3 of the Most Common Struggles of Telling Your Own Story (And How to Rise Above Them)

Storytelling is the alchemy of the mind and the heart.

Rationality and feel meet and mix in a good story, but they also benefit from one another. Mind-matter loses its hardness when mixed with emotion. And feel, sometimes flimsy or overly indulgent, finds firmness and strength from reason.

Story brings these two poles into harmony.

As a lifelong writer, 10-time author, communications specialist and Get Storied’s new Writing Coach & Editor, the alchemy of thought and feel represent what I love so dearly about storytelling.

When thought and feel come together, magic happens in story form.

Reason and emotion don’t have to clash.

But a big part of my work helping clients make their stories shine (and what I now get to do with Get Storied’s awesome clients) is untangle the knots in a story where emotion and feeling clash — or, where one is overused, and the other is discarded.

It usually happens like this:

  1. You feel constrained or restricted self-applying labels and titles, so you don’t, but by the end you only sound non-committal, flighty and unsure. You understand that sharing “who you are” and “what you do” is important, but struggle to find the right words to capture either.
  2. You present information and facts coldly, without any emotion, for the sake of appearing “professional,” but it reads more robotic, or arrogant, and isn’t compelling or memorable for readers.
  3. You feel like you need to convey a personal struggle or professional hardship you’ve overcome, but somehow overshare it, or sometimes two or three of them all at once, and without the poise and confidence of reflective narration. Your reader is hit hard, left feeling depleted, and not moved or motivated.

As a yogi, it’s the symbolic location of the throat that’s represents the mixing of these two poles, and I like to share this with every client of mine.

The throat lays like a bridge between the brain and the heart: the brain, the thought-processing center of the human experience, where ego, thought and rationality reside; the heart, the vital drum that pumps the lifeforce throughout the body, where love, compassion, empathy, community, union and openness reside.

If we oversimplify what the brain and heart represent?

One is reason, rational, black-and-white, logic. The other is emotional, feel, intangible, indefinable, shades-of-gray, faith.

Somewhere between the mind and heart, these two seemingly opposing forces can come together strongly to complement one another.

And a story is born.

3 Common Struggles (And How to Rise Above Them)

1. “I don’t like to define myself.”

I heard this come up in a recent bio-writing workshop that I hosted with a room full of yoga teacher training students.

“Good!” I replied, “You shouldn’t like to define yourself. You’re a yogi, for God’s sakes! You fundamentally understand that definitions and labels tend to be liars. For yogis, who are determined to shed their labels, self-applying titles and definitions will feel constricting.”

But for the sake of a story?

We’re trying to help people understand us, even if it’s a small window of who we are and what we’re doing in the world.

Labels and definitions are just practical.

You don’t have a problem putting a label on a box of stuff when you’re moving into a new place, right? Does the stuff inside feel dishonored? You might place an antique vase that belonged to your great-grandmother inside one of those boxes, and just labeled the box “Dining Room Stuff.” Would great-grandma care?

Of course not.

We’re using labels for convenience. You’re not dishonoring your great-granny, or yourself, but using helpful descriptions to help others “get you” better.

Placing literal, convenient definitions on yourself up front in your story is a simple but powerful resource for ushering your reader into a relationship with you through context, relevance and “why.”

I did that for myself above.

I mentioned being a writer, author, communications specialist and Get Storied’s Writing Coach & Editor, because those are the most relevant that I needed you to learn right now. They imply what I’m going to be talking about in this piece.

You didn’t need to learn about my love of travel, or that I lead yoga and creativity workshops, or that I dig colorful birds and think Game of Thrones is wicked.

You’re allowed to leave some mystery remaining.

Don’t think of labels as imprisoning or minimizing the beautiful, complex soul that you are.

In a story, it’s kinda like you’re on a first date: mention the essentials straight away, but you’re allowed to let the rest of your story unfold organically.

2) “I don’t want to sound arrogant or like I’m bragging.”

In every instance of storytelling work I’ve done with clients, this concern comes up.

And I’m convinced that it only comes up because every one of my clients has been a conscientious, humble and good natured soul.

They care about not sounding arrogant because they’re not arrogant.

I’ve never met an egomaniac who’s concerned with sounding arrogant, because, well, that kind comes with being an egomaniac. If you’re worried about sounding arrogant or like you’re bragging, there’s a really good chance that you’re neither arrogant nor bragging in your story.

The fear of sounding arrogant is actually shame masquerading as social politeness.

You’re concerned with being seen. It’s scary to be seen. It feels uncomfortable. Vulnerable. Weird. Strange.

And what you’re feeling are touches of shame that naturally arise in this process of “being seen” for who you are, and how you show up in the world, and even the great things you’ve accomplished.

There’s nothing shameful about being well-accomplished, owning what you’ve done in your work (or even sharing what struggles and challenges you’ve championed). Think of sharing them as a practice in self-acceptance, self-love, and making peace with your sense of I.

When in doubt, ask a writerly friend or communications-savvy colleague, “How does this sound?”

The answer will probably be, “Impressive.”

3) “I want to sound real, but not overly-emotional, or like I’m moping, or unprofessional.”

Another big concern for budding storytellers is how to walk the line between expressing emotion and still sounding “professional,” especially in vulnerable spots of describing life-changing hardships and career-defining struggles they’ve overcome.

It’s the flip side to sounding too arrogant or braggy.

Especially for professionals who are communicating their stories in professional capacities (on LinkedIn, a blog or website), the fear of sounding too emotional, or flimsy, or “TMI” (“Too Much Information”) is a perpetual struggle in storytelling.

Remember how I said above that the fear of sounding arrogant is actually shame masquerading as social politeness?

The fear of sounding too emotional is actually guilt (for being a real live human) masquerading as professionalism.

Now, I’ll admit this, I’ve never had a “real job” for more than 3 months in my entire life. But perhaps it’s my writing and creative career (six years strong) that is the best living example I can offer for why “revealing that you’re human” (without sounding mopey, weepy, or bleeding-heart) isn’t career suicide, but so distinguishing and compelling that it can actually become your career-maker.

I’ve written some super personal, emotional, revealing and intimate pieces about myself online and in book form. You won’t do the same necessarily in your LinkedIn profile, but no instance of anything I’ve ever written has been unprofessional because it’s been intimate and personal.

In fact, my most revealing and intimate stories have oftentimes acted as defining moments in my writing career.

The first story of mine that was ever published (in Chicken Soup for the Soul, of all places) was an intimate reflection on my father and how he raised me. Total tear-jerker. The first time I ever told anyone about how I secretly sought a doctor’s help for feeling depressed years ago was on my blog, and it thrust me into a place of helping others in similar situations feel empowered to seek help for themselves, and come out from the shadows of their own mental health struggles.

Above, I wrote that “feel finds firmness and strength in reason.”

When you can bridge thought and rationality into why you’re expressing some emotion and feel, even in vulnerable stories, powerful things occur.

It’s not confessing, or apologizing, or moping, or being guilty, or exposing yourself, or being “T.M.I.”

In a professional context, sharing a struggle or hardship with poise and confidence implies there’s a sound reason for why you’re expressing it at all.

The reason is because it’s defined you, shaped you, influenced you, and still influences you today. You share it, because the experience is part of what you offer as a professional.

You’re leading by example.

You’re owning what others might prefer to hide from. You’re standing in the power of your truth so that you can help lift up others who may be in a similar place.

Besides, “feel” humanizes your story on an innate, biological level. People who read it and resonate with the emotion of your story will develop an emotional bond to you that they will remember.

You Can Rise Above These Storytelling Struggles

How you tell your story is what your reality becomes — it’s the case for the stories we tell ourselves in our heads, and how we present ourselves as professionals, contributors, leaders and souls in the world.

Storytelling is an equalizing force.

It’s why I so love and admire the work that my friend Michael Margolis (and the whole Get Storied team) do.

The art of storytelling deserves to be accessible to the masses. You don’t need to be a lifelong writer, 10-time author or professional communicator to use the power of storytelling to shape your direction in your life and in your career.

When it comes to these 3 common storytelling struggles, you have the power to work your way through them independent of any outside help, support or guidance.

What you need to remember is to work in the gray area: the spacious place, the bridge, like the throat, where thought and emotion come together to create story gold.

Infuse cold logic and rationality with some heart and feel. Firm up the emotion of a struggle or hardship you’ve overcome with reason and “why” so that you’re telling it to show who you are, what you offer, and how you’re already a leader by quiet example.

You have the tools, you have the ability, it’s just a matter of working in the space between.

Thanks for reading, and here’s to you and your story.

– Dave

PS – If you’re ready for the next step in storytelling, look no further than The New About Me. It’s a 7-step e-course that guides you through the reinvention of your bio using the power of story. Click here to learn more.

PPS – If you require more 1-on-1 support with your story, I’m your guy. As the StoryU Writing Coach & Editor, I’m here to help walk you through the story process by helping you talk through, write and edit your bio to professional perfection. Read more about coaching here.