What Is the Story You Are Telling Yourself?

September 20, 2019

Metztli Zepeda

By Metztli Zepeda*
While doing a night walk in Periyar National Park near Bangalore, Octavio, one of the Fellows in my class, asked me: “Metztli, what is the story you are telling yourself?”

My first impulse was to think about the weather, the soft breeze, the graceful deer we had seen, the cloudy yet bright, dark sky. Or the disappointment of not having seen any tigers. Then, I realized there was more going on in my mind. Most of the time the story I am telling myself is not as beautiful as the nature surrounding me that night. 

Through the Inner Journey class during Amani Institute’s Social Innovation Management program, I found out that storytelling is something we do constantly, not only for others but in the inner dialogue we have with ourselves. Who doesn’t talk to themselves all the time? While walking, shopping, cooking, exercising. At the office, taking a shower, or each morning in front of the mirror…

Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen talk about it in their book Difficult conversations. They say that there is an identity conversation in which all we care about is how are going to perceive ourselves after doing or saying this or that.

I fell in love with storytelling at a very young age. My grandmother used to tell me stories about her youth in rural Mexico during the 1930s. She was capable of telling the most fantastic stories, some of them real and some fictional. Even today, in all the splendor of her 92 years, I still feel the same wonder I felt as a child when I listen to her.

Now, trying to make sense out of all these acquired knowledge and developed insights, I know there are two kinds of storytelling: storytelling for others and inner storytelling. Each of them has a purpose in our lives as social changemakers.

In Brené Brown‘s words: stories are just data with a soul. Storytelling is as much about the feelings as is about the facts that we deliver to others, as well as we deliver to us. But when we get trapped in a self-detrimental narrative in our heads, we lose the ability to consider the actual facts.

Think about it this way: when you are telling a story to a little child – if you are doing it well and the story is compelling – the child will get into it and feel wonder, happiness, excitement, and even fear. When we are pitching our projects, the thing we want the most is to engage the public we are speaking to. If we can recognize the effect that storytelling has over others, why can’t we be aware of the effects inner storytelling has on us?

*Metztli Zepeda, from Mexico, is an Amani Fellow who attended the Post-Graduate Certificate in Social Innovation Management in Bengaluru, India, in 2019

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