They’ll forget your advice but they’ll remember your story


When I think back on the most memorable advice I’ve received, it usually came wrapped in a story. There’s something magical about hearing a story: one’s insides quiet down and open up, anticipating something interesting or entertaining or profound. (I had this feeling when I read Chris Guillebeau’s The Money Tree.)

In her book Rising Strong, Brene Brown calls this being wired for story.

In a culture of scarcity and perfectionism, there’s a surprisingly simple reason we want to own, integrate, and share our stories of struggle. We do this because we feel the most alive when we’re connecting with others and being brave with our stories – it’s in our biology. — Brene Brown, Rising Strong

Brene is, herself, a masterful storyteller. It’s part of her magic as a teacher and speaker because it brings her academic research to life. Do I want to hear about shame research and vulnerability? No. Do I want to explore my own vulnerability? Yeah, NO. Do I want to hear a funny story about how Brene broke down after her now-famous TedXHouston talk, leading her to become “Vulnerability TED,” “like Ninja Barbie but I’m Vulnerability TED?” Yes, yes please. Let’s watch that video again!


I’ve been pondering why stories are such powerful teaching tools. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • A how-to tells you what to do; a story invites you to think about what to do.
  • A how-to defines a path; a story presents a map.
  • A how-to activates your thinking; a story activates your imagination.
  • A how to draws a line; a story paints a picture.
  • A how-to is about information; a story is about people.

Plus, it’s fun to hear a story.

But I think it goes deeper than that. Stories reassure us we’re not alone.

When we see ourselves reflected in another person’s story, we feel seen. We discover our weird fears, hangups, and quirks aren’t so weird after all. We remember we’re part of the human collective.

Stories remind us we belong.

In this strange moment of grief– and Coronavirus-induced solitude, I want to hear stories. And I want to get better at telling my own. I’m searching for words — messy, inadequate words — for the unknowable.

I don’t need more information. I need imagination.

Who’s your favorite storyteller? Tell me which books, authors, podcasts, or social media feeds are speaking to you right now. Leave a comment with a link if you have it.

Photo credit: S O C I A L . C U T

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  • My favorite storyteller was my late father. He was brilliant— multilingual, an avid reader, a physician, fascinated with cultures and languages and etymology. But maybe most importantly, he was Irish— he was raised in a storytelling tradition. He was the first person in his family to get beyond 8th grade, and he made the most of it, but he also had a photographic memory and was a garrulous teller of tales, so I know so many poems, limericks, songs, and stories from him— from our history and our family and his native Belfast. 🙂

  • What a lovely glimpse of your father. “Garrulous teller of tales.” I bet he would have loved your description of him. Thank you for sharing.

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