Business storytelling has become so canned.
Spare me the rags to riches motivational tales. You know, the "I grew up so poor we had to wear our clothes, everything we had, in the house all winter. But look at me now."
I don't want to listen to some individual telling me how hard life was while they are wearing designer clothes, just back from a fancy vacation and talking about how they only have to work a day a week anymore.
Frankly, I just don't care.
How about you?
Do these stories make you want to work harder, be just like them? Or are these stories like canned food that's been sitting on the shelf for a long time?
Look, we all, each and everyone of us, have many stories inside. The big question is which ones really matter, why tell your story, and what do you really hope to convey to others?
Just one short life story, one story about courage, compassion, creativity that leads to new thinking, stuff like "Wow, I never thought about it that way before, those are the stories that go into the heart and last well past first hearing them.
Great story tellers are the ones who have been able to distill down the essence of a personal story so it's not about personal greatness. It's about the very core of the word heart: the art of hearing from the heart.
If someone can hear it and let it go into their heart, that's the right reason to tell it. Otherwise its just a bunch of ego bull.
Here's one of my stories and why I am telling it right now.
I just hung up the phone with Sarah, one of my coaching clients. She's a smart, competent VP of Finance at a large multinational company.
She is a powerhouse. Strong, smart and successful. Except she just got news that for the third time the fertility procedure didn't work.
We didn't talk about work. I listened and she cried. And suddenly one of my stories came right smack in front of my mind.
I asked her permission to talk.
It's about trust and letting go of how things turn out. No big huge success story, just a slice of life on a day that I felt like crap and was scared to death about what was going to happen.
The story took all of three minutes to tell: I was in the middle of a messy divorce and it was Saturday morning and I just wanted to sleep the day away.
Hide, if you will.
My teen age daughter came into the bedroom looking awful, an unpleasant shade of green, clutching her tummy.
I called the doctor who said, it's either food poisoning or serious appendicitis.
"Get her right over to the office" was the blunt reply.
I grabbed a tee shirt and jeans, let her stay in her pajamas and we were in the car in minutes.
The doctor's office was a mere fifteen minutes away and Saturday traffic was light. "OK , I can do this" I said to myself.
Then the moaning from the back seat where Mikayla was lying down merged with the sputter of the car engine and we came to a dead stop at the side of the road.
I told her I would get help and she said, "Please don't leave me."
No one to help. Just the two of us. I wanted to condemn my now 'mia' soon to be ex-husband. Just no time for bad-mouthing.
I was scared.
Had to keep moving. Thumbed down a ride. Took me to the local police office that was, thank goodness, very close.
Here is where I almost lost it.
Small police station in the suburbs. Nice guy behind the desk.
"Help, my daughter is sick and the car broke down on way to doctor's office."
He smiled. "Ma'am I cant leave, I'm here alone."
He didn't budge. "My partner just left for lunch." He was still being pleasant.
"When will he be back?" I was in a panic.
"In about 45 minutes."
My thought "Another damn man who wont show up."
Except at that minute a man did show up to help. The partner walked in saying, "I forgot my lunch."
He heard the dilemma, grabbed my arm, raced with siren blaring to get my daughter and within what seemed minutes we were in the doctor's office.
Good news, it was food poisoning from a local joint the kids had gone to Friday evening.
I finally broke down in tears of relief.
An hour later we were back at the house. He had a friend fix the car and drive it home. He decided I was in no shape to drive.
It would be a great ending to say he was single, we fell in love and there were rainbows and violins in the background. Didn't happen.
As I told my client this story I heard her sigh.
"What did you get from what I just told you?" I asked.
She sighed a big, big sigh and said, "Don't push the river, things happen in their own time and I just need to trust."
I hope there are some of you out there that can resonate with my story and with Sarah's present anguish. When times are tough, listen and if you have a story to tell, make sure it's one from the heart.