“Come to the United States. This is a place where you can achieve things that you would never achieve anywhere else. But first, you have to come here. Will you come here?”
Please bear with me…
At the beginning of 2008, that’s the narrative I had in mind as I considered immigrating to the United States.
I had heard stories from other people about how “You go there, you get a job in no time, you work hard and become rich”. So easy, right?
Then, on July 28th 2008, my family and I boarded an airplane to Seattle. Because I believed so much in that narrative, I made a point only to buy a one-way ticket.
My wife is from Washington state. For her, it was about going back home after four years in France. For me, it was like skydiving through the night, especially during the uncertain and dark times of the financial crisis. We settled in Tacoma for the first few years, about 45 minutes south of Seattle. A perfect place and timing to find work as a management consultant when you barely know anyone, and your English is broken.
Twelve years later, I can say that the narrative of the American Dream held true. I did achieve things that I would have never achieved anywhere else. Although the American dream has been challenged more than ever in recent years, I am determined to defend it and honor it with pride. As for Tacoma, it ended up being one of the best places I’ve ever moved to. Not for the smell, but for the friendships I built there.
If you’re still reading this, I can almost hear you think: “What the heck! I signed up to get emails about strategic narratives, not to read his autobiography.”
“All advice is autobiographical” – Austin Kleon
Before you embark on telling your story, make sure you define the words.
In this autobiographical story, what led me to immigrate to this country was the narrative – the American Dream – not the stories I heard.
Story and narrative are different. That’s the first principle that you should follow.
Redefine both words
We all use story and narrative interchangeably. Yet, this subtle difference between them has massive implications.
A story has happened already. It is self-contained. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This means that you, the spectator, are not called to determine the outcome. That makes sense since you are also not the hero. My immigration story was not about you. It was about me.
On the other hand, a narrative is future-focused and keeps everything possible. It remains open. It has a beginning but no end. This means that you are potentially called to create the end yourself. That makes sense since you can be the hero of a narrative. The American Dream is also yours to accomplish.
Narratives are so powerful that people keep making sacrifices to live them. Sometimes it is for the better, and sometimes it is for the worst. That’s especially true when the narrative is based on lies.
Keep this principle in mind.
This is a core principle that came right back to my mind this afternoon as I was driving through Tacoma.
If you keep focusing only on telling stories, you will miss the opportunity to craft powerful calls to action.
What to do with stories, then?
Stories are crucial. They are supporting evidence that makes your narrative seem attainable. But they don’t trigger change.
How do you know if your narrative works?
- Are we, as an organization, calling others to action?
- What in the future is motivating me to act now?
- Is this a future that would make others just as motivated as I am?
Once you’ve figured these out, your narrative will change people’s lives.