Four Lessons to be Found in Telling Your Own Story

Two days ago I published this video on YouTube, but I’ve been building up to sharing this story for a very long time. I had it all planned out in my head with everything I wanted to say, but I wanted it to come out naturally so I didn’t write it down, I just sat in front of the camera and talked… And it was awful.

Two days later I got on a plane and when I was in Kenya I tried again. And again, and again, and then again. Seven times in total, and each time it was just no good! The trouble was this... we often think of our lives in bits and pieces, but we rarely think of it in a narrative that would be interesting to an audience. 

Filming this was an eye-opening experience and here are a few lessons I learned while trying to tell my story:

1. Bringing up and talking about things that have happened in your life can make you confront parts of you that haven’t seen the light in some time – and that can be hard. In the original version of this video, which was half an hour long, I talked a lot more about family and and unlearning old habits. And it kind of made me a bit sad – not because I haven’t dealt with it all, but because it brought up painful memories and while I wanted to be honest, I didn’t want those painful memories to shout the loudest in my story.

2. You actually have to think about what you want people to get out of it, what you want them to take away from it all. Which means you have to think about your attitude, and how you represent yourself. So much of what I said in the original recording didn’t make the cut because I thought to myself – "I don’t want that to define me anymore". When you have to cut your life into a 15 minute film (which was probably a little bit long), you have to really work out your priorities which is an interesting process. It's all a bit therapeutic.

3. It’s important to own your whole story and not leave any part of it abandoned – which I did in the original recording, but a life story is loooooong. And getting to know someone in real life is not the same as getting to know them online. In person, if we were friends, we would get to know each other slowly over time through anecdotes and stories told over hours, not minutes. But when you’re talking to an audience you need to decide what they need to know, in choosing how you want them to feel about it, you get to make up your mind about how you feel about it. It’s a wonderful feeling to decide what from your past is useful to your present, and what you get to take forward into your future. Because it is a choice!

4. It’s difficult to narrate your past with enthusiasm, and without making it sound like a shopping list. I can talk with all kinds of enthusiasm about my present and my future, but making my past sound just as exciting is difficult because it’s already happened and I’ve already heard that story countless times in my head. But you can’t keep people engaged with a monotonous list of events… so this kind of forces you to inject some enthusiasm into the stories of your past which helps you look at it with fresh eyes.

All the time that went into collecting all of this information and telling my story in a way that was both honest and real, it was a good reminder of where I've been and where I'm going. I naively thought that I could just sit down in front of a camera, talk and hit publish... but it actually turned out to be weeks of work. And in those weeks I learned how to be happy with my story, how to own every part of it, and how to let go of what wasn't useful anymore. 

Even if you didn't publish it for the world to see, do you think you could tell your story in ten to fifteen minutes in a way that you felt proud of but also in a way that was honest and real? It's a worthwhile challenge to take on if you're up for it :)