Must Have’s For Our Stories

Michele Obama @ Boston’s TD Garden

Have you ever felt like a kid in a candy store? That is the only way I can describe how I felt last Saturday evening. A friend and I went to the Boston stop of Michele Obama’s book tour. She was herself. Radiant. Engaging. Choreographed, but invisibly so. She shared stories of hope and anger and frustration and love. My guess is that her words touched me differently than those who sat around me. You see, without knowing it, Mrs. Obama described transitioning. The process helped her discover more and more about those things that hold value and meaning to her. To her delight, those things then became the cornerstone of her work and of who she is. This pivot, her becoming, initiated even more growth. Transitioning enables growth. Yeah transitioning! I left there smiling and with an exciting new goal: to interview her! All suggestions on how to make this happen would be greatly appreciated, BTW

Over the course of the evening, Mrs. Obama made it a point to talk about the stories we tell ourselves. Our own narratives. Her topic gave me a terrific idea for a pre-holiday blog, a primer on storytelling.

Few of us – even the introverts and the curmudgeons among us – will escape a holiday self-story moment. It is that moment when we have to introduce ourselves or talk about ourselves to someone else. It may happen at the informal office get together, or at the neighborhood cookie swap, or at the extended family Yankee Swap, or even in the prep line at the synagogue’s holiday food basket project.

These narratives play a larger than life role as we transition. They serve as the currency through which we test with others out our own imagined possibilities.

What story will you tell?

Our Own Stories

Mrs. Obama started this off. She talked about the power of first recognizing the stories we tell ourselves. Our self-stories are deeply personal and can take innumerable forms. Often, as Mrs. Obama noted, they summarize our greatest struggles. Think about it. How many times have you heard yourself say some iteration of, “I’m not pretty enough, strong enough, tall enough, smart enough, financially secure enough, kind enough, well enough…”  Our internal narratives shape our beliefs about ourselves. Even if we would never utter a word of these internal talk tracks to others, our external narratives influence our confidence and our identity. Recognizing this relationship between our individual struggles and their influence on our external narrative – as Mrs. Obama’s pointed out – is a great start.

Our External Story

To ready ourselves for the Egg Nog crowd, I want to build upon Mrs. Obama’s idea with some techniques that I tested for my workbook’s upcoming release. These two are battle tested and guaranteed to improve your narrative moment this holiday season.

Eliminate Binary Vocabulary

Take a quick moment to think about how you introduce yourself. “I am a …” In these statements we very often we rely on vocabulary that evokes a conclusion or destination of some sort. For example, “I am a homemaker or a widow or a PhD.”  Each of these statements indicates our arrival at some place or status. Binary vocabulary is involving two things. It is either yes or no. We’ve arrived, or we haven’t. We’re successful or we’re not….

This season try replacing binary words with process oriented verbs. You could use verbs like, ‘experimenting,’ or ‘exploring,’ or identifying.’ This approach allows you to place a current job or current status (e.g. I am out of a job, or I recently divorced) in a broader context that has meaning to you. 

As an example, here is mine. “I am Linda Rossetti. I am exploring transitions and their impact on adult lives. This lets me get involved in so many things I love, like pubic speaking or counseling individuals who are in transition or working with companies whose leaders need to deliver results during corporate transitions.” This is very different from, “I am an author.” or “I am a speaker or blogger or consultant.” My listener can get involved in my story very differently if I am willing to position myself within a broader context than in a single destination or outcome. All that we need to do is dump the binary vocabulary like success/failure, arrived/in-flight; active/passive; or winning/losing. 

By eliminating binary vocabulary, we introduce context which is a window that invites your listener into a story about who you are.

 

Build On the Great Power of Feelings

Feelings are everywhere in transition, particularly when you are asked to put yourself out there in front of new people. You feel so exposed. One tried and true way to combat this is externalization. It is a meditative technique that asks us to name a feeling and then create distance between ourselves and that feeling.  For example, my feeling that I’d like to name is failure. I could say, “I am a failure. I feel like such a loser.” Honestly I often have this talk track in my head often particularly when I run into people who look askance at the non-traditional work that I do. Externalization would ask me to verbalize or write down my feeling. Then, instead of thinking about the feeling as a trait, it would ask me to place the feeling outside of myself. For example, instead of saying a trait out loud, ‘I am a failure.’ I would say, ‘How long have I been feeling like a failure?’ In that simple reframing, I begin to think differently about failure and the hold it has on me. I can also free myself from the grips of believing that it is a trait not a temporary state.

Once we understand a feeling’s influence, we can think about how it might impact our story-telling. Is my status as a loser causing me to cut my short my intro or avoid it altogether? If so, how can I practice a narrative to avoid this? This is a little circular because the trick lies in eliminating binary thinking. Engage your listener in you. 

Success & Your Story

Try to think of your story as something different from a newspaper headline heralding your success. To me, success is realizing more and more of one’s potential. Our narratives enable others to participate in our process of realizing our fullest potential.

Our stories are our opportunity to share with the world the wonder and delight that constitutes you. Transition has given me a unique gift – to realize that every single one of us – no exceptions – has a gift that we alone possess. The puzzle that we all need to solve for in transitioning is to learn how to bring those gifts forward to connect with others and with the world in our own unique fashion.

Transition may help us recognize that we are the next First Lady or the only one on the planet who can comfort a dying person without even using words. It doesn’t matter what our gift is nor how it is expressed. What matters is that we have the courage to explore what it might be and let others come along for the ride through the many iterations of the stories we tell.

I have one recommendation this holiday as you prepare for the inevitable story. Start every story with love. Love where you are. Open your heart to wherever you are at this moment. High, low, struggling, wondering or wandering. Once we suspend binary thinking, our status is irrelevant. The real risk in all of this is letting self-judgment or other limiting feelings mute our real stories.

What story are you ready to tell this holiday season?

In case you need to bring something sweet along with your story this holiday season, please try the Texas Sheet Cake recipe below. It comes from the neighborhood where I grew up in Arlington, MA. Every Christmas night the families in the neighborhood would gather at one neighbor’s house for ‘dessert.’ Every flat surface in the house seemed to offer sweets of every persuasion and nationality.  Texas Sheet Cake was one of the great hits of that celebration (circa 1976).

 

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Texas Sheet Cake

Cake Ingredients:

2 cups sugar

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 sticks butter

1 cup H2O

4 tablespoons Hershey unsweetened cocoa

1/2 sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking soda

Mix sugar, flour and salt in a bowl and set aside. In a saucepan, bring to a boil butter, water and Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa. Beat the two eggs and add them to the saucepan. Add vanilla, baking soda and sour cream. Stir well.  Transfer mixture to the dry ingredients bowl and stir. Line a cookie sheet with wax paper. Pour mixture into cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  Let cool.

Icing Ingredients:

1 stick of butter

4 tablespoons Hershey unsweetened cocoa

6 tablespoons of milk

1 box confectionery sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Add all ingredients to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour over cooled cake and let sit.

 

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Copyright © 2018 Linda Rossetti & NovoFemina.com.  All rights reserved. No content on this site may be reused in any fashion without written permission from NovoFemina.com.

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