Your Story Is Your Freedom
Julio stood on the stage. His knees quivered; his body language screamed fear. But then he started to speak. He told a story of hope, despair, renewed hope and the return of disappointment. The words were difficult to express.
Julio had been in jail for fraud after having cashed fake checks. But he was determined to make something of his life. He applied for a job in the warehouse of an electronics company. He got the job and did so well that his boss offered him a full-time position. Now, he was standing on a stage at his company’s public speaking competition sharing a piece of his life that he had suppressed for years.
Through the workshops and preparation for this event, Julio knew that in order to truly leave the jail experience in his past, he needed to speak about his time away. He also understood that he needed to reframe the experience to inspire others.
“Many of us are in our own jails,” he told the audience. That’s the jail of silence, fear, anxiety, depression and shame. “Break free,” was Julio’s message.
What are these “jails” that Julio speaks of? They are the confinement of anxiety, insecurity and silence.
In an age when technology has overwhelmed the spoken word, it's very easy to set up your own solitary confinement. We have seen this in offices, where high-level executives hide behind closed doors.
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The solution is found in sharing stories. Julio was able to take an experience that caused him self-doubt and use it as a way to teach others. He realized that he wasn't alone in his experience.
Brené Brown said in her famous TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” that "we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.”
How do you allow yourself to be seen? It begins with opening the door to your office and empowering employees like Julio to share their personal stories at work. This has to be done in a structured way, in which employees learn the art of delivering their message.
People are disconnected because they don’t know how to speak to one another. I saw this at another company where, once again, I heard this story of imprisonment, but this time, it came from the CEO.
Seth was an extremely successful entrepreneur who managed more than 200 employees.
“How much do your employees know about you?” I asked.
The fear of vulnerability was apparent in Seth’s eyes. He couldn’t imagine telling his team his real story. And it was unfortunate. It played perfectly into his desire to motivate the people around him. His story was one of grit, fortitude and courage. Seth had kept it a secret.
When Seth was 19, his father went to jail for a short time. “It was tough. I felt all alone. My entire family was concerned about my father. And I don’t blame them. But it left me on this island. I realized that I needed to sink or swim,” he said.
He learned how to be tough. Seth developed a concrete outer shell and had a laser focus to survive.
“How many of your employees have this focus?” I asked.
“That’s a good question. Not many.”
Seth would run monthly meetings without delegating the opportunity to speak. His toughness was a wonderful attribute for closing a deal, but awful for building a team.
Wouldn’t you love for your employees to learn something from your story? Is there one person at the very least who could gain something from it?
Companies run best when there is a team working together. How can a team maximize its potential when the head, the manager, the boss is aloof and distant? Think about your motivation. What is your message? What are some difficulties you have faced? How have you overcome these obstacles and what can you teach others?
Public speaking is not just about big speeches. In fact, I don’t like to say I’m a public speaking coach. I teach people how to connect with their story so they can share it. It allows them to build self-confidence.
I think it's extremely beneficial to do this process in the open. Let’s share our stories. One of the things I learned as a television reporter is that everybody has a story. Why is storytelling feared in a corporate environment? It’s just the opposite. Stories of persistence and triumph will connect you. Everyone is a survivor.
Seth hesitated. But then he started to speak. He told the group about his father, his struggle, his journey and his life lessons. This is the key to team building: the stories of managers like Seth and employees like Julio. They both broke free when they shared their experiences. The personal narrative becomes the shared narrative.
Why do we create our own prisons when the "get out of jail free" card is within our reach? Our story is our freedom.