The Narrative

You have no power or influence over any person or organization until you become part of their story.

You have no real relationship or kinship to someone if they haven’t woven you into their narrative.

This concept drives trillions of dollars every year. Word of mouth marketing . . . have you heard of it?

Stepping away from business, though, I have had occasion to think about this again and ponder it for quite some time over the past few weeks.

It’s something I started thinking about last year, and now that’s come up several times in just a few days, I’m taking it as a sign to pay attention and internalize it.

Playing around on the beach in Isla Holbox (in the Mexican Carribbean) August 2009


First example: A relationship ends, and not cleanly or cut and dried. While you’re still friends with the person, you hear the other person sharing stories about experiences he’s just had with another woman … places they explored together, meals they’ve shared. There are pictures, inside jokes. You understand (or should understand) that it’s time to move on. He has woven another woman into his story in a way that is meaningful to him. There is little room for you.

Second example: You feel an instant bond with someone you meet and you enjoy each other’s company. You find her hitting the nail on the head when she listens to your problems and offers feedback. You find yourself lending weight to her opinions and begin to value her. You find yourself talking about her insight with other people in your circle. “When I told her this, she said that.” Boom. She’s part of your story.

Third example: Someone who you’ve spent little time with seems to understand you pretty well without much effort on your part. Without much fanfare, he lets you know that he’s written a blog and he’s included a “callback” referring to a joke you made a few days earlier. This is funny to you because you had already read the post before he alerted you and you knew that callback was included for your benefit. Mutual admiration is at work, and you’re now each part of the other person’s story.

All of this has me refocusing on input versus output. I’m pouring so much of my time and attention into things that have no meaningful place in my story. I can only read so many blogs/websites/case studies. Why not abandon a few them and replace them with my friends’ work? How about that? Paying genuine attention to the people I love and admire instead of strangers. I have so many smart, talented friends that I can easily replace some of my daily intake of “expert” with the content they work so hard to produce. (These thoughts started shortly before this relevant post by my friend Morgan.)

If I’m managing input, I should be paying that much more attention to output. I’ve been spending more time here and on my other site writing. It has felt wonderful to experience this release, the spill of words on a page again.

Stories aren’t just on paper or on a screen. My story is how I interact with you, what I give to you and what I take from you.

I want my story to be:
Incredibly powerful
Memorable
Passionate
Emotional
Inspiring
Breathtaking
Embraceable
Uplifting
Nourishing

When I meet you, I want to contribute these memories to your story:
She was intelligent.
She was talented.
She was beautiful.
She was driven.
She was genuine.
She was enthusiastic.
She was devoted.

I need to bring life into balance this year. For me, balance isn’t 40 hours of work and 20 hours of play. My balance is switching back and forth between the hot tub and the cold plunge pool, experiencing the refreshing shock of change whenever I need it and feeling that much more alive for it.

I want work…deep intense challenges in my career with problems I don’t know how to solve yet. I want an intensely fulfilling relationship with someone who’s ready to stand still and pay attention and then hold on for dear life to the center of our relationship while we push each other to excel at those things we’re driven to succeed in. I want to turn off the spigot of superficial interactions and channel the flow of my attention into the people who matter most.

This is my narrative. I’m paying attention to my story, and to the characters in it.

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43 responses to “The Narrative

  1. You are amazing.

    Your story is all of those things.

    You do contribute all of those memories to the stories of others.

    I love your definition of balance.

    Everything you want and more will come to you.

    I’m honored to know you.

  2. Your definition of balance is a splash between the eyes. Yes.

  3. And this is why I heart you. Every day. All the time.

  4. The first few lines of this blog really floored me. Thematically it runs congruent to what I’m trying to accomplish with a friend of mine. I want to produce his band’s next album, but I don’t think I’m a part of their story yet. Sure we’ve jammed on a few occasions but they have known each other for years. Can I exert any influence in their circle? Influence I would need when embarking on the sensitive journey that is songwriting/recording. How can I achieve this end?

    • When you become part of someone’s story (business purposes or personal), I think that’s when they fall in love with you. Not romantic love, just…that’s how you know you’re needed and appreciated. Definitely work to become a part of the band’s story. I deleted a few paragraphs of this where I veered into my business relationships, but relating to people you want to do business with should be just like relating to friends or lovers. Listen, understand, work to meet their needs. Make them feel appreciated and respected.

  5. Emily great post, its not that often that I read a blog post and someone actually writes publicly how they are working through these ideas.

    I think you are right so many of us pour time into things that don’t really matter to us. And the only way to fix that is to constantly analyze and adjust.

    • Thank you, Melissa. Sometimes, it’s really helpful to share my mental process on things because it’s great to hear how other people are managing the same issues or even just that they can relate and get where I’m coming from.

  6. Glad to see you are finally taking control of your situation. That means that you are on the right track. I know you have had a rough past few months, and I was rooting for you to get to this very moment.

    That being said, I believe your words are useful and powerful for all of us. We too often get sidetracked with that everyone else is doing and what their perception of us is. Taking control of your own destiny and not allowing others to portray you inaccurately is paramount.

    I look forward to reading more of your insightful words

  7. Excellent post Emily.

  8. Well done and a lot to think about!
    Nice post Em.

  9. this was a great one, emily. shared it in my google reader. :) you always inspire me!

  10. Sometimes I find your honesty unnerving, but only in the best ways. This was swell. On an internet full of grandstanding marauders, smart and simple wins the race.

    • Unnerving honesty is what I aim for in my writing.

      “If one woman were to tell the truth about her life, the world would split open.” ~ Muriel Rukeyser.

      Thank you, Elizabeth. Having you as a friend has been amazing.

  11. Beautiful and Smart. Bravo.

  12. There is so much beauty in a person’s commitment to herself. And, there is a relief and release exuding from your words. A finality that has empowered you.

    We go through life without any real blueprints or instructions, and rarely know what is coming next. We can, however, empower ourselves through being decisive. Committing to actions, thoughts, and pursuits we can take pride in. Engaging with the people and conversations that serve us and thereby serve our life goals, which lead us to fulfillment.

    There are many times that I feel pride in just knowing you. The way you put all your cards on the table inspires me. You give fear the finger and I love it. We Scorpios tend to be so secretive, and I’ve been sitting on so many personal posts that have yet to seen.

    This line resonates with me:

    I want an intensely fulfilling relationship with someone who’s ready to stand still and pay attention and then hold on for dear life to the center of our relationship while we push each other to excel at those things we’re driven to succeed in.

    ********
    I relish the way you liken a relationship to a centrifugal force. One to be reckoned with on your own terms.

    One Love. The most important one. The enduring one. The one of friendship. Mine is always with you.

    • Can’t express how much this means to me. Thank you so much, Niki. 2010 is all on to the next. Less internet bullshit. All about The Realness. You amaze me with your generosity and I am truly thankful to have you by my side as a friend. You are a light.

  13. You write:

    “When I meet you, I want to contribute these memories to your story:
    She was intelligent.
    She was talented.
    She was beautiful.
    She was driven.
    She was genuine.
    She was enthusiastic.
    She was devoted.”

    You are all of that, and more. And, in agreement with what Elizabeth said, your writing is incredibly, vulnerably honest. Reading this blog feels like an honor, a little slice of gold in the millions of folds of the internet. You are definitely a part of my story and I am beyond thankful for that.

    • Thank you, Emily. The feeling is mutual! And what a big week for you. Thank you for this, I love it: “a little slice of gold in the millions of folds of the internet”

  14. yo em, you’re a wonder woman – time you take off your masque and become the wonder woman you real are and do more meaningful things that make you wonder too – challenge yourself and make some really great mistakes – the greater the risk the greater the return – have to risk your life to get your life – and oh yes give’em hell for me too :-)

  15. Emily,
    Elegant and encouraging. I especially liked your picture of balance and a meaningful relationship. The standing still, center, and crazy edges. Wow. Will be sharing that picture with my wife.
    Thanks.

    • Thank you so much not only for sharing your time with me here, but sharing what you took away from it with people you care about. Amazing. Thanks so much.

  16. Hi Emily, I really enjoyed your post. This snippet hit home for me:

    “I need to bring life into balance this year. For me, balance isn’t 40 hours of work and 20 hours of play. My balance is switching back and forth between the hot tub and the cold plunge pool, experiencing the refreshing shock of change whenever I need it and feeling that much more alive for it.”

    Derek

    • Derek, thank you so much for stopping by my site and being kind enough to leave some feedback for me! I’m so glad you found value in this!

  17. I do love that your examples don’t just focus on those people in your life that have an established history, but leaving your windows open for new relationships. Yes, yes and yes.

    Feeling might inspired now. Off to continue my story.

    Thank you.

  18. Hi Emily- we know some of the same people on Twitter and i wandered over from there. What you’ve written here really resonates with what I’ve been thinking about myself but wasn’t able to put into words (which you did beautifully)- becoming part of someone’s story. I’ve only lived in NYC for a year and a half, and things move so fast and you meet so many people that it takes a real effort to really focus on getting that time to really know people and get a chance to become entwined in each others’ lives. But life is sure nIcer when you do. I dig the heart on the sleeve thing too. :) @theredheadsaid

    • Thank you so much for stopping by, Charlene! I noticed you were at the Seth Godin launch and posted a pic of the poster that was just like my photo :)

      It absolutely does take a ton of effort to get people to slow down in this city, and to slow down yourself. It’s worth it, though. Let me know if you ever want to grab a drink — took a look at your site and would love to get to know you better!

  19. “First example: A relationship ends, and not cleanly or cut and dried. While you’re still friends with the person, you hear the other person sharing stories about experiences he’s just had with another woman … places they explored together, meals they’ve shared. There are pictures, inside jokes. You understand (or should understand) that it’s time to move on. He has woven another woman into his story in a way that is meaningful to him. There is little room for you.”

    That struck a chord, like that was your exhale all lights on, close chapter and any other cliche moment. I don’t know many people even want to admit to being there, in that post relationship limbo. I have been there, actually just caught the plane out of that place. And I am thankful I recognized it was time to let go.

    “My girlfriend in New York, No not that one, the other one, without kids”

    There is no explanation as to how we met or how we are connected. Its my girlfriend in New York. You amaze me, you know, and your encouragement over the past couple of months has been wonderful.

    Challenges in career and fulfilling deeply connected relationships. I am completely on board with that as 2010 just starts getting revved up.

    • It WAS my exhale, all lights on moment. K, it felt SO good. That situation was just taking a lot of mental and emotional energy and it was unnecessary.

      I have loved seeing you when we’ve been that lucky, and I’m sorry I never got down to you in Philly. However, you are in for quite a ride and I could not be more excited for you and to have been a part of your support system, Huge hugs and props for doing you in 2009-2010.

  20. I’m late to this party, but I had to chime in and state that this is a most excellent post.

    After some personal and business relationships soured, I now realize what I need to be happy: freedom. It’s inherently selfish and wonderful, but I sometimes ponder if my lone wolf leanings will be filled with regret in a decade or two.

  21. Wow, just wow. This post was so intense I read it twice to really absorb everything you were trying to get across.

    I find the way you look at balance and relationships to be downright inspiring. I’d add one more to your list of attributes above – “She’s inspiring”.

    All too often in life we come across people who don’t add much – they pass through without leaving a mark.

    You, my friend, in the relatively short time I’ve known you, have left a mark in my life – you’ve become part of MY story and I know that I’m the lucky one.

    • Thank you so much, Katie. You have given as much, if not more, than you’ve received. Thank you for being there for me.

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