How and Why to Tell Your Story


A few years ago, I participated in a leadership development group and learned a unique way of looking at yourself through storytelling.   The individual behind this concept, Marshall Ganz, is a senior lecturer at Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.  Dr. Ganz spent his early years as an organizer with the United Farm Workers before working on political campaigns and non-profit groups.   Dr. Ganz developed the concept of Telling Your Public Story as a way to better understand yourself, the groups you are active in, and what compels an individual to act.

Dr. Ganz suggests there are three stories to be told:

  • Story of self:  why you were called to serve.
  • Story of us: what your community, organization or group has been called to; it’s shared purposes, goals and vision.
  • Story of now: the challenge this group now faces, the choices it must make, and the hope to which it aspires.

Story of self

What has called you to be doing what you are doing today?  What is special about the story of self is that it just that: your story, about you.  What’s compelling about this is that each of us have our stories; no two stories are alike. Throughout our life, we have all experienced a variety of events; different careers, different family situations, challenges and opportunities.  We have also had that special person or persons who had an impact on us. These may have been our parents, mentors, mates and leaders we sought to emulate.  As a result, we have all faced a variety of choices on which path to take based on the impact of these individuals and events throughout our lives.   The choices that we made were not only influenced by others, but through our personal values, aspirations and goals.

Reflect: Take a moment and reflect back on those individuals who may have had a profound impact on your story of self.

The story of us

We are all members of a variety of “us” groups; a club, culture, religion, organization, etc.  What compels us to be a member of these groups?  What keeps us wanting to be part of these groups?  Each of us have our reasons, but what may be common is that we share the values, beliefs and aspirations of the groups in which we take part.  To a great degree, our upbringing guided us to be members of these groups, and then, as adults, we could choose with which groups to align.  Dr. Ganz suggests that being able to share our values and reasons for being members comes from telling the story of us.  By sharing stories, we also share with each other the values and beliefs which have brought us to where we are today.  By sharing our story, we also listen to other’s stories, and by doing so, we discover things we have in common. This adds to the strength of the group and our wanting to remain a part of the group.  Reflect: would your affinity with certain groups of “us” be as strong if we, as individual members, did not share our “stories of us”?

The story of now

The story of now is just that, now!  The story of now is your response to something that you see happening that is in direct conflict with your values and beliefs; a wrong that you feel must be righted.  In a “story of now,” you are not only compelled to act, you call on others to join you in action.

Reflect: What are those events, issues and conditions you on which you feel compelled to act?

When I first came across Dr. Ganz’ work, I was very intrigued by it. I couldn’t stop thinking, “How can I be a more effective and impactful member of my community by telling stories?”

I’m not suggesting that we all go out and begin interactions with others by saying, “let me tell you my story.”  We might get a funny look from others, even in Flagstaff.  As you are pondering your story of self, think about what has called you to serve? Perhaps it is time to recommit yourself to the important and critical work you are doing.  Similarly, as you think of your story of us, think about what we have in common with others; share stories of successes and challenges; celebrate accomplishments and hold others when times are tough.   Finally, as we think of the story of now – what are the causes you are currently committed to?  Are you “all in”?   Perhaps a new cause is calling you to a different direction?

In closing, not only is telling your story important, but also listening to the stories told by others.  Next time someone is sharing their experiences in a story, attempt to really, and I mean, really actively listen to understand what the storyteller may be sharing with you.  Chances are you will gain new insight into this person as well as yourself.

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