Trace Your Tracks
I teach storytelling in the workplace. It’s a great privilege. Often, when the day begins, people say things like, “I’m not a storyteller,” or, “I have no stories.” By the end of every single session, every person I have ever taught has delivered a story.
In these courses, we take anywhere between 2 and 8 hours to cultivate the story and teach the basic principles of delivering it.
Today what I want to share with you is the initial step — A simple, fool-proof way to come up with a story to tell.
First, know this: Your story doesn’t need to be groundbreaking, earth-shattering, or heart-wrenching. Although let’s face it, dramatic stories of the human condition are incredibly compelling and have the power to connect us in a very profound way.
But some of us aren’t ready to go there, and that is perfectly fine.
It does not inhibit you in any way, shape, or form from becoming a storyteller.
Allow me to tell you a story.
Almost every day since mid-March 2020, I have gone for a walk. Walking has led me to what I like to think of as a very streamlined methodology for storytelling: Trace your tracks.
Just before the recent polar vortex made it too cold to leave the house for anything more than two minutes, my husband and I went snowshoeing. We got in our trusty Subaru and went out to a piece of land called “Oz” that our friend Frank owns and farms in the warmer weather. In the winter, it’s a wonderland of glistening gradations of white, like an abstract canvas by Robert Ryman, Kazmir Malevich, or Agnes Martin dotted with animal tracks. The pristine palette of Oz was imprinted with amazing stories of deer and voles, bobcats or coyotes, rabbits, and all sorts of birds. On our adventure — making some rather obvious tracks of our own — we followed the various critter tracks and wondered aloud what could possibly have happened to each of these creatures? I kept thinking we might happen upon the imprint of some rapture's wings and talons picking up some helpless prey, but alas, such drama was not to be seen. And quite honestly, I am glad I didn’t see it. I am a softy for the rabbits and wee ones.
After the vortex gave way to warmer air, we busted out of our old farmhouse and set about in the opposite direction of the trail. This time we crossed the old Chicago-made bridge that led into Gateway Park. Stopping in the middle to peer down to the Root River's blackened waters. As a tributary to the Mississippi, the Root never completely freezes over but there was a bounty of encrusted snow along its banks, and on it, we spied the delicate three-pronged track of a goose. It looked like fine Norwegian needlework. Alongside those tracks, we saw the marks of what we think might have been a fox. Side by side, we envisioned these animals waddling and loping, predator and prey? Friend and foe? Strange bedfellows? Who knows! There are a plethora of possible stories. What we think we saw was where the trail of the assumed fox broke the ice — that creature left a gaping hole — perhaps descending into terror — into the freezing dark waters and experiencing the rushing current against its fur and delicate paws. But it doesn’t end there — no — this is no tragedy — that creature's tracks continued on the other side of the hole as if somehow it grasped the edges and dragged itself from the near-death and continued its journey unhindered. The tracks of the goose, who it seems was an onlooker, continued as well. Running in parallel to some unknown fate. These tracks set the stage for a great mystery.
You may be thinking at this point, what the hell? What’s the point of this story?
The moral here is — trace your tracks.
Your stories lie in the simple things you do day in and day out.
Do you meditate in the mornings? That's a story — when did you start doing it, what are you gaining from it, will you encourage others to do the same?
Do you then drink coffee? There is the story behind those beans, your love or addiction (or both) to caffeine.
Your workouts. Your interactions with loved ones. Retelling a story, you read online….coupled with the emotions you feel and who and what propels them — birth, death, love, grief, frustration, comfort, a new job, a wedding or divorce, losing power — or finding your power, these are just some of your stories.
To begin, you must simply: Trace your tracks.
Stay tuned for part two of the elements of storytelling.
Catherine Glynn is the CEO and Lead Executive Coach at Voce Veritas, The Founder of A.R.T. (Audacious Raw Theater), and is in the process of becoming a far more disciplined writer. Look for her upcoming book Leadership Distilled in the Spring of 2021.