How Storytelling Helps Us Move Into a New Era with Jay Golden
Updated: Dec 12, 2020
We've all been experiencing so much change over the last few months that you may very well be getting tired of hearing about these "unprecedented times."
My friend, Jay Golden who is an inspiring story teller, and executive storytelling coach suggests we talk about “precedented” times instead. He has been writing for many years about the power of our history and previous stories. We all have many and some need to be retold and ground us into reflection of important themes in life. Jay works with CEOs, visionary speakers, founders, and entrepreneurs who have stories waiting to be told in order to re-calibrate their life's big insights.
You don’t have to be a founder or CEO to have powerful, transformative stories. What will our stories be when two years from now we look back on this on this unusual year?
I met up with Jay to learn about his new book, a story journal, that will help us all “gather, map and focus the dots of our life’s adventures.” I also wanted his take on looking back from our future.
Sherry: How did you set out to be a storyteller?
Jay: I had been working for twelve years in various forms of digital content delivery, audio, video and online learning. Since the dawn of the internet. Then, in 2009, during the time my daughter was born and spent a few weeks in that deep quietude of early life, it struck me that for all of the work I had done, the internet was not delivering on its promise to reflect the powerful human experiences in our lives. Where were those human connections that we experience in life? It felt like something missing. I found myself driven to get back to the basics of what truly matters to people. I realized that it’s about how we share stories and how we hold our lives as leaders -- through insights and deeper reflection.
Still early in the recession, the startup I was with dissolved, and when looking at new work options, the communications and media jobs available did not address what I felt was needed. I didn’t see story telling show up in the tech world.
It became the right time to do something with more purpose.
I realized that there are people that understand tech and those that understand story and they don't meet-up. It’s not just about telling the big stories, the ones that are written on the wall or on the website home page or the product label, but the small ones that are important too. It’s those meaningful moments we each have – the ones that are about a transformation which occurs and ultimately illuminates the value of your company or the importance of your work. If you want shared understanding, telling a story draws us in, allows us to connect to values and to a greater journey that might resonate for many.
Sherry: What do we mean by story?
Jay: Such a great question, story can mean so many things to so many people. For example, someone might mean ‘my bio’ or ‘our video’ or ‘what you always say’ or ‘how you describe us.’ But this is why it’s important to get clear on terms, to define what story means.
A story is a problem that makes us care. It’s a journey with an important message. Like a travel story. You can take your audience on a journey, bring in some suspense, emotion or interest and land a surprise or change at the end. Then, because of how you drew the audience in, took them in a direction they didn’t expect, and offered a payoff, that story will be remembered when everything else from that day is forgotten. It’s the tension that matters, the change that matters.
That is where retellable comes in. After those 100,000 words we take in every day, what words are remembered by your audience? If something is well told, it will be retold. And from these stories, you can draw your key messaging.
Some might say, ‘we don’t have time for a story!’ and yet I ask, do you have time to just waste your audience’s energy with something they’ll forget in an hour? We are wasting so much time! That’s why, in this technologically connected world, we yearn for human stories.
It is in these stories, in our leadership, where purpose connects to action and illuminates true guidance.
All of this starts personally. When I work with people, it starts with something in your own life, a challenge, change or lesson that deepened your own understanding. And when you share it, with consideration of your audience and your audience’s insights and lessons, they become a part of the story. That’s one small way something can go from ‘my story’ to ‘our story.’
Sherry: How does the Journey Curve help us frame our stories?
Jay: In writing my book, Retellable, I looked at different frameworks which help shape how we tell stories. I researched this and thought of all the stories we tell, whether it is a travel story, brand story, making a pitch, guiding a team or sharing a new idea.
You are going along, you fall into discovery and learn along the way and then you find a place where you may be lost. At that moment, you deepen your connection with your audience. Someone guides you to an insight, or you remember something important, or you just try enough directions, and you finally move through a new place, a new understanding, a new direction.
On the Journey Curve, this is the bottom of the curve, where you are connected to the earth, and the insight comes. From there, you are on your way out. You climb out of the gulley and have the steps, and the anchored change, and what you’re committed to. This approach takes you to deeper insights and ultimately to a place where your message lives and your capabilities are clear.
Here’s one way to go about it. Often times the greatest gifts are hidden in the rear view mirror. So, think about a key moment in your journey, like when you began your first job, or your first steps in leadership. Go back to a time where you were lost, or came through something very hard. Or maybe it’s just something surprising and funny that happened that taught you a lasting lesson. But the key is to really go back, not with the understanding you have today, but the understanding you had then. This is where the power of change lives. So take some time and reflect on how you looked at things then. The power of the process is seeing it then, and then giving it a new light with new lessons and perspective from today. Both are important, especially to connect with your audience that hasn’t learned what you learned.
I believe we need revitalized energy. This exercise helps us re-energize and discover our meaning or expand it for ourselves.
Sherry: How do you think COVID life lessons will inform our future?
Jay: I am watching and finding that many people recognize we are in a rare moment that will compel us to look back and tell a new story. I have a friend who runs a travel company, and they have been hit very hard in this pandemic. He recognizes that when we look back at this time, we will find that so much has gone away, and yet these were the times that legends were born. That’s why it’s important to revitalize our stories now, and not look back to say ‘that just sucked.’ It’s not to ignore the grieving of this time. It’s to deepen through it, and find what is most alive.
Because the people that embrace these great moments of change will also see new opportunity. It isn’t about money, although money is a benefit.
It is about knowing where your gifts are and matching your passion with skills and listening to what the world has asked us for.
I also think that now being in the holidays; this is a coming back to earth time. So many of us have been moving and moving. We’ve been traveling so much, but now are close to home and in our communities, focused on our family and looking differently at how we live right here. We will be thoughtful about where we get our food, how we support each other and what working virtually means. Relationships will change too. We are still in the in between time – so, more will be revealed.
Sherry: When did you write the Retellable Story Journal?
Jay: I had been working for a long time creating tools to help others tell their stories, including the Journey Curve. But I wanted something transformative for people to go through when I’m not leading moment to moment. To replace myself in a way, or at least to replace the parts that made most sense. I felt the methods I use could be applied in more diverse ways, for much more diverse audiences than just top-level leadership.
So last year, I was starting work on an app to help people find, shape and share their most retellable stories. My collaborator asked me such a simple question, but one that also had great complexity: 'How does this really work? How do you draw out stories for an audience when you’re not in the room?' So I started to break down all of my coaching and speaking over the past few years and distill it into simple questions and frames. I had been working for a long time creating tools to help others tell their stories, including the Journey Curve.
As I got into it, I realized I could start with a journal. Something that you can follow, write along with, and consider deeply your own journeys. So I started working on this last year, and was ready to launch it in March 2020. I was speaking in Australia and I was ready to push the button and launch it. But then when the pandemic hit and I realized I had to change it, to make it appropriate for this time. I finished in June of 2020.
So I created the journal. You can use this journal as a daily practice or keep your thoughts here as you desire. The Journey Curve includes 42 exercises as well as a guide to storytelling.
Shaping and telling your stories is a transformative experience and helps you to see what you care about and where you are going. You can take the journal on at your pace and really see what the transformations are in your life, and what you’ve missed that might be really valuable right now.
Sherry: Where does one start?
Jay: Start with a Life Legend. Take a large piece of paper, with one horizontal line all the way across in the middle of the page. Write “zero” on the left side below the line and your age on the right. Now chart out 10-20 key moments that happened in your life, placing the difficult ones below the line and the good moments above the line. Sometimes you may find that a powerful, positive moment comes right after a negative moment. They often build on each other.
Look for lessons and insights. These moments remembered become a part of you in a new way; they inform you on what you care about and what you have learned.
What is precedented? I think that the places and times where you have been and the experiences you have navigated in your life are a precedent to help you face the challenges of this new time, whether personal or professional. That’s what leadership is built on: what you’ve learned and how you share it with relevance and clarity.
Everyone has powerful and important stories to tell. Revisit who you are and you will discover a story that was once there but is now forgotten. Now revisit that moment, and make it retellable.
If you want to learn more about Jay’s work check out his website here.
You can learn more about his book, the Retellable Story Journal here.