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In Storytelling, Experiences Matter More than Results

Person enjoying nature

A popular myth about storytelling is that people need to focus on results.

Everyone loves to talk about accomplishments – you will often hear stories of how someone grew revenue by 200% in a quarter or signed a mega deal with a new customer.

That’s great and all, but what happened to the journey? I’m talking about HOW we got to where we are…OUR EXPERIENCES! Our experiences tell a far more valuable story with depth and breadth whereas results are a data point in time.

For storytelling to be impactful, the speaker must open up their heart and mind to the audience.

This is the path towards a skill called 'leadership presence' which I will cover in a future blog.

Lesson: Learn to value your experiences more than results

I’m entering my junior year of high school in Ohio. I have the rare opportunity to sign up to be part of the first class of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program, a prestigious curriculum that educates students using international teaching methods and provides tools to help them excel in their personal development.

The IB program is very rigorous – as someone who took both IB and AP classes – and it requires students to be on top of their academics, athletics, and personal development. It is a two-year endeavor, and at the end of the program, students will take two weeks' worth of final exams. Using the grades from the final exam and projects throughout the two years, students are awarded points for each subject. To receive an IB diploma, in addition to a regular high school diploma, you must receive a certain number of points (24).

Over these two years, I invest a lot of my time and energy in the program. There are many late nights of studying after I would come home after golf matches. I had my eye on the prize and wanted desperately to tell my friends that I had an IB diploma when they would not.

The classes are not the only source of stress. Let's talk about studying for the final IB exams – imagine cramming two years' worth of information into a few weeks. After I finish the last exam in May, I feel a great sense of relief and confidence that I will receive my IB diploma…

My relief is short-lived as I have to wait two more months to receive a final decision in the mail – I feel for the judges who had to review all of the exams in addition to looking over two years' worth of projects!

These two months feel like two years. I often describe this feeling to be similar to waiting for a potential employer to respond to you throughout the interview process. Sometimes you have to deal with complete silence for long periods of time…

The wait is finally over. I open up the mailbox one day in July and see a letter from the IB committee. I open it immediately and start reading…

“Dear David, we regret to inform you…”

I am so overcome with emotion that I stop reading after the first sentence. I run to my room, locking the door behind me. My parents, who are downstairs at the time, hear me crying and come to my room to check on me.

I am a wreck. I feel so ashamed. It is difficult for me to talk to any of my friends who participated in the program as they were receiving their diplomas and I was not. However, my wounds would heal over time and I make sure to properly congratulate my fellow classmates – a great lesson in humility.

Months later, I re-read the same letter that caused me so much disappointment. It turns out that I fell short of the IB diploma by 1 point. I went into the program believing that I had to come away with an IB diploma or else I was a failure…

Even now, I still cannot explain how I wasn’t able to reach the finish line that I dreamt so much about. Maybe I became so mentally exhausted and burned out that it prevented me from achieving high test scores. I may never know the true reason, and that’s OK. Everything in the world happens for a reason.

Would it have been great to receive an IB diploma? You bet.

More important than any plaque or official IB diploma is my experience as an IB student. I had the rare privilege of being educated by the most advanced teaching methods in the world – this will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Going through this experience transformed me into a more resilient person. I reflect, adapt, and come back stronger than ever! Experiences > Results

Remember that saying “Embrace the journey, not just the destination.”

Regardless of the outcome, your experiences shape the way you act in the future. Hindsight is 20/20. You think about what went wrong or how you could improve. Experiences go beyond the one project you’re working on and are re-applied to future activities. By focusing on our experiences, you will learn to embrace the journey more than just reaching the final destination.

This type of self-reflection will accelerate your growth as an authentic leader. *Exercise*

The next time you start a project, in addition to formalizing your success metrics, plan for the types of assumptions that you want to test. Nothing rarely happens the way we want, so summarize a list of insights you hope to capture for follow-up projects. Always keep learning and testing assumptions.

Example: Let’s say you are planning to run a digital ad campaign. Instead of only focusing on the click-thru rate of your call-to-action, consider the type of imagery or messaging by running A/B tests with your target audience.

David Ghodsizadeh is the founder and storytelling coach at Storytelling 4 Success.


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