#56 How Pain Can Help You Tell Your Best Stories
Leaning into the discomfort and the magic that comes from it
I was sitting in a park last week with a friend thinking about therapy. Trying to express to her why despite how much it brings up and despite the fact that healing then becomes a lifelong process, that it was worth it for the understanding of self that comes with it. I stuttered a lot and hesitated because when you really think about it, it’s just hard, yet it’s worth it. It leads to a truer experience of your own life is what I think I wanted to say.
I saw a tweet the next day that I knew immediately I wanted to share with you. Because I read it out loud and said, “YES! This. Exactly.”
I added a build:
And Braveen made it even better:
I’ve written about the healing and connecting power of engaging with hard topics in storytelling before here and here. About digging into the hard stuff to tell a story. But this gifted writer (who is a delight to follow—I highly recommend), summed it up perfectly in a tweet. Am I jealous? Yes, because I’m a writer and that is our natural state, but I also LOVE to share and give credit for genius where it is due.
Simply put: the good stuff is in the discomfort and the pain.
I had a person reach out to me to work with them on a project that would have involved diving into a lot of trauma and pain around sexual assault and addiction. While I wasn’t tempted—for reasons outside of the hardness of the topic—it reminded me that some of the stories that I was most proud of as a reporter were ones that forced me to dig into and spend time in some of the darkest parts of our experiences of the world. I wouldn’t go back to that time, but I am grateful for the perspective it gave me. It also made me more able to face the hard parts in my own life.
My novel was born out of one of the hardest experiences of my life, but it is a story that I think is beautiful and I hope readers one day will too (don’t get me started on the also painful and ongoing process of submissions and rejections, I can’t today—we can’t be strong all the time). It’s about spending time in those uncomfortable places and creating something that may also help you find your way out.
An article I read recently on why the latest reboot of Gossip Girl has been a disappointment for many viewers delves into this idea when one of the journalists says, “Give us some reason for them to actually betray each other — and sure, maybe they’ll become friends again slowly like Blair and Serena, but linger in the wound for a bit. Linger in any wound!”
Linger in the wound. I think that’s the thing.
And hard doesn’t have to be trauma or traumatizing, sometimes it can just be uncomfortable. But it’s about sitting in that discomfort and then unpacking it a bit to get to the heart and reframing it into a piece of art, a short story, an article, a song, or a design, or whatever story you’re here to tell in whatever medium. In marketing strategy problem identification and tension are what make good ads and great customer experiences.
We dive into the power of tension and problem solving in the upcoming pilot of my Brand Storytelling course. If you’re struggling with sharing your business story and growing your audience, consider signing up. (As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions about it—though there’s also an FAQ).
Understanding, diving into and then trying to resolve a problem and share that resolution through storytelling is what a lot of really good business owners and marketers do. Telling your professional story is about understanding the challenges you faced and sharing what you learned and how you got better.
So I guess what I’m circling back to is don’t bypass the hard stuff. It’s worth it even when it’s hard. Because your best stories live in those experiences. They come to life as a result of or can even lead to healing.
A Story Well Told
Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” and Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree are the only two stories that I remember making me cry as a child before I really understood what was so sad about them. If you’re of a certain 90s vintage from North America then The Giving Tree more than likely was read to you by some well meaning teacher who had no intention of forever complicating your relationship with trees and the living world but doing so all the same. I read a great medium essay last week on why this classic kids book so often makes readers cry (like, sob in my case). It’s sad, but also heartwarming and confusing and beautiful—like life. I’ve been reading a lot of kids book lately for a project I’ll tell you more about another day and I must say, they may be my new favourite place to enjoy stories. They are light yet enlightening. If you haven’t read one for yourself recently (not to your kids but for yourself), I highly recommend.