I’ve been thinking about this post for months

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November 21, 2023
Maddie Lemay

How to be better stewards of the stories we tell

A few months ago, I received one of those emails that made my heart skip a beat. It was in response to a Campfire Story email I’d sent out, about the Barbie movie and Taylor Swift and storytelling, from a reader (and fellow writer) named Ava who disagreed with me.

As a young woman with a disability, she did not resonate with the stories being told by Barbie or Taylor Swift or, in many cases, myself.

We exchanged several thoughtful and respectful emails back and forth. But this paragraph stopped me in my tracks:

“For so many, overcoming a heartbreak is their life at age 18, and I was fighting for my life at age 18. For so many, newlywed years are full of fun and dreaming, and I was writing my will and preparing my husband for life without me one day. For me, a limited body and limited days mean I dream differently. I live differently. I hope differently, and I sing differently.”

Her email made me think. A lot.

I asked if she’d like to set up a virtual coffee meeting, and she graciously agreed. We sat in our home offices for over an hour, chatting a little bit about the email, but mostly about life, and I felt a familiar feeling rising up in my belly.

It felt like discomfort.

Ava lives a life nothing like mine. But she’s also just like me. Have you ever met anyone like that? Someone who lives such an unparalleled story that it intersects with yours, like a 90-degree angle?

It made me wonder: how many people who already fall under my sphere of influence do I gloss over because they simply don’t find my stories relevant?

Let me be clear: it’s impossible to connect with everyone. No marketing director, or agency, or storyteller will be able to achieve that kind of feat.

But here’s where I messed up: By advocating for storytelling in marketing, I wrongly assumed that all stories are relatable. (After all, I thought, don’t we all face villains? Don’t we all want the hero to win? Don’t we all want a happy ending?)

Ava taught me that, just because we all face villains, doesn’t mean everyone can relate to the same storyline, because not all stories carry the same weight (duh). How did it take me this long to realize this?

I asked Ava how she thinks we, as stewards of our business’ narratives, can expand our library of stories so they resonate with people different from ourselves.

Here’s what she said:

“I have this deeply held belief that the more varied our collection of people, the better we are. Our interactions with those not like us bridge gaps, connecting differences, growing definitions, and expanding our worldview. Our story gets bigger, and as our awareness of others develops, so too does our library of what resonates.”

Read that again. ⬆️

What if we stopped focusing on how many people follow us, and instead, we made sure not to miss a single person who frequently falls under our sphere of influence? What if, instead of trying to make our spreadsheets longer, we focused on adding more notes next to each name? What if, before we send an email or publish a blog post, we identify the people who frequently read our content, and consider whether it’ll resonate with them?

I think that kind of storytelling wouldn’t just change your business; it would change the world.

Now, when I send an email or schedule a social media post, I picture people like myself, but I also picture Ava, reading what I’m writing.

And I think that’s the whole point.

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