Stories Define Us

If you’re having a bad day, be alert to the story you are telling yourself about what’s happening. All of us have a take on what’s going on for us. We explain, defend, justify and understand through the narrative we give a particular situation, especially if we have a starring role in it. We can assign our role as Victim, Defender, Leader, Nerd, Underdog, Hero.

JDHancock: Flickr

Our perceived role will change the way we tell our story. It speaks to where we set the boundaries on what we think can be achieved, what we are worth.  We become the story we choose. This is the case for individuals, for organisations and for communities. It is true for nations. Stories define identity and aspiration. They set expectations about what is possible.

And if we tell negative stories or depressing stories or diminishing stories – the same truth will hold. We may create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Paul Keating developed a story about where he saw Australia in the future – a world player, a participant in the politics and economics of South East Asia. John Howard had a very explicit commitment to adopting a narrative history of Australia that celebrated and acknowledged Australia’s achievements.

What or who is crafting the story about the future today? What is the story we tell about our town or city, our nation? Our world?  Stories have power.

Within organisations we craft identity every day. Have we developed stories about purpose and values that focus too exclusively on profit? Elisabeth Murdoch famously declared, “..profit without a purpose is a recipe for disaster.” She seemed to know what she was talking about. Do leaders strategically and holistically think about the narrative that positions their organisation with staff, shareholders, clients and the community? Do you know what is the story being told about your company or community?  How does this story fit in the context of where you operate?  How does it support your objectives?

You can create a narrative of collaboration, creativity, innovation, excellence in service and determination? New economic opportunities, success stories, energetic young people and creative solutions that build a quality of life, a tale of heroism, an innovative model….look for these stories because they are out there. Start different conversations. Model a different story.

There is so much potential for stories to make a rich contribution to our future – and they will, whether created with purpose…or by default.

So give it some thought – what are the stories you need to tell?

Saleena Ham