Graduated and Scared to Death? Time to Learn and Tell Your Core Story

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We conducted a recent workshop with undergraduates, new graduates and faculty at a university business school in Canada. For a lot of them, the question is “what now?” The premise we started with is: learn yourself and learn to tell your story with clarity and confidence. Getting there requires that each person gets to his or her Core: what is it about me that is unique? What is it that I uniquely have to offer the world?

Getting to the core of each person in the room? In six hours? With 38 people?

It can’t be done using powerpoints from the front of the room! Getting to Core is done through a combination of introspection and testing the impression one makes on others who will respond honestly. We started with groups of six at a table, using a simple storytelling guessing game that allows people to share personal information, to get people energized and familiar with each other, to laugh and challenge. This table group became the home base for people during the day, and it was important to build relationships as a foundation for peer coaching skills.

Next, smaller groups from the table team practiced taking turns telling a short folktale, after a brief preparation period. In telling a tale, it’s not so important what telling chops one brings to it, but what each teller finds in that story that he or she connects with. Each triad member received unconditional listening from peers, and, at the end, received “appreciations” (a term we learned from storyteller Doug Lipman).

Was it startling for people to receive only honestly appreciative feedback from others? Yes! The path to Core is not through someone else’s corrective view, but from receiving glimpses of how others see and reflect the essence of you. You don’t know how you come across to people until they tell you. Others see us with greater clarity than we might guess; although we rarely ask for or offer that view to one another. Perhaps we assume that people know who they are and how they appear to us? They don’t unless we find a safe and sincere way to tell them. We all need a mirror to see who we are, and the best mirror is others who can offer a clear reflection. Even if what they are offering is their personal perception, when we ask and receive positive personal feedback from others, the information we receive may differ in the way people express it, but usually ‘rhymes.’ There are a few things that we are at our very Core that others perceive.

Next, it was time for a challenge: in the words of Seth Godin, in his TED presentation on “what movement will you create?” In other words, what were you born to do? What gift do you have that the world needs? Participants digested this question over lunch, and when they returned it was time for a visual association exercise on this question, and on a second question: “so, what is holding you back?” Answering these two questions requires a deeper stage of phronesis (the Greek word for “social wisdom,” or dialogue). Dyads from the home table team engaged each other in these questions, as preparation for a deep dive into taking a leap into the story of ME.

There are lots of ways to approach this story, and this is where we did some storytelling coaching. But how one chooses to approach it is less important than getting to Core and finding a way to begin to articulate it. Triad team members prepared individually, then told their story to peer coaches, who in addition to listening intently and appreciating, then added a new layer of response. This part involves feedback that does not seek to correct, which is presumptive. You never tell a storyteller, “no, tell it this way!” Instead, you offer your experience of the telling; what connected you, where you disconnected or got lost; something that for reasons of your own contributed to or derailed your experience of the telling. This is an iterative process that can be used to hone a story to a solid nugget of pure Core.

We ended the workshop with more appreciations and with raucously voiced commitments, and the room was dancing with high energy and excitement. Many people said they felt the experience had changed their lives.

One young man, who stayed a few minutes to help pick up afterward, said, “I just graduated, and I was scared to death. Now, I know what to do.”

Here’s a great tool to use to find your Core story.