12 min read
It was a few months ago when I realized just how much the stories that we tell can impact us.
It’s 6 p.m. and I’m seated at a cafe right next to F64, my boarding gate for a flight from Toronto to Washington. I was bored so I went to pull out my iPad and dig into a game of Scrabble.
But it, and the bag I had it in, were nowhere to be found. So along with my iPad, I was now missing my wallet and car keys (of which I only have one).
That’s the moment I really started to get concerned. I bought the car in the Canada, I live in the U.S. now. It would not be easy to get a new key. I’d lose the iPad, my wallet, and it would be at least a few months without being able to drive my car.
I had to find a way to get it back.
I only had 40 minutes before my international flight was due to take off.
I called the hotel where I had stayed. No luck. I tried my sister whom I’d been visiting. Nothing there. Where else could it be? I racked my brain as the panic started to set in a little bit.
Then it hit me…the rental car. That was the only place it could be.
A quick email search found the car reservation. Google helped me find the local branch’s number. And within minutes somebody from Enterprise was on the phone.
I’m sorry sir, there is nothing we can do for 24 hours at a minimum. Once you leave the car, you can’t go back in. We’ll submit a report and can check tomorrow. We’ll get in touch if we find anything.
So here I am, sitting at my gate with about 30 minutes left. I’m reasonably sure that my keys, iPad, and wallet are all sitting in that car. I’m equally sure that I’ll never see them again if I board that plane.
Now it’s an international flight, so that means I am technically through customs and I’ve left Canada. So even if I wanted to try and head back to my car, there were no exits. And even if I found a way out, I’d have to make it to the car rental place, find my car, convince them to let me in (which is totally against policy), and then come all the way back through both security and customs.
All that in 30 minutes with two super heavy carry-ons that only a filmmaker would fully understand the wrath of.
I sat there—time ticking away—and considered my options. It felt crazy to try and go for it. But it felt even crazier to board that plane and not even try. I went back and forth, stay or go, over and over again.
Then, in an instant, it became crystal clear. And I can remember this moment very vividly. It was like Dave Jacka was in the airport, sitting right beside me. He leaned forward in his wheelchair and in his Australian accent said “You’re only limited by what you think you can do.”
Now if you don’t remember Dave’s story, he’s a quadriplegic who, with only 6% of his body function, was able to fly solo across Australia.
The choice was no longer about whether I should try and find my lost bag in time, it was whether I believed I was capable enough or not. And then it was on.
I found a United representative, reminded her that I was a 1K member, and convinced her to store my carry-ons. She got a manager who could escort me out of a terminal with no exits. Sprinting across the terminal to the connected carport, I started to devise the plan on how I’d get them to dig up my car and let me in.
With a story of course.
I got there, out of breath, with 17 minutes before my flight departed. The car was already gone for cleaning. I found my way to the manager who then called down to the cleaning department and asked them to rush the vehicle back up. I verified my rental, my identity, and 7 minutes later I had my bag back and a ride from Enterprise all the way to the terminal.
Again I shared the story with customs, this time to get in front of the long lines (to be fair, I had just gone through this process less than an hour ago). Sprinting back through the terminal, picking up my bags, and back to the gate. I was rather sweaty, but I’d made it back with 3 minutes left before the boarding doors closed.
Here’s the thing. Without telling Dave Jacka’s story, I wouldn’t have had the experience of meeting and learning from him. I wouldn’t have heard his words in that moment when I needed them most. And I likely wouldn’t have attempted that crazy journey back to the rental car with so little time.
And that’s when it hit me just how much the stories we tell shape us. In so many ways, we become the stories that we choose to tell.
If you never got a chance to check out Soar. The Quadriplegic Who Reached For The Sky we’ve embedded it again below.
There is often so much focus on getting paid more, finding the right clients, and getting work that you love.
But just like a magic trick, while everybody’s focus is over there on the budgets and clients, the real action is happening elsewhere. And that is the stories themselves, the ones we choose to tell, and how much they shape us as people.
Let’s look at it another way. We might be okay taking on work for a lesser budget because the reality is we have a family to feed or rent to pay. And the same argument goes for doing work we might not be in love with. And that’s both totally true and understandable.
It’s easy to stand atop an apple box and spout the virtues of being in love with every story you tell, demanding a fair price for your work, and chasing down your dreams. But if your rent is due and a terrible project at a quarter your normal rate comes a-calling, you’ll likely take it. We’ve been there. We took those jobs.
While we have no quick fix that we can offer you for how to make that magical transition from where you are to where you want to be, we do
ask urge you to keep this one thing in mind: the stories you choose to tell will shape who you become.
Let’s look at exactly what that means, then we can tackle what we can do about it.
You may have heard of the longstanding debate of nature versus nurture in psychology. I like to think of myself as a pretty thoughtful person. Within psychology, there are differing opinions over how much of that thoughtfulness, as an example, is because of my genetics and how much of it is because of my parents, culture, and other environmental factors that I grew up within.
Is it simply my DNA, or was I always around thoughtful people? As you may have guessed, both matter.
And some things are much more inheritable, while others are much less so. Your eye color and blood type, as an example, come from your genes. But the language we speak and the religion we choose are highly environmental.
But when it comes to the environment, what are some of the largest factors that shape that? We talked about the idea that “we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with” in our post with Shane Hurlbut. But when it comes to what influences us beyond just our closest family and friends, our work is a major player. And we work a lot.
We work longer hours than anybody that’s come before us (since statistics have been kept that is). In her best-selling book The Overworked American, Juliet Schor shared that Americans worked almost one month more per year in 1990 than we did in 1970. An extra month of work every year.
The point is this: We work a ton and that work shapes us. It plays a huge role in shaping who we are and who we will become.
Let’s dive into that a bit deeper and use the Univision film as a case study. Before we break it down, please take five minutes and check out the film. Everything afterwards will make a ton more sense if you do.
So let’s look at what goes into telling a story. We’ll use this piece an example to show just how much one story can shape us. It’s worth noting that this story is pretty typical for us. It didn’t have a particularly high or low budget, the timeline was reasonable, and we had a fair amount of creative discretion within the network. So everything below is fairly representative of an average story.
We did a series of three films like this for Univision. We were given a budget for all three, a timeline, and theme for each story. The focus overall was on youth and change and the theme for this piece was the promise and peril of technology. You can see below the exact brief we received from Univision.
So we dove into research on those youths who are changing the world around them. And as we did, we became exposed to, and learned about, many important issues. Things that several of us felt rather embarrassed that we didn’t know more about before going into this.
Some of the things we dove into:
- Joshua Wong, one of the leaders of the Umbrella Movement, and the intricacies of why so many people were protesting in Honk Kong
- This also led us to the massacre in Tiananmen Square and watching a full YouTube documentary on Tank Man
- As we dove into Ashley Yates, we learned so much more about Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin
- With a heightened focus on racial equality we went to see the film Dear White People
- Our research led us to the incredible Ala’a. We watched #ChicagoGirl documentary on her and learned about terrible human rights issues in Syria today
The research alone was incredibly eye-opening.
Then we got to make these stories, and actually meet these people. And because so much of our process is about creating a conversation, rather than a performance—we really took the time to get to know and be there with everybody we spoke to. Any one of the people on this project are incredibly inspirational, but meeting all of them in the span of a few weeks really expanded our perspectives.
We met people like Mike Kim, the feature of our second Univision film below. I’ve done my fair share of whining over the years about the hours I work, feeling overwhelmed, and what I’ve given up for Stillmotion. But none of that remotely compares to what this man has given of himself. Not. Even. Close.
I could go on and on with how many big and little things, decisions, and actions come out of just one story or project that we take on. But I’m hoping that you get the point by now.
It’s incredible how much one story truly can shape us. They largely determine who we interact with, the directions in which we learn and grow, and where our daily focus is. So if you agree on the importance of the stories you choose to tell, you might be wondering how you can be more intentional about your choices.
How can you move away from the stories you don’t want to tell, and towards the ones you’d loved to be shaped by?
Here are 5 ways to be more intentional about the stories you tell:
- The first step is really knowing what those stories are. Having incredible clarity. This blog post on finding your voice can really help.
- Next, always try to make your goals SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time-Based.
- Stay focused. Every day. This journal raised $635,000on Kickstarter and is an amazing way to stay passionate and focused.
- If you’re a storyteller, join the Academy of Storytellers. It will help you run a stronger business, make better films, and find those stories you love.
- Always, always try to do a post-mortem after every project. Gather the team and talk about what worked, what didn’t, and how to make the next project significantly better.
There you have it. The stories that we choose to tell really do shape us. So much of our time is spent at work. It is spent immersed in research, production, and post for whatever projects we choose to take on. And where we choose to immerse ourselves is how we’ll be shaped.
So more than just thinking about raising your rates and doing work you enjoy, we hope you’ll also take the time to think about who you want to become. Then chase that down. Tell those stories. We’ve got one shot at this thing called life, it’s too important not to make it the best story we’ve ever told.
Thanks friends. For being a part of supporting me, and us, as we journey to tell those stories.
What’s a story you’ve told that has really shaped you? I hope you’ll take a minute and share it with me.
For me personally, #standwithme, The Elephant Whisperer of Chiang Mai, and Dave Jacka are definitely at the top of my list.
#standwithme taught me that despite horribly unjust things we will come up against in this world, the best way I can help is by telling stories. Lek, the Elephant Whisperer, taught me about our deep and powerful connection with nature and that every living being can have this connection. And Dave Jacka taught me how truly endless our potential is. Thanks mate, I carry your story with me every day.