Your Story and How To Tell It

Tips For Sharing a Personal Narrative

As a society we are obsessed with stories. As humans we love stories — from the spoken tale, the written word, the evening news, to the latest Netflix drama we are intrigued and captivated by plots that are emotionally engaging and call us to action.

As we are surrounded by these various tales we are in the midst of an even greater story — our own.

For the majority of us, it passes by as the familiar or the mundane with occasional occurrences of action and plot twists that are recognized but often forgotten as they are woven into the greater fabric of our being.

It is the combination of all these experiences — both the extraordinary and the mundane, the meeting of past and present — that make us wholly unique.

As we engage with the stories that surround us in our daily lives, how adept are we, as individuals, at sharing our own story?

Being able to communicate your personal narrative, the compilation of past events that shape the present self, is an essential skill to learn that translates to all areas of life — friendships, networking, interviews, business, and a deeper understanding of self.

What Makes Your Story?

“Our stories give shape to our inchoate, disparate, fleeting impressions of everyday life. They bring together the past and the future into the present and provide us with structures for working towards our goals. They give us an identity and, most importantly, serve to integrate the feelings of our right brain with the language of our left.” — Philippa Perry

When thinking about the structure of yourself and your individual story, think about the how and the why of your interests, pursuits, and passions. Generally, the answers to these questions can be found in three categories:

Family & Childhood

  • Parents, family, experiences growing up, the community within which you grew up, role models, school.

Life Choices

  • Schools, career, partner, hobbies, interests, talents, challenges you have overcome.

Organizer Experiences

  • Role models, first experience organizing, first awareness on issues you want to take action.

These life influences and experiences have molded who you have become in the present and propel whom you hope to be in the future. What are challenges you may have had, the choices you made in the midst of those challenges, and their eventual outcomes? How do those decisions fit into your story?

The purpose of telling your story is to share yourself but also to create common ground where people can relate to you. You share your personal narrative while inadvertently communicating the emotion of another person’s story. By sharing a story that reflects the values brought to you by your experiences and work in a specific field you not only begin to share your values but also where they come from.

Write It Down

“To master the art of personal narrative so that we can write -writing being that most lucid mode of thinking and an indispensable form of talking to ourselves — about the expansive, dimensional, textured reality of who we are.”
Vivian Gornick

Write your story down! This cannot be emphasized enough. Put pen to paper and let your thoughts flow.

When writing your story, do not focus on trying to make it perfect. Write what comes to mind — you always have the ability to edit what you have written or change what you deem to be the most important aspects of your personal narrative. As opposed to speaking or rehearsing in your head, writing is like a conversation with yourself that allows you to think, see, and process in a concrete medium. It is an unfiltered, non-discriminatory function of practicing with a partner that just happens to be yourself.

Practice

Share your personal narrative.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it won’t be. Each time you tell your story you are going to change/add/eliminate parts of it that you could have accentuated or explained differently. A couple points to think about when sharing your narrative are:

Have confidence

  • It may not be perfect but you need to be convinced in the telling of yourself if you want other people to be convinced in who you are.

Tell it enough times that it sounds natural

  • Practice, practice, practice. This can be done out loud to yourself, in front of the bathroom mirror, in your living room, or with a friend

When practicing your story initially, try telling it to people who will listen, and truly listen well. Dan Allender, psychologist and expert on telling stories, says,

“You need to tell the story, but you need to tell it with people who will ponder it and ponder it well and begin to say, ‘does that help me understand better why you seem so afraid at times or why you avoid conflict?’ Now, what they’re asking you to do is to look at your own story and its implications for the present.”

Find someone who will ponder your story and give you honest feedback when you share it.

Listen

Listen to the advice that is given when sharing your story but also listen to others when they share theirs. Half of the ability to become good at telling your own story is being able to have the capacity and humility to listen to others. Be conscious of styles or phrases used that could be incorporated into the manner in which you tell your story. Every opportunity to listen to others is an opportunity to learn.

Share again

“Our ideal self is revealed in what we value (passion), how we understand the world (belief), and what we do to reach our ideal (behavior). Our passion, belief, and behavior fit together so intimately that I can say this with confidence: What we do is what we really value.” — Dan Allender, To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future
“Penetrating the familiarity is by no means a given. On the contrary, it is hard, hard work.” — Vivian Gornick

By learning to share your personal narrative you are breathing life into what you may have previously deemed as a boring familiarity. The truth is, your life story is compelling and exciting — a real life drama that is unfolding before your very eyes. It is the unique compilation of events that no one else in the history of the world identically shares. Your story communicates passions, beliefs, and behavior in a way that communicates what you really value and who you really are. By learning to tell and share this story you begin to make connections to your identity and may come to discover more about yourself then you may have previously knew existed.