to and live by. If you are questioning this at all, just think about the last major decision you made at home – what story/stories informed that decision and why? Where did the story come from? What about the last significant organizational event you experienced – leadership change, organizational change, most profitable year ever – what were the stories that informed the event? And what about our world today – what are the dominant stories we are paying attention to and why? How are the stories impacting us?

You get the picture. In the narrative world, we often describe stories in David Foster Wallace’s parable of the fish who when asked about the the water says: “What the hell is water?” The water, for humans, are the taken for granted and too often unquestioned stories we live by. In today’s world, the greatest currency for change is questioning the water, our stories, and asking things like:

  • What is my story (macro/meta story)?
  • Whose stories am I living by?
  • What stories do I/we want?
  • What stories do I/we want to leave behind?

Truly answering these questions may surprise you – it will reveal the assumptions you’ve made, the places where you’ve settled for others’ stories and the shifts that you may want to make.

This is why I love stories and storytelling so much. Stories are the gift that keep giving. The simplest and cheapest way to make fundamental change and transformation happen for individuals, organizations and society is to change the storyline or narrative.

As leaders, the work of creating change through storytelling starts by understanding our own narratives. My KILTER&MINT podcast reminded me about my own core stories and the passions and pains that spur me on:

What is your story? On the podcast, I shared the moments in my life history to-date that have defined me. I was reminded of the raw and vulnerable places that I do not often visit, but that are essential to my identity and to the impact I want to have on this world. The thread of the conversation had me revisit my roots and reminded me that the most important impact I want to have is on my children. Examining your story isn’t just about the past and present, it is about what you are creating for your future. It opens up legacy thinking now – because creating legacy doesn’t need to wait until close to those retirement years, assuming of course that you get there.

What is your passion? In the course of the podcast, I was reminded about my passion for the applied social sciences and for the work I do as a facilitator, organization development consultant, academic and writer, to support the development of our human potential. I am clear that there is nothing else I would rather be doing with my life at this point.

What is your pain? This is a question we often miss or ignore. In talking to Ashley, I was reminded that pain can be as powerful a source of inspiration as passion. I should know this – I have been researching and writing about posttraumatic growth for some years now. However, this is why (re)telling your story matters. In retelling my story, I was reminded, in a felt and visceral way, of just how much my own pains have shaped me and my story, and how much I have learned to listen to my pain as well as my passion. In the fullness of our humanity, all sides of our human experiences matter to our development.

These are leadership questions to live by. What is your story? What is your passion? What is your pain (and how might you transform it)?

So next time you are reflecting on your individual leadership or organizing a leadership retreat or doing planning/strategy work, I encourage you to structure your work around these and other relevant/critical questions about the stories you are examining or trying to create. While any traditional planning model may get you there, anchoring in story will take you deeper and inspire you in ways that transform.

Here are two story-based tools to get your started:

Contact SLD Consulting for more information/consulting to design your narrative-based leadership/strategic planning process.