In The End, It's All About The Stories We Tell

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Marketing is about telling great stories. Living a happy and successful life is about the stories we tell ourselves.

Sometimes, we forget how important a story can be. Sometimes we don’t think hard enough about the stories we constantly repeat in our minds. Almost all of the time, we forget that whatever story it is (the one that gets someone to buy something or the one that tells us we’re depressed) can be changed, reinvented into whatever it is that we want it to be.

The people who change their stories are the ones who usually overcome tremendous challenges. The brands that change their stories are the one who usually become unforgettable.

Chris Brogan (author of Social Media 101 and the co-author of the best-selling business book, Trust Agents, along with Julien Smith) passed me his copy of the book, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years, by Donald Miller (you can see his video book review below) while we were in Salt Lake City together. The truth is that I have been falling behind in my book reading, but based on Brogan’s rave review, I dove right in. It is an incredible journey. I devoured the book in less than 24 hours. Miller is a very funny, poignant and spiritual person who deconstructs what makes a story (and the stories we tell ourselves) work or hold us back (note: the book is published by Thomas Nelson and does have some spiritual Christian content within it).

This is an amazing and important book for everyone in Marketing… because it’s the furthest thing from a Marketing book that you will ever read but 100% relevant to everything we do… everyday.

I sent an email over to Michael Hyatt (the CEO of Thomas Nelson) to let him know how much I enjoyed the book and how much it moved me to think differently about what it takes to tell a great story (I am connected to Michael through these Social Media channels), and he offered to give 10 copies of the book away to the Six Pixels of Separation community.

Here’s how you can win a free copy of the book, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years, by Donald Miller:

Thomas Nelson has asked that you leave a comment below about the importance of story in your life and then post a link back to this Blog post via your own Blog or on Twitter or Facebook. I’m going to ask a couple of my fellow team members at Twist Image to act as judges (and they’ll pick the 10 best ones) [full disclosure: I am being very lazy here. Chris Brogan ran a similar contest, so I am just stealing the same question he asked because I thought it was perfect – thanks Brogan!].

So, what is the importance of story in your life?


  1. The most important way my family communicates is to “talk story”, as they say in Hawaii. That means to gather together, eat copious amounts of food until comatose and share. Stories are sharing and sharing is the marrow of life. Today I spent 6 hours in a car driving my mother to Boise, when we arrived I caught a plane and flew right back to Salt Lake. My friends thought I was nuts. Why? So I could spend 6 hours listening to my mother tell me about my father, my siblings, my past and “talking story”. Perhaps that is why I chose Marketing as a career, because I was raised around the concept that stories are the basis for communicating and are the real fabric of life.
    I look forward to reading the book, free copy or not! And Mitch, I’m glad you equate the power of that book with Salt Lake City. We miss you.

  2. I started reading a book entitled “Make It Stick” and they begin by suggestion an acronym associated with making something memorable. The acronym was SUCCESs.
    It stood for Simple,Unexpected,Concrete, Credible, Emotional Story.
    It really began to resonate in my mind about the impact story has had on my life. When I was young my parents exposed me to a great deal of musical theatre. I was priviliged enough to see the Man of La Mancha where Don Quioxte strives to reach the unreachable stars and fight the unbeatable fight. This profound story of giving everything you have in order to reach a goal really resonated with me and has stuck with me for quite some time.
    As a national athlete story has given everything context. I was that athlete who everyone thought would not exceed. Needless to say I went on to prove them all wrong.
    In the end I have really learned that it is these stories that I will be able to pass on for generations in order to give my family substance to achieve all that they can achieve and “To Dream the Impossible Dream”.

  3. That’s a huge question.
    I love telling stories. I love creating the start, development and the finale. I love using the story format to explain concepts, ideas, products and decisions. I love the theatre of it all.
    I think, above all I love to see the excitement in the eyes of an audience and their comprehension of the ‘learning’ of a great story.

  4. The importance of story in our life is a direct connection to our soul. Every day we share and listen to stories and make decisions based on our feelings and beliefs. A story allows us to share and most importantly identify to things in our own life that we can relate too. The better our story the more intimate the connection with our fellow community. What will be your next story?

  5. The importance of story in my life comes from the books (especially comic books) that I read as a kid. The idea of heroes, responsibilities, honor, destiny, and (super) human potential acted as a kind of roadmap to me as I grew up. It certainly provided some escape, but nothing wrong with that.
    In fact, I think it’s actually characters that were even more influential that the stories themselves.

  6. Until I read this blog I hadn’t realized that my life is all about the story – from newspaper reporter to employment attorney to author and diversity consultant. What do they all have in common? The story! The way people communicate, interact, respond to each other. Today, I saw two police cars and a fire truck speed past me while out running errands. When I saw where they stopped, I pulled over to watch. I had to know the story. (It was a guy threatening to jump from a window, by the way. Of course, I wanted to know the story behind that…)

  7. The importance of story in my life came from my parents growing up and has shaped me into the person I am today, not because they were amazing stories of life journeys but stories about religion and culture, that defined everything around me. Growing up these stories defined the very existence of life but as I grew older and moved to the United States, I started to question these stories and their meanings, thus making me a well rounded person, understanding both sides of the world. While many of the stories growing up weren’t the correct definition of life, (as I realize now) it did give me a perspective to question as I learned to understand the bigger meaning of life. Without these stories at such a young age, I wouldn’t have a perspective to question, thus never fully understanding where I’m heading in life.

  8. My primary activity is my blog: Dr. Bill Tells Ancestor Stores:
    I also write novels and non-fiction that tells stories of family history and my ancestors in history. I am attempting build a community through my blog and hope that they will find my stories of interest. I would love to receive one of the books.
    I enjoy your blog and will continue to read each of the 7 pieces of content each week whether I win a book or not.

  9. Our whole view of the world, our perception of reality, is made up of stories we tell ourselves subconsciously, so any knowledge we can bring to our awareness of how to tell stories, and what stories to tell ourselves, is very valuable. Especially if you want to have a happy ending!

  10. Joel
    Before you even offered the book, I planned to leave a comment and link to my blog. First thanks for the great recommendation and I have been enjoying your blog posts. And can’t wait to read the book! May I also recommend
    I am a consultant to Nonprofits. Our work is all about storytelling. To our donors volunteers community. At the NTEN conference how we tell stories using social media was THE topic. Integrated communications using old and new media.
    But it is also about content and engaging other voices. Those we serve. Those who give and volunteer. Their stories are what make our work possible. We talked about how and letting their authentic voice be shared without a lot of editing. And those stories for our work are the most powerful to getting our message of changing lives and saving lives to others.
    I don’t consider myself an evangelist. But storytelling is what brings to world together. Our collective stories from NYC to Ethiopia, Iran to China. We have to keep sharing telling and listening. No matter what anyone else says we are our brothers keeper, it is a very small world, don’t judge until you have walked a mike in a someone elses mocassins – the stories we tell allow us to know more to be able to do more.

  11. So, what is the importance of story in your life?
    Stories help me through the day – Stories help me through life.
    By listening to somebody’s story I have changed my views, perspectives, and understanding of situations and life. I’ve learned to see problems from other angles, leading to solutions.
    A story can be personal, complicated, and life altering like when a high school class mate of mine told me why she was tired and had not done her homework (She was working midnight shifts to help her disabled parents keep the house for her and her two younger brothers).
    A story can also be an illustration, an analogy to assist in a learning process. Like when I use Orcs and trolls as an illustration on how to build it once, use it multiple times when I am helping a colleague learn programming.
    A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end – it has a purpose – a message.
    Everybody got a story!

  12. In everything I do, there is a story to it. Whether it’s a success or a failure, there is a beginning and and end. When I complete a sale, receive an award, or achieve anything else there is always a story behind it, whether there was a struggle or otherwise. Whenever I fail, I try to see it as a story but an incomplete story. People evolve, and that is also part of the story. Events transpire in our lives everyday, each day there’s a story to tell. Happy, sad, or simply boring, any story can always be made interesting. So I enjoin everyone to simply examine their day.

  13. Everyone’s life is a story. Whether you’re the author or a character is the decision that is made as it unfolds.
    I started my story as a protagonist who looked to others to define my character and setting. I had a passion when I was young to be a Broadway actor. So I immersed myself in everything “theatre” and wrote a script for myself that clearly plotted my rise to fame and success. With each twist of the plot, I adapted and altered the story arch; but the ending was always in sight.
    Then a big chunk of “cinema verité” inserted itself into the middle of my book and unsure how I know fit into this new plotline, I plagiarized and borrowed from the many stories out there whose narratives where much more popular and read by vastly more people.
    I stopped taking chances; instead, followed the script to a tee. Sadly, my character, while seemingly well fleshed out, lacked soul and a believable back-story.
    A depression, a crash and a decade of an author searching for a book brought me to this place in my life where I have discovered a new passion that will be certainly be a page turner; social media.
    Like my original passion for theatre, this new medium gives me a voice and the power to control the content of my story. But what truly inspires me is the potential to give voice to everyone.
    I rarely took chances in my life; preferring to follow closely my plotlines and avoiding risk by always having a alternative ending.
    My story now unfolds page by page, neither the reader nor the author knows what happens next until we both turn the page.
    That’s life.

  14. Story has had a profound impact on my life…from the time my mother devotedly read to me as a kid to the times I immersed myself in numerous Stephen King books as a teen to the times I listened to my parents and grandparents tell me about their past and our family history. These stories have influenced me more than I can explain. Ten years ago, I realized the power of story as I sat in a filled theater as I watched Spalding Gray mesmerize the audience as he sat with just a glass of water and one magical tale.
    This passion for story has led me to get better at crafting my own stories. Having been a member of Toastmasters for several years, I have been fortunate to share a few stories that have resonated with my audience. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, but when it does, it is magical.
    But I feel strongly about what Chris Brogan mentions in his review of Donald Miller’s book — improving my own story. This is profound and makes me want to read the book…no my life hasn’t exactly gone how I planned, but as the author of my own story, I can change the some of the characters and situations in it. I can change how I respond to my challenges and this, to me, makes all the difference in the world.

  15. I am an engineer, which means that I was locked in a sort of “Left Brained Matrix of Boring” and it never occurred to me that it could be otherwise. I started learning about how to create effective presentations, which led me to read books about storytelling. This was the red pill I needed to jolt me from that blissful ignorance and make me realize that storytelling can be applied to just about any topic or idea that needs to be conveyed. I am now on a mission to teach other engineers, scientists, and computer programmers that they too can learn these techniques and break the bonds of boring.
    I’ve written a blog article that explains the “why” and “how” of using storytelling in non-fiction:
    Thanks for this article, Mitch. I’ll be buying a copy of Mr. Miller’s book whether I win a copy or not… in which case I’ll find a way to pay forward that copy to someone else.

  16. Mitch,
    Stories are an integral part of our daily lives.
    It is how we communicate, verbally and non-verbally,
    with each other, and ourselves.
    I have made a note of Mr Miller’s book on my list.

  17. Footsteps at 6:30 AM awoke me. Was it my alarm clock or someone walking on the roof? Was I dreaming? Am I late to catch my place? Thus started my day, halfway between in a veil of foggy reality. Today is another chapter in my life story. Nothing is scripted but everything will happen. There will be new characters and some that I will never see again. Chance encounters and the same old, same old. Will there be drama? Surely a good laugh or two. My plan is to write, Forget the media, it’s the message stupid. But I will surely put off till tomorrow. The need for procrastination is feeding my RAM.
    So my life is a story and so is yours. Just as interesting but can you tell it. My next pitch has to be the best story heard from the audience otherwise it will be totally forgotten. How do you make your story memorable?
    I work in communications, some call it marketing, call it what you want but if your work in life is to promote, yes it’s hard to swallow, to promote someone else’s or your own product or service or whatever, you’d better be a compelling storyteller.
    Sorry the phone just rang, gotta go…

  18. I’ve been thinking a lot about story lately–both personally and professionally. For me, brands get in trouble when they get too wrapped up in their own stories–and forget that they should really be trying to become part of their customers’ stories. That’s why, for example, we love Apple products: not because they’re “cool,” but rather because they fit so beautifully into our lives.
    Story is important to me personally as a writer. I am presently working back through my own story–blogging at novel at Open Salon ( It’s fascinating to connect the threads of the story of my life to see how they’ve made me the person I am today, for better and for worse. It’s also interesting to see how you need to manipulate story to create workable fiction: as the old saying goes, never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

  19. Right now in my life, I have turned to stories for healing, strength, and motivation. I have often contemplated trying to share my stories through the blogging world, but I am nervous about making that commitment and putting myself out there. Maybe this story telling will help more of us, improve our lives.

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