Telling Your Story

img_6770“So what do you do?” It’s a question that most of us answer badly. We fall back behind a label (‘I’m a doctor / lawyer / accountant’). Or we relate what we’ve done in the past, a list of tasks completed rather than an exploration of goals achieved and skills acquired. Or worst of all, we claim not to do anything at all! (‘I’m just a housewife, I’m unemployed …’) when that just means that you’re not currently paid money for all the things you do and you love.

But when you define yourself like this, you’re missing out on an opportunity to really connect with the other person. You’re selling yourself short, and cheating them too in the process. img_6734How you present yourself has a huge impact on how others see you. You wouldn’t buy an expensive gift and hand it over in an old paper bag. So when you meet people, present yourself well: it helps them see you clearly.

Recently I was introduced to Steve at a networking event. “So what do you do?” I asked. “Oh, it’s very boring,” he replied. “I look at numbers on a screen.” “Tell me more,” I persisted. “It’s just data. I look for anomalies in the figures.” By this point I was starting to feel desperate, but I tried a third time: img_6769“Can you give me an example?” “Well yeah … you know when there’s a hurricane in the Caribbean and people donate money? We buy tents and send them over but sometimes they go missing before they reach the camps. That means someone stole them and I work out who.” “Oh my goodness,” I said. “So you’re a sort of Robin Hood for refugees … Why didn’t you say so?”

When you’re asked what you do, how do you reply? Answering with a job title and company is our cultural norm; anything else could make you feel exposed and vulnerable. But the way you present yourself has a huge impact on how others perceive you. When you’re freelance, self-employed, or looking for a new job – how could you introduce yourself in a way that makes you sound interesting? Which emphasizes not only what you’ve done but what you can offer? That tells them about your passions and what makes life worth living? Which makes you feel better about yourself?

img_6733So next time, answer with a story that tells people about yourself. Which lets them connect with you as a human being. You’re much more than what you do for a living. You’re  unique, tell us how!

If you’re interested in Workshops, find out more here.

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Walk In Their Shoes

* Social reporting is a collaborative way of curating an event. Leaders and participants are all invited to contribute. The record may include words, images, links and video clips.*

TattooAnthropologists are fond of a technique called ‘participant observation’. You join a remote tribe in Borneo, or a street gang in East Harlem, and become part of the group. Soon you’re enthusiastically taking part in a whole new world. Dance-offs? Eating lizards? Initiation rites? You acquire tattoos in places that don’t show on the metro. It’s all based on the premise that to really understand someone, you have to walk a mile in their shoes. If you want to catch big fish, you must be prepared to swim with sharks.

Social reporting is a similar idea, but it’s more a matter of participants’ observations. What we’re aiming for here isn’t just recording what went on: it’s getting people involved in the process, so that they want to see the result. A ‘conference’ (Latin: ‘bring together’) is much more than just a series of lectures and meetings. Before the event, the organizers plan a formal timetable. During the sessions, participants have experiences which may or may not reflect the official schedule. Afterwards, attendees want to remember what actually happened. When you bring people together you can’t always control what goes on!

What’s special about this technique? Simply, it’s collective storytelling: the output evolves as you go along. It’s a way of getting people involved and interested. It lets everyone contribute to the final record. Which makes the report feel more relevant for all concerned.

Social reporting is a participative and inclusive approach. It encompasses a role, a set of skills and a philosophy. The philosophy is that everyone’s experiences and perspective are valid and worth consideration: we shouldn’t just rely on the official version of events. The skills involve collection, collation and curation. The role is that of anthropologist, looking simultaneously outside in and inside out, to truly represent the gathering.

SocRepConfMe (2)Why does social reporting work? Because it goes with human nature. People are most interested in their own stories. When you see a group photo, who’s the first person you look for?  If your college has a year book, whose page do you turn to first? When a report drops onto your desk, do you read it all eagerly?  Or do you flip through the bit that affects you, then file it away? When you use social reporting to curate an event, you’ll ensure that everyone looks through the whole report. It recreates the content, mood and ethos of the gathering in an accessible and memorable way.

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Stories At Work


Ever since the first people sat around their campfires, we have told stories. People tell tales to explain events and to justify their actions. We see how one thing led to another, and wonder what might happen next. We learn about how we should behave in a similar situation. We use stories to understand the world.

Myths are some of the best stories ever told. They have stood the test of time, surviving to be re-told generation after generation. Tales of heroes and clever girls, treasure and monsters capture our imagination. Our modern world doesn’t contain many dragons, but metaphorical monsters still exist. Whether you’re fighting the establishment, coping with colleagues or dealing with depression, stories show you a way to go on. Myths and fairytales tell us to be brave and teach us to tackle life’s problems. Whether you’re a princess or an urchin, a lot of courage and a measure of good sense will see you through.


You see, stories are simply the best way to communicate. This is because humans are storytelling animals: our brains are hardwired for narrative. We see patterns in things – shapes in tealeaves, faces in the clouds – it’s called pareidolia. Perceiving patterns is how we learn from experience: we form a causal narrative sequence of events, ie a story. Sharing stories is how we communicate our learning to others. Storytelling lets us relate to people, convey a message, promote a cause: if you want to change your life or change the world, do it with a story.


Find out how stories can help you at work in this great New York Times article on ‘Storytelling your way to a better job‘. More about the power of stories in my new book ‘StoryWorks‘. Join the StoryWorks Mailing List for future updates! Visit my Author Page and follow me on Twitter @janebaileybain. If you like this post, use the buttons below to Share on Facebook, Twitter or Stumbleupon.


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The Power of Story

Tell me your story. Let’s start at the very beginning. Where in the world were you born? What name did your parents give you? Do you have brothers and sisters? Where did you go to school? In other words, Who are you??


There are seven billion people on this planet, but your story is unique. Everything about you – your loves and your hates, your gifts and your challenges, your disappointments and your successes – is part of your personal narrative. All your experiences have made you who you are today. They are a line of footprints leading to exactly where you are now.


TapestryLife is a tapestry woven from many threads. Everyone you meet is a part of this pattern. Each of them has their own story that made them who they are today: the schoolboy on the #33 bus, the woman in the corner shop, the funny guy at the party, the old man on the park bench: they all have their own private hopes and dreams, their fears and regrets, their longings and secret sadnessses. When you see them in the street, wonder about the series of events which brought them to cross your path. Think about who they really are, behind that public mask. Ask yourself what lessons you could learn from them.


When you tell me your story, you are telling me about yourself. You decide what is important: the people, places and events that are significant in your life. Naturally, you edit the narrative to suit your image. Some incidents make you look clever, funny or brave; others don’t reflect your real self. Life Story BookYou tell stories to make sense of your life, linking one thing to another  in a causal sequence of events. Be careful, because stories can create reality. Tell someone about what you’ve achieved, and watch your reflection in their eyes. Moan about how hard things have been, and those obstacles will cast ongoing shadows in your path. Stories can literally change the world. They provide models and metaphors which shape your perceptions. Hearing a well-told tale may transform your life. Leaders, teachers, lawyers and politicians all understand the power of story.


StoryOldManYour friends and family and colleagues each have their own story. Ask them about it: you might be surprised how little you know. When you listen to someone else’s story, you learn about things outside your own personal experience. If you find things in common, you feel closer to that other person. If their experiences are very different, you can empathize with them. Stories can teach you about how the world works, about how people think and feel, about what to expect from life. When friends share stories, you help each other to learn and grow.


So start asking people questions. Be genuinely interested in their answers. When you talk to someone, give them your full attention. So often, people get stuck on superficialities: What do you do? Where do you live? These markers help to place someone, but they don’t really tell you about the person you’re talking to. Everyone has something to share which could enrich your life. Try some more significant questions. When do you feel really happy? What’s your favourite saying? Why did you come to this place? Who are the most important people in your life? What’s on your bucket list? What’s your story?


That’s one thing you could ask everyone you meet: Tell me your story….


LifeWorks‘ shows how you compose your own life story. ‘StoryWorks‘ is my new book on the power of story. Visit my Author Page and follow me on Twitter @janebaileybain. If you like this post, leave a comment and use the buttons below to Share on Twitter, Facebook and Stumbleupon.

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Archetypal Figures

LifeWorksAre you a clever girl or a wise woman? A hero or a trickster? There’s more to you than meets the eye, but you have a certain personality. And this persona tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your self-image affects how you feel. Your feelings influence the way you act. And your actions ensure that you get the experiences you expect. In other words, your character affects what happens in your life story.

All the world’s a stage and you act a central character. You choose your part and find people to play with you. At the same time, your image determines what role you play in their story. You relate to people whose life scripts fit with yours. All our stories draw on a common set of characters. The same figures recur in tales from different times and places: the princess, the good mother, the wise man and so on. We recognize such roles easily when we encounter them. The psychologist Carl Jung called these universally recurring figures ‘archetypes’.

Archetypes are outline forms which appear in the human psyche. They consist of clusters of stereotypical attributes. We fill in their features on the basis of personal experience. Your image of a ‘good mother’ draws on your own encounters with mothering. You fear the witch because of folktales you once heard. These figures are familiar and reassuringly predictable. They help us to make sense of the world.

Dancing FiguresWhen you interact with other people, you are usually playing one of these archetypal roles. You pick a part and act it out with your own personal interpretation. This character is your public image. It determines how other people see you, and how you see yourself. You have relationships with people who will act complementary roles. The hero needs a princess to rescue; the good mother wants a hungry urchin to feed.

The character you choose is influenced by the people around you. Social and economic factors limit the parts you can play: Beauty may be financially dependent on her Beast. But ultimately the only limiting factor is your imagination. When you change, so do your relationships with other people. Beauty can get a job and take control of her own life.

Writing on the WallThe writing’s on the wall but who composed it? You did: but usually you’ve used automatic writing. Most of us drift through life without realizing what’s going on. We accept the hand that fate has dealt us, without ever trying to change our cards. We fall into friendships out of convenience rather than choice. We stay in jobs that don’t really inspire us because we can’t see any alternative. Our lovers may take us for granted, or even abuse us: we act as if there’s nothing we can do about it.

Actually you have more control over your story than you think. You can broadly choose what happens in your life. Will you go to college or get a job? Do you want to stay single or get married? You may have to modify the details but you decide what you want to do. If you don’t make conscious choices, you’re actually deciding by default. What matters is to become aware of this process.

Antique BookThe greatest story ever told is happening right now, all around you. Your personal role is unique, but we’re all on the same great journey. Your life script interlocks with the stories of everyone you know. You choose the part you want to play, and you decide what to do. Once you are aware of this, you can start to take control of your life. Now there’s an empowering thought. Your story so far tells who you were: what happens next is up to you!

This post is based on an article in Watkins Magazine Issue 33 Spring 2013.

LifeWorks‘ shows how you use archetypal figures in your life story. Visit my Author Page and follow me on Twitter @janebaileybain. If you like this post, leave a comment and use the buttons below to Share on Twitter, Facebook and Stumbleupon.

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Labyrinth MinotaurLabyrinths are often seen as a metaphor for confusion. Theseus chases the Minotaur through a labyrinth; Jung talks of the labyrinth of the unconscious mind. Actually these are examples of mazes, not labyrinths. A maze is a web of tracks designed to confuse and disorient:  false turns and dead ends conspire to get you hopelessly lost. In a labyrinth, your path may twist and turn, but there is only one route.  If you follow the way, you will inevitably come to the centre. Labyrinths are a symbol of the soul’s journey: keep going, and you will find your true destination.

Labyrinth Chartres CathedralLabyrinths have been marked and walked since ancient times. They feature in spiritual traditions from around the world as a method of obtaining enlightenment. Usually they are in the form of two-dimensional patterns marked on the ground. They may be spiral, symmetrical or random meanderings. Early Christian churches feature labyrinthine patterns as a representation of human life, with the centre symbolizing salvation. In medieval Christianity, walking the labyrinth was a form of symbolic pilgrimage: religious rituals were conducted on the patterned floors of great cathedrals such as Chartres and Amiens. Nowadays ‘labyrinth workshops’ in both Christian and New Age traditions hark back to this ancient source of spiritual insight.

Labyrinth London UndergroundLondon Underground are installing a labyrinth in every station to commemorate their 150th year. The series of 270 black-and-white enamel plaques has been designed by Turner-winning artist Mark Wallinger. Each one is unique but they are all circular, and have a single starting point. The first ones were put up today and by summer 2013 they will all be in place. The designs will be numbered for the station to which they are assigned: this is their position in the ‘Tube Challenge’ – the route by which you can visit every station in the shortest possible time. Well, we each have our own spiritual journey….

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The Road Less Travelled

Two Roads Diverge





Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And since I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth

Then took the other as just as fair
Because it was grassy and wanted wear
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet, knowing how way leads onto way
I doubted if I should ever come back

I shall be telling this one day
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood
I took the one less travelled by
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost (1915)

Life is the sum of the choices you make.

(Full original poem entitled ‘The Road Not Taken’)


As You Travel

May the way be smooth before you
The skies shine clear above you
The wind be always at your back

May you have fire bright to warm you
Good friendships to cheer you
Food to break your fast

May you have work for your hands
Books to nourish your mind
Music to lift your soul

Jane Bailey Bain 9/12/2015
In the Celtic blessing tradition

Published in Watkins Magazine Issue 48

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