I love a good story. Don’t you?

Written by Debra Olshan Cooper,
President and Founder of Your Career Design lab

When I was around 12 years old, my cousins Margot and Linda, and I were at the World’s Fair in Montreal.

I told them how Davey Jones, the adorable singer from The Monkey’s – one of the most popular singing boy bands of its time in the 60s and 70s – wrote me a letter and wanted to date me.

I had visited our grandmother in Palm Springs and he and the rest of The Monkey’s were there staying at the same hotel. Davey had seen me (I was 12 years old!) and asked what my name was.

He said I was so cute and that he would like to see me. I told them how he took me for a ride on The Monkey’s mobile -A souped-up car that had the Monkee’s visual on the side of the car-.

Margot and Linda sat cross-legged on the bed with their mouths agape listening to my story.

I was so believable, that it was hard to imagine the impossibility of someone 20 years older looking at me let alone, talking to me would be a criminal offense now!

But when I was talking to my cousins they hung on every word.

That was the beginning of my storytelling career.

At 13 years old, I told everyone that our family was moving to Beverly Hills. Every friend that I knew, I would go into a whole story about how we were moving to Beverly Hills so I could attend better schools and that I would be going to school with celebrity children and that Dean Martin’s daughter and I would be besties. I crafted, told, and sold this story to everyone I knew, including my parents.

I actually ended up doing a PowerPoint presentation albeit on a poster board telling them how moving there would improve all of our lives, I guess living in the suburbs of Los Angeles wasn’t good enough for me.

LOL Within a year, my story became a reality. 

Storytelling is the social and cultural activity of sharing stories, sometimes with improvisation, theatrics, or embellishment.

Every culture has its own stories or narratives, which are shared as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation, or instilling moral values.

Over the past three years, I have worked with hundreds of individuals ranging from 17-67 years of age, and throughout there is a common denominator to their story-truth. 

I have a prompt on my TA DA list that asks, “What were you doing in your room or outside, where you found yourself lost in pure joy, happiness, and passion when time passed until your mom called you for dinner?”.

That prompt opens up a can of stories where the individual goes back in their time machine and sees in front of them the child before life got in the way of who and what they are and perhaps in some cases what they are truly meant to be. 

When we find our stories, we find ourselves. We are able to understand what brought us to this point in our lives and define us or in many cases where I have heard some horrific stories, find the inner strength, courage and fortitude to become a warrior and go after our dreams. 

Stories define us and allow us to connect on a level many don’t get the opportunity to. This is why storytelling in an interview changes the dynamic instantly from an interview into a conversation and connects you in a way most interviewers do not expect, yet sets you apart. Makes you memorable. 

Post-Covid, connection is key to finding your place in the career space, and finding your story of who you are and being able to tell it with confidence and conviction is key to landing your dream career.

A good story, when told with details like the Who. What, Where, Why, and How, paints a picture. It brings to life your authentic self and allows others to see YOU as well. 

For example, take Sofia.

Sofia had just graduated from the University of Florida and wanted to get into sales. We began to break down all the preverbal questions every employer asks like “Tell me something about yourself?” She began with the standard, “I just graduated from U of Florida, I have a 3.8 GPA, I studied…” I stopped her there.

The wall went up and as an interviewer myself, I went blank. At that moment, I had her do the TA-DA prompt. She began again, this time I listened:

“When I was 5 years old my mom opened up my Dora Explorer backpack and out fell $20.00 bills. You see I wanted to buy food in the cafeteria, but my mom wouldn’t let me. Every day she made salami sandwiches with 5 slices of salami in the sandwich. At that moment, I would tell all my friends, it’s too bad you have to buy food in the cafeteria like hot dogs and pizza. I get to eat this amazing salami from Italy and she would act out the deliciousness. They bought it, so much so that the little children, she went on to explain would line up and pay her $5.00 for each slice!!!”

This story told potential employers that sales wasn’t something she learned in school, it was in her DNA!

On my website www.yourcareerdesignlab.com under case studies, you can hear the stories from clients who through theirs have found and landed their dream careers. 

There is story after story of how the thread from our childhoods weaves our background and experiences together and it is through this needling of the various threads that we become a tapestry to share with others. When we blanket people with our stories there becomes a connection, an understanding, a vulnerability that is shared, and only when shared becomes a reality.

Stories give us context, a picture, a framework to which to see through and allow others to see us. This is why we are drawn to Netflix, Hulu, movies, theatre the arts because we long to be drawn into a world of others that reflect upon our own experiences. This opens up our worlds. 

While Margot and Linda to this day, tell me how unbelievable my story was, they somehow believed it because I did. I later had the opportunity to meet Davey Jones at a theatre where he was performing in Miami and told him the story. His body language told me he could care less. Storytelling was my reality and I am sticking to it.

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