In a system where data-driven is the lifeblood of business, of corporations, of education, of communication, a story provides personalized color and context. It is less stripped-down, less numerically based and less “big picture important” than the data-driven approach. The story fills in the data that humanizes numbers.

We are all a collection of labels — the things we identify as what makes us “us” — but those labels are nothing more than chapter headings. What creates excitement and interest and power in those labels is the story that tells how they fit together and solve the seeming conflicts. Labels can be limiting — stories can be liberating. Though the opposite can be true and freedom can found in adopting a label, it is the part that label plays in the story of you that creates that space.

Knowing one another’s stories takes effort and takes a willingness to be vulnerable. That vulnerability, in small groups and communities, develops naturally. With groups that know us well, labels become less necessary, because context comes built-in. The further outside our built communities we get, the more important and less precise these labels become.

Reclaiming your story is a huge part of defining who you are, and who you might want to be. Informational and aspirational. The data provides the structure that, in practice, becomes a measure of the authenticity of a story.

A story will always be told. Always. We often crave a fill-in to the labels that we see, perceive, or believe exist. When a story is not provided, we create one. The stories will always be understood in ways that can be perceived by the person hearing (or creating) the story. Knowing a story will always be told, and that vacuum of space between labels will crave filler, telling and reclaiming and claiming your own story is a process not only of self-definition, but also a process of self-discovery that asks us to figure out how we fill in that space for ourselves.

Trying to tell someone else’s story when you do not know it means that you are filling in details as you understand them, details based on your perceptions and ideas. Telling someone else’s story means making assumptions about them.

Telling your own story, though, is a beautiful, powerful, and liberating thing. Owning your story means being willing to live in your own skin, with all of the changes and flexibility and resilience and experimentation that involves. It means being willing to try on different things, see how they fit, keep what works, and change what doesn’t. It means owning that experimental period in college, your terrible taste in music during middle school, all of the choices and experiences that add up to you.

When you are willing to tell your story, even in limited contexts to limited audiences, even to just yourself, then it’s a willingness to not make assumptions about yourself. To define what your own labels mean to you. When your internal space between labels has already been filled, then the story someone else tries to tell about you can have less impact, and the fewer assumptions they have to make. It seems like a path towards creating a more authentic interaction for everyone.

Categories: Essays

1 Comment

Sandra Fitzgerald · July 2, 2014 at 21:10

I understand what you are saying, but unfortunately the bulk of the words that come to mind to describe my story are negative. Lonely. Sad. Frustrated. Envious. Widow. Terminal Caregiver. Unhealthy. Unhappy. Dislocated. Empty. I need to learn to pull a secondary set of words to write me story. But they can be harder to find. But I try!

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