Your Most Important Survival Skill is Storytelling

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As we head into a more and more uncertain future, the one skill that transcends all others is the ability to tell a story.

A New Normal

Coronavirus is disrupting our lives incredibly. A lot of us are holding on to an idea, however unconsciously, that all of this will be over at some point, and we can go back to “normal.” As lots of people have said, that just isn’t the case. We are about to enter a new normal; one which we really can’t predict.

A silver lining to this massive disruption is that it is a precursor to what will be ongoing disruptions to our lives. 60% of our work will be gone to automation by 2025. The world changed rapidly over the last 100 years, and it is set to continue changing at an exponential rate. Unless you are very old, you will likely have to adjust and change careers more than once in your lifetime. I hope that our governments will take care of those of us that can’t keep up with the increasing need of creative and specialized work, but who really knows. Our best bet is to shield ourselves from this oncoming waves of change. We all need to become storytellers.

Stories Are Instructions for Change

It’s not that stories can change hearts and minds, it’s that they are the only thing that can change a human mind. The “operating system” we run is the stories that play in our heads. For most of us, they are given to us by our parents, from TV, and books we might have read. Anything against our particular story triggers rage, as a matter of fact. Why? Because our stories were hard-won. To risk them is to risk the lives that we’ve built.

That speaks to why it is so difficult to tell a good story. It’s not that we need to have a bigger vocabulary or understand structure or marketing better. It’s that we lack the ability to transcend our own stories to say anything new or inspired. In order to become storytellers we have to wake up from our programming. As illustrated in The Matrix, waking up isn’t pleasant. It’s going from a booming 90s New York City to a tiny pod filled with goo.

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Another beautiful rendition of this concept is in The Truman Show. He goes through so much to escape the Truman Show. When he finally arrives at the door to the real world, does the door open to green meadows and open skies of truth and freedom? No, it’s just a little black box. A doorway to the void. The lie of his old world are like rays from God himself. Still, he chooses truth, and we have the same choice.

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Practical Steps

Practically, this looks like gaining some control over our own attention. For me, I have my phone off right now. Before I sat down, I did 2 hours of meditation, journaling, breath work, and yoga. I still haven’t looked at my notifications today. I know this isn’t going to be right for everyone, but this is the process that I’ve found to work for me. I’ve experimented a lot, and continue to refine and update my process. Not only that, but the more I do it, the more I sense that I need to do more.

When my entire mood is ruined by one notification (or lack of notifications), I have a really clear sight on the issue. All of these outside forces have an incredible ability to change the story I tell about myself. It can so quickly go from “I am useful and I want to help people,” to “No one cares about me and I should probably just go ahead and die.” The thing we need to gain some perspective on is that this stuff isn’t an accident. These phones, dings, and the little green numbers by our names are designed to tap into circuitry built over millions of years of evolution. It’s not easy to fight for our own story. We shouldn’t feel guilty that this stuff so easily takes over our attention and our lives, but we should do everything we can to fight back.

Especially at first, telling our own story is going to feel like shit. We are clumsy, out of practice, not as cool as people on Instagram, and no one seems to care. Don’t stop! This part is the Red Pill, so to speak. Waking up hurts and takes time. “Why do my eyes hurt?” says Neo. “Because you’ve never used them before.”

The world needs your voice.

Originally published at on July 1, 2020.

Written by

Lost southern boy learning to be a storyteller in Los Angeles. Interested in writing together?

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