Author Michael Margolis on August 27, 2014

You are a Storyteller, and You Have a Story Worth Telling.


“I want to study engineering at MIT. I’ve still got two years until I graduate high school, so I’m trying to learn everything I can… I can write the perfect essay telling you how to make cables, but I still need to work on keeping my hand steady. You need a very steady hand when you’re working with fiber optic cables.” — Humans of New York.


Everyone has a story and everyone is a storyteller.

What makes Humans of New York (HONY) so wildly popular?

What began as a photographer with a Facebook page grew to 9 million followers and a global adventure. This website hit on something universal: a snapshot into people’s souls through a single photograph and a short anecdote. Looking at the lives of our fellow humans around the world, moment by moment, in a quote or a snapshot, captivates millions of us. We see ourselves in the dreams, pain, and desires of those featured.

There are countless imitation sites that have since cropped up, and HONY photographer, Brandon Stanton, is currently on a 50-day global tour sponsored by the UN.

If you haven’t checked out this celebration of the human experience, you must.

YOU HAVE THE POWER AND TOOLS TO TELL YOUR STORY.

Storytelling is in a rapid process of democratization.

Technology is fast democratizing the storytelling production process. Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, Createspace — there are thousands of platforms for telling your story. In fact, the younger you are, the more you accept this democratization as a cultural value, if not universal human right. Today’s connected world emphasizes giving everyone a platform to tell their story. You can hear the rallying cry of youth…

Of course, I’m going to be a blogger, have a Youtube Channel, start a band, publish a book, be an entrepreneur, and make the world my oyster! Why wouldn’t I?

This didn’t always used to be the case.

“What used to be the purview of the shaman, elder, and priest is now available to all of us.”— Grant McCracken, anthropologist, author of Transformations

WE ALL HAVE A STORY… AND EVERYONE IS A STORYTELLER.

It used to be the privilege of an elite few who controlled and defined the stories of our lives.

Thanks to the democratization of communication, anyone can become a blogger, published author, or have a Facebook page. Cultural values and expectations are shifting — people are demanding to have a voice at the table. Through social media, people will complain or be vocal. Around the world, this emerging youth generation is describing a new global reality: everyone has a story, and we’re all looking for a means to express it.

This radical transformation of the communication landscape means that you no longer have to live in the same town as your parents, or accept the faith of your heritage.

There are the stories that you’re born into versus the stories that you choose to live.

We all have the power to choose the stories of our own lives. We are truly the masters of our own destiny, and the only thing that gets in the way is our own self.

Everyone has a story worth telling.

Today, this movement is at the heart of many struggles around the world — people want to share their voices, and shed light on the reality of their experiences (think the Arab Spring). Technology has democratized communication and destabilized the old way of doing things.

We’re hungry for more stories, which is why “Share Your Story,” is fast becoming a widely-used advertising campaign for brands to connect to their customers, including Facebook, Toyota, and Red Cross. While it’s at risk of becoming a cliche, you can’t deny the humanity, power, and impact of these real first-person stories.

Wait! Some people say ‘you are not a storyteller’?

In a recent interview, renowned designer Stefan Sagmeister stirred a few emotions with his short provocation “You Are Not A Storyteller.” You might have seen this video, it took the advertising/creative world by storm, with sharp opinions on both sides of the debates.

 

Let’s pause and acknowledge this watershed in storytelling history — storytelling is mainstream enough that famous people are debating its usage and over-application. Sweet!!!

Sagmeister raises a fair question: If everyone calls themselves a “storyteller,” doesn’t that cheapen and devalue what it means to be a “storyteller”?

It’s a similar argument I’ve heard for years — starting with performance storytellers, who worried that as the storytelling movement went mainstream, they were at risk of being marginalized and discounted. What’s the value of our hard-earned mastery if any ordinary amateur is allowed to call themselves a “storyteller?” Will this do a disservice to the sacred fire of storytelling?

Truth: the word “storyteller” is thrown around loosely, like a cheap pick-up line.

Especially in the design, advertising, art, architectural and communications industries.

Not to mention how many countless people get up on stage every week and share a 3-minute story on Amateur Night and now call themselves a storyteller. You can thank The Moth and the like for this exciting global meme.

For years, I used to resist calling myself a “storyteller” because truth be told, I am not a performance storyteller. And when you use the word “storyteller” there’s certain expectations that people project onto you. Eventually, I found my place of truth, in the way that I work with story which is genuine and true to who I am.

There’s a reason why people are drawn to the moniker of “storyteller.”

It’s universal, it’s human, and it’s timeless. At a time when so many other roles and spheres of identity are changing, we are all fundamentally storytellers. The core truth is that everyone has a story, and indeed everyone is a storyteller.

The argument that only a rare few should do it is actually the same argument we heard about bloggers not being journalists, or that how iPhone cameras are destroying the professional photography industry.

NOBODY SAID THAT DISRUPTION WOULD BE PRETTY OR EASY.

The democratization of communication worldwide has radically shifted who has access to sharing, publishing and telling the story. The deeper truth here is that we’re entering a new golden age of storytelling. We’re becoming more discerning as consumers of stories, which in turn informs and guides us in being better creators of stories.

It’s not that we’re not storytellers — everyone is a storyteller, and everyone has a story to tell.

“You are you, an undeniable soul.” — Why Guinness gets this.

The stories that we are born into, the ones we inherited, are starting to feel like worn-out clothes that don’t fit. We don’t buy into education, culture, and media that tell us “this is your place in the world,” or define what is and isn’t possible. We are masters of our own ship. More and more, we’re starting to reconcile the difference between the stories we are born into, and the stories we choose to live.

Guinness gets this. In a new advertisement dedicated to Sapeurs, or The Society of Elegant Persons, Guinness looks at a group of everyday men from Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. Despite your job, despite your upbringing, despite whatever challenges you may face in your day to day life, they remind us, you are an undeniable soul.

When they said, “you are the captain of your soul” it sent shivers down my spine:

Guinness isn’t selling beer here. They’re describing a way of life. They’re tapping into the deeper roots of humanity and showing us how a group of amazing people have championed a new story in their lives — regardless of the circumstances around them.

Why we’re all learning a new approach to storytelling.

You have a natural intuition for storytelling. We all do.

We’re actually programmed and wired for storytelling. It’s in our DNA, designed to help us navigate and make sense of the world. Don’t worry, we all have this ability. There’s even a specific gene (which I’ll tell you about in a future article) that allows us to take every experience and relationship and store it in the mind as a story. Since our world is being radically reinvented and turned upside down, we’re desperate to realign our storytelling compass — inside and out.

If you’re a change-agent, marketer, coach, consultant, or leader — you’re often telling a really high-stakes story. You walk into the room, and your personal story is on the line. And if you don’t tell a story that inspires and influences others, then you’ve probably not had a successful day.

“Those who tell the stories, rule the world.” — Hopi Proverb

The democratization of communication means there is a learning curve to improving your storytelling. It might feel hard at first hard, because it requires a new kind of voice and sensibility. Storytelling is one of the most important skills to learn in the coming years. You career, goals, and ambitions might just well depend on it.

I believe we need to learn and internalize a new language of storytelling. That’s why we think this new approach is so important — because it’s going to unlock the places you feel stuck, constrained, or tied up in a knot when it comes to sharing your mojo.

This requires a new kind of presence, thoughtfulness, and self-knowledge. Not to mention humility, empathy, and vulnerability. Let’s make Sagemeister proud. Especially if you someday want the confidence to truly call yourself a “storyteller.”

These principles are the bedrock of our new StoryU learning platform.

EVERYONE IS A STORYTELLER. BECAUSE EVERYONE HAS A STORY TO TELL.

How do you feel about the word “Storyteller”?

home_michaelprofile_129x129px-2xAuthor Michael Margolis
Michael is the CEO at Get Storied. You can find him on Twitter @GetStoried where he engages daily with a quarter-million fans. Also, enjoy his free training storytelling at www.getstoried.com/redpill


  • jimsignorelli

    Good article Michael. I especially agree with Sagmeister. I also LOVED his video (which I couldn’t play in your article btw). Especially in marketing, storytelling is the new hammer and everything is a nail. The challenge is to use story in a way that makes a difference for others. Otherwise storytelling is just a toy for narcissists. Yes, we all have a story. However for many of us. we never realize its full potential. That’s because its hidden underneath what we often think is our story, but in truth it is nothing more than a resume – a plot with no emotional significance.

    • Great points Jim! With great power, comes great responsibility, right? That’s why it’s so important for folks like us to help people really get beneath the surface of this storytelling revolution, and not turn it into an excuse for mental masturbation. Appreciate seeing you in the comments.

      [The video replay should be working now (we just switched video servers).]

    • “A plot with no emotional significance.” Key takeaway–emotional significance. We must ask ourselves that, ‘how’s this story going impact or affect others?’ …

  • This is my 3rd coverage of this article. I think there’ll be more because I have bookmarked it to Evernote. Especially as it looks to inspire one or two articles that I could spin off from it.

    But I want to add that not that “everybody has a story to tell” as in one story, but we all have stories to tell, as in many such. And we all need to hear our stories and be inspired by them all.

    Really, if we realize early enough that everything we do can be framed and publicized, not for the purpose of some accidental fame, but to inspire others to positive change, we’ll all be more careful, moral in our actions.

    Thanks, Michael Margolis.

    • Delighted to hear. Can’t wait to read your own inspired articles. Yes, you’re so right, we all have many many stories to tell. And the frame we choose determines everything.

      • Hi, Michael, my articles – ah, I’m sure you have access to them somehow. Remember my email? With the links? I’m very keen on what Story U can achieve and I’m not missing any post from Get Storied. Thanks for all the efforts.

  • storycoach

    I love this discussion Michael – I remember talking with you about this very subject…. way back…. I’ve always believed that we all tell stories, it’s a part of our DNA and I love that all the brain research proves how we are wired for story…and yet, I do think there is an experience of story that is a kind of magic way beyond anecdotes and vignettes of story that shows an artistic mastery on the level of any other art form ( often a lot less recognized too!). I’m often blown away by how many self proclaimed storytellers don’t actually tell stories and how many story ‘experts’ don’t know how to tell a story either…. Actually it’s all good news, there’s lots of room in the world for the work we both do! Love your insights…sending best wishes!

  • I believe everyone is a storyteller, although maybe not a Storyteller. Everyone has a story to tell, but not everyone tells it well. There is an art to story, stories are crafted. Yes, “storytelling” is an over-used buzzword but that doesn’t make storytelling any less valuable or necessary. Lots of people are jumping on the Storytelling bandwagon . . . great! Many will fall off, jump off, or be pushed off as time goes on. But great stories will live on. Enjoying the debate.

  • Though we’re all story people, I see circles of engagement with our story. Everyone lives a story. Many have (hold, have awareness of) their story. Few choose/learn to tell their story. Still fewer intentionally, creatively, and confidently shape their story as it continues to be lived, held and told into the future.