Finding the threads of your story doesn’t have to be hard - although speaking from experience, it can be a challenge in the beginning.
Once you find your story threads and understand your why, it becomes the power source you will draw on in creating content, making business decisions and living out your purpose through your brand.
Here are some simple steps I use to help people surface the threads in their story.
Start at the Beginning
Think back to when you were 10 years old - what did you dream of doing?
If you’re having a hard time remembering, it’s helpful to take a few deep breaths and close your eyes. Think of something you loved to do when you were around that age.
• What about it did you love?
• How have your life experiences mirrored that desire?
• Name your most intensely painful moments and your most ecstatically joyful moments - what did you learn?
• How did those moments shape who you are today?
For me, it was riding horses and the thrill, freedom and mastery (I hated the feeling of hitting the ground when I got thrown off) of galloping through the hills behind our house. Interestingly, the career path I chose gave me a lot of freedom, required mastery, provided lots of thrills and let me be outdoors.
One of my most painful moments was after my parents split up. I had to sell my horse and learn to deal with their conflict. I was devastated.
In hindsight, the lesson I took away was the constant nature of change in life and learning to adapt. Working in television and the communication field requires that you are able to constantly adapt to changing situations and handle conflict.
What is the common thread in your work experience? For example, you may see yourself as a marketer or business development strategist - but when you stand back and look at all of your work roles you see the thread of “teacher” or mentor in all of them.
This thread is at the root of your story and who you are.
Your Career Timeline vs. Your Passion Journey
How often are you asked at family gatherings or network events, “so, what’s your story?” (BTW - that is one of the worst questions you can ask for networking - for tips on great networking questions, check out my friend Mike Kim’s blog here).
We have a tendency to respond to this question by listing what we do as our profession or jobs we’ve held versus what we are passionate about.
One of the easiest ways to figure out what you feel passionate about (your why) is to answer two questions:
• What makes you mad?
• What makes you sad?
I recently had the honor of working with a rising entrepreneur who felt her passion was around building a business and being her own boss. And part of that is her passion, however, the deep, emotional connection to her why was at the root of her story.
After asking her “what makes you mad?” she recounted losing a business due to the same market conditions she is trying to help others navigate. What a powerful aha moment!
Once you tap into that emotion, keep writing until you know that’s what makes you get up in the morning.
You may not use all of it in your story, but I encourage you to keep it in a resource file for the future reference.
Note: Please be forewarned that at this point you may experience a lump in your throat or tears in your eyes and that's a good thing - you are on to something!
Here are some other questions to think about if you get stuck:
• How did you find work in your area of passion? What was your path?
• Even if your job does not provide that outlet today, what are you doing today to feed your passion?
Weaving the Threads Together
Telling your story is about pulling the pieces together. The basic hero’s journey is one simple way to do this.
First, establish context - what were you doing in your life before you had the awakening to your passion? This is where you started your journey.
When I was 10 there was nothing more I loved than galloping through the hills on my horse with my BFF exploring new places and meeting new friends and competing to see who could ride the fastest without falling off!
One day we even rode down within striking distance of the Mexican border. No adults, just a couple of kids on their horses. What a thrill!!
It was a lot of freedom for a 10 year old and - it was my heaven and independence. I loved it so much, I knew that whatever I did when I grew up would have to mirror the excitement, mastery and independence of riding my horse.
The next piece in your story is what action did you take to pursue your passion - did you start your own business, quit your job, become a global nomad, write a book?
My horse riding days came to an abrupt end when my parents divorced.To fill the void, I continued to look for adventures that would let me feel that same sense of freedom and independence.
After my first job working in the school office (pretty confining), I landed a job working at a local newspaper. The constant deadlines and noise of the newsroom were a pure adrenaline rush for me.
That was it! I decided that journalism was my path to recreate that sense of freedom and independence. And, to succeed would require mastery.
Getting my degree wasn’t easy at first. Even though I had a scholarship, I still needed to pay rent and eat!
I couldn’t get the classes I needed to graduate in four years so I had to be flexible and switched majors to speech communication (the study of how and why people communicate.)
As I was nearing graduation, I found out my mom had terminal
cancer - another devastating moment I thought I’d never recover from.
That life changing event made me much more compassionate for others and strengthened my resolve and determination. I was now on my own. It set the stage for my career in television and communication and as an entrepreneur.
And finally, what was the resolution - where are you with your business today? Who are you serving and why do you do it? What do you hope for your future?
One day a co-worker at the restaurant where I was waiting tables, suggested I take some classes in television. I was still numb from my mom’s death and the television course work sounded like the adventure I was yearning. After a stint editing a travel magazine, I was ready to try something new.
Through interviewing people and sharing their stories, I found something that gave me so much of what I loved as a kid - the freedom to work outdoors, meet new people and the craft required mastery to create something of value.
Today after more than 30 years of working in the communication industry, I use those same skills to help entrepreneurs find the unique value in their story, distill their core messages and then deliver them with brilliance.
Summing it Up
Using a simplified three step version of the hero’s journey, you can get your basic story down on paper. Over time the more you tell it, the more you will refine it.
The way you tell your story will evolve as you become more comfortable sharing it and using it in different ways.
Here are some simple steps to finding your story:
1. Context- start at the beginning.
• What did you dream of becoming when you were 10 years old?
• Name some of the most joyous and painful moments in your life and what have you learned from them?
• What makes you really mad?
• What makes you really sad?
2. Action - what steps have you taken in your life to fulfill your dream
• How did you find work in your area of passion? What was your path?
• Even if your job does not provide that outlet today, what are you doing to feed your passion?
3. Resolution - where are you now?
• What changed because of the actions you’ve taken?
• How have you been transformed?
• How are you serving others through your passion?
Finding the threads in your story can be challenging, yet it is one of the most freeing things you can do. And, it’s critical you get clear about this as you begin building your brand. Everything you do will pivot off of your story.
To make it easier to get started here’s a story guide worksheet to help you find the threads of your story.
I personally answer all emails and would love to hear from you as you work to find your story. What are some of your challenges and aha moments?
Val Brown is an Emmy award winning television producer, story and visual and personal brand consultant, coach, and speaker. She has been featured with Mike Kim on the Brand You Podcast, a show dedicated to helping you build a profitable and iconic personal brand and the Jody Maberry Show focusing on helping you Market, Mobilize, and Master your message.She consults and coaches business professionals and rising entrepreneurs looking to up their game and increase their confidence on how to use their story to support their brand in video and photos.