Do you know the source of your “Why?” The why that fuels what you do in the unique way that you do it? Your Why is the underpinning of your business. It sources your mission, your vision, and your purpose. This all sounds fairly simple in theory but the process of truly uncovering your Why is a lot more complex. Michale Gabriel, storytelling expert and founder/ CEO of Story by Design, has spent years coaching leaders in not only uncovering their Why but in delivering the story behind it.
It is not enough to simply know your Why and then conduct business from a surface- level approach. The game completely changes when you know your Why, understand it, embody it, and then unleash the power of that story in the form of authentic storytelling.
When you are a leader, your story is what enables you to create authentic connections, build trust, motivate employees, galvanize audiences and make an impact. Human beings are natural storytellers but your Why is a valuable story that you may not yet have thought to share, or if you have, perhaps you haven’t told it in a way that allows your audience to step into your story, imagine it and retain your message long past the telling. The challenge with finding your personal Why is that most of us don’t know what sources our business on a deeper level. We don’t know the full story. And not knowing our full story is a missed opportunity to connect with potential clients, and most importantly with ourselves.
Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born … and the day you find out why.” That day will mark a pivotal moment not only on a professional level but on a personal level as well. Who we are and why we do what we do are fundamental to our experience as human beings. Some people figure out their Why at a young age. For others, the process may take a little longer. Tragically, some people never truly understand their Why in this lifetime. “It is never too late to go after your calling. Your evolution and pursuit of fulfilling your personal Why never truly ends. You just keep working on it, refining and redefining it in relation to what is going on around you,” explains Gabriel.
The Power of Story
“Our brains are wired to make meaning and we do that through the narrative process. By telling stories. It’s how we make sense of things.” As Barry Lopez says in his book Crow and Weasel, “When stories come to you, care for them and give them away when they are needed. Sometimes people need stories more than food to stay alive. That is how we care for one another.”
Our experiences and the stories behind them are more often than not the key factors that influence our Why. These experiences are often gritty, challenging and less than glamorous. How then do we come to peace with our own story?
“My siblings and I grew up in a single-parent family in Anchorage, Alaska. My mother worked tirelessly to make ends meet. There was a tremendous amount of stress in the home and my mother suffered from depression. However, what I realized early on was that when my mother read to us, we all experienced a reprieve from the chaos that surrounded us. When my imagination was activated and I stepped into a story, I felt safe. I felt free. I felt whole. Stories allowed me to escape into a world of hope and possibility. I began to understand that I could imagine something better,” shares Gabriel.
“What I did not know then, but I know now, is that those moments of experiencing the power of story were preparing me for the realization of my own Why.”
The next pivotal moment in Gabriel’s Why journey came when she was in college and cast in the role of Emily in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. During a rehearsal, when her director felt she was “faking it” in a scene with her stage father, Gabriel exploded, “How do you expect me to relate to a stage father when I don’t even know what it’s like to relate to a real father?” She broke down. He took her into his office, and she told him what was going on behind closed doors at home. Gabriel revealed her fear that behind the carefully crafted façade that she had created to protect herself, she feared that she had no value. The director assured Gabriel that the person he cast in the role of Emily was a person of tremendous worth. He invited her to see herself differently. “By seeing me for who I truly was, he gave me the gift of a new story I could tell myself. That was the moment I started to heal,” reflects Gabriel.
“What I have discovered in my work with the transformative power of story over the past forty years, is when we are seen for who we truly are, it changes us. It reshapes us. When we reflect on our life as a whole, a tapestry emerges that is uniquely ours. Our wisdom is revealed, and we begin to understand what sources our life and gives it meaning. It allows us to lead from a more authentic place, to connect, to have the impact we so deserve to have.”
Uncovering your Why is your gateway to truly connecting with yourself and with others.