I haven’t written many articles lately because in addition to finishing storytelling projects for clients—which is how I make my living—I have been intensively noodling on some philosophical ideas behind the scenes. Those thoughts have now incubated enough to share, and I’m eager lay them out and see what you think. So, for the next few minutes, can we pretend we are having this conversation over dinner in an informal way, like friends coming together to solve the world’s problems? As an overview, this conversation will focus on an idea that hit me hard this year (in a good way). It is this: when you tell your personal story, it changes the ending.
First a little back story.
When I started writing my parents’ story in 2007, I wanted to honor them, but I had no idea that it would lead anywhere else. What I thought would be a short family history turned into a book, which led to another, and then another. So, I founded Evalogue.Life, hired Rachel Trotter and we’re doing this work full time along with some other freelancers who help behind the scenes. (That’s the abridged version of a decade).
Somewhere along the way, I noticed a phenomenon that I tucked away as a mental note like, “This is interesting. Something is going on here. What is it?” It is that as I worked with living people to tell their stories, they began to grow and change in unexpected ways, right before my eyes.
When I first began this work, I thought telling someone’s life story was a retrospective activity, looking back to see what happened in the past. I thought of it like reading a history book. What I did not expect, was that when you tell your story, it changes the ending.
When you tell your story, it changes the ending
We have now worked with many clients which gives us a bigger sample size of data points. Now I can say with confidence that every time we work with a client on their story, they grow as a result. (And frankly, so do we). The outcome is always the same: when they tell us their story, we reflect it back in a way that is like holding up a mirror. Together, we examine what it means, and this naturally causes the subject to think about their own story endings they have not yet lived. As a direct result of processing this together, people complete unfinished business. Perhaps they take the opportunity to say things that their loved ones need to hear. Perhaps opportunities spontaneously arise to conquer a fear or grow in unexpected ways.
Examples of people growing as they write the ending:
One example is that when I helped Norma Kier write her book, she accepted the invitation to overcome a fear of public speaking by telling her story to a room of 500 people. She sparkled, and we wrote the closing scene of her book as she lived it.
I’ve had my own experiences with growing as a result of telling a story. One example is the time I reached out to my brother about making my grandma’s dumpling soup together which would become a short video. In doing so, my brother and I came together and talked in a way we had not in years, and it healed some old wounds. We had that conversation as a direct result of me wanting to tell the story of grandma’s dumplings. I could go on and on, but these are two quick examples.
The Hawthorne effect – conducting a study influences the outcome:
What I think is happening with these story endings is the Hawthorne Effect. This refers to a now-famous experiment in an industrial setting where researchers wanted to study what would happen to productivity if they brightened the factory lights. Voila, productivity increased. But here is the hitch. They found that productivity also went up when they dimmed the lights. What they realized was that the important variable was the act of conducting the study. In other words, when people knew they were being studied, they were naturally more productive. I suspect that the same thing is happening when we tell life stories: the very act of studying a person’s life changes their life—for the better. This is especially the case when we go through the storyboarding exercise, looking for threads of growth and change. The exercise causes people to view their lives in new ways.
So, one of our mantras here at Evalogue.Life is that every great story is about transformation. What we did not realize at first—is this:
The very act of telling your story is transformative.
Now that we have a name for it, it is like when you get a new car and you start seeing that model everywhere. We are now seeing examples of this phenomenon everywhere. Compelling research by others backs this up, and we have our own filing cabinet of anecdotes. Hence, a book in the making. Writing that book will be one of my projects in the coming year.
This philosophy is becoming an underpinning theme to the rest of our work. In the past we have highlighted three ideas about the power of story.
Here is a recap of the power of story:
- Stories have the power to save families, helping children be more resilient in times of stress and creating closer family units.
- Stories turn random events into meaning. Story is how we learn, teach, and process the world around us.
- Stories are the only way we will be remembered. Without a story, one day we will simply be a name on a headstone. We connect with earlier generations when we know their stories, and if we want future generations to gain wisdom from our lives, we must be intentional in leaving our story for them to find, like mailing letters into the future.
Going forward, we will tie these themes together with one over-arching theme, that I want to repeat here for good measure:
When you tell your story, it changes the ending.
This philosophy is becoming the underlying “why” we do everything here at Evalogue.Life. We remain passionate about helping as many individuals and families tell their stories as possible. There is just one big problem: capacity. While we yearn to tell everyone’s stories it is impossible to personally write as many books as we would like. So, we have been actively looking for ways to expand our reach. Here are a few ways we plan to help more families in the coming year:
Teaching how to tell your story:
- Four-week course: Last year we taught a lot of workshops. We loved meeting so many people, but one-hour classes left us hungry for more depth. So, I am thrilled to be offering a four-week, in-person class through Weber State University at the Clearfield campus. If you live in Northern Utah and want to work on your story, please enroll! Tuition for this community education course is affordable, and we’ll have more time to storyboard your life and explore techniques to get your story done. I can’t wait for this small-group, in-person setting.
- Online class: Watch for the above class to be adapted into an online version for folks who do not live nearby. In this way, we can still work together, but we do not have to gather in the same room.
- Short workshops: We are teaching at RootsTech again, and leading up to that have scheduled a number of “dress rehearsals” around the State of Utah. Check out our calendar to see if we are teaching near you. And of course, we would LOVE to meet you at RootsTech.
Life story interviewing:
We had an epiphany last year. Seriously, this was a huge breakthrough because it is so simple. It is that the easiest, most powerful, and enjoyable part of the process is life story interviewing. Through experimentation, we have figured out that most people can tell a full life story in about six interviews. Our method puts people at ease, records the audio, and we ask questions that draw out the most important moments in a story. For this reason, we created our package that can help anyone capture a life story.
The process even works well by phone. Yes, we love coming together in person but when it is not possible, phone interviews can work well. In the coming year we anticipate growing our geographical reach, but we can help you right now anywhere in the U.S. So, if you have thought about finishing your story this coming year, we created a January special to help you.
Other implications for the transformative power of story:
Finally, the idea that telling a story changes the ending has some profound implications that we are exploring for youth and communities. Without getting into too much detail here, we have two projects we want to share.
Youth writing the ending to their own stories:
The first is that we are teaming up with an arts nonprofit for youth in our community called Nurture the Creative Mind to teach a youth storytelling class. We will help a small group of teenagers process their own stories and it will culminate in a live on-stage telling similar to a MOTH story slam. Last year Nurture the Creative Mind worked with National Public Radio to help students create personal podcasts, and this will be a second round entitled “Hear Me Now: Storytelling Edition.” If this goes well, we’ve got big plans for working with youth. The short version relates to this question: What would happen if youth could see themselves as the hero in their own story, and envision a hero’s ending they have not yet lived?
Communities coming together through story:
What are the stories that highlight a community’s values? We know that when people have a strong sense of place, they are more likely to put down roots, volunteer and invest. How can storytelling help create that sense of place? How can listening to and telling the stories of people in a community bring us together? In the coming year, we will be doing storytelling in multiple forms: oral history, photography, videos, and the written word, to tell the story of the Ogden East-Central neighborhood to kick off a revitalization initiative with a 40-year vision. This is a partnership with Ogden City, Weber State University, the local hospitals and nonprofits. The whole thing is called Ogden CAN, and we may share some of those stories with you. As we do, we hope you know that there is a deeper “why” behind this work than simply how much fun it is. (And it is fun!)
How does your story end?
Have you thought about how your story might end? What will this life teach you and how will you grow by the time each episode concludes? How are you part of a multi-generational story that is still growing and changing? How will the challenges you face today, become pivotal turning points that helped you find new answers?
Rhonda Lauritzen is the founder and an author at Evalogue.Life – Tell Your Story. Rhonda lives to hear and write about people’s lives, especially the uncanny moments. She and her husband Milan restored an 1890 Victorian in Ogden, Utah and work together in it, weaving family and business together. She especially enjoys unplugging in nature. Check out her latest books: How to Storyboard, and Remember When, the inspiring Norma and Jim Kier story.
Printable Storyboard Template
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