Storytelling at Work
August 29, 2017
Why Storytelling Is So Powerful

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Revealing book of stories

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:55 PM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2017
The Afghani Cab Driver and the $250M Dollar Salty Snack Food

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I am getting into the back seat of a yellow cab, as I've done a thousand times before, having just tipped the too-smiling bellboy too much for holding open the door and inviting me, as he had been trained to do just last week, to "have a nice day."

Here, 1,500 miles from home, at 6:30 am in front of yet another nameless business hotel, I settle into position, careful not to spill my coffee on my free copy of USA Today.

In 20 minutes, I will be arriving at the international headquarters of General Mills, creators of Cheerios, Wheaties, and the totally fictional 50's icon of American motherhood, Betty Crocker.

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My mission? To help their product development team come up with a new $250 million dollar salty snack food.

It's too dark to read and I'm too caffeinated to nap, so I glance at the dashboard and see a fuzzy photo of my driver, his last name next to it -- an extremely long and unpronounceable last name -- as if a crazed bingo master had thrown all the letters of the alphabet into a brown paper bag, shook, and randomly pulled them out in between shots of cheap tequila. Where he was from I had no clue.

"Hello," I manage to say, nervous that my driver with the long last name would end up getting us completely lost. "I'm on my way to General Mills. Do you... know where that is?"

"Oh yes," my driver replies with an accent I assume to be mid-eastern. "I know."

Small talk out of the way, I now had three choices -- the same three choices I have every time I get into the back seat of a cab.

I could check my email. I could review my agenda. Or I could continue the conversation with my driver -- always a risky proposition, especially with cabbies from foreign lands who were often difficult to understand, tired, or, seemingly angry at Americans, which, I am not proud to say, often led me to become way too polite, overcompensating for who knows how many years of my government's pre-emptive strikes -- a response, I'm sure (mine, not the government's), which even the least sophisticated cab driver could see through in a heart beat.

"Where are you from?" my driver asks.

"Woodstock," I reply. "Woodstock, New York. And you?"

"Afghanistan."

Deep as we were in the middle of that war, I am stunned, my own backseat brand of battlefield fatigue now gathering itself for the appropriate response.

"Afghanistan?" I reply. "What brought you here?"

I could tell by his pause -- his long, pregnant pause, that things, in this taxi, were just about to change.

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"Well..." my driver says, looking at me in the rearview mirror, "I was out for a walk with my 10-year old daughter when she stepped on a land mine."

I look out the window. Starbucks. MacDonalds. Pier 1 Imports.

"So I ripped off my shirt and tied it around her leg to stop the bleeding. Then I went running for a doctor. But there was no doctor."

For the next 20 minutes, he goes on to tell me about his three-day journey through the mountains of Afghanistan, his bleeding daughter on his back, slipping in and out of consciousness. Villagers took them in, gave them food, applied centuries worth of home remedies, but no one knew of a doctor.

And then... a break. A man on horseback told him of some nurses from the Mayo Clinic who had just set up an outpost just a little way up the road. With his last bit of energy, he got there and collapsed -- the nurses managing to keep his daughter alive and flying her, the next day, to the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis, where, three days later, he and his wife were flown to be by her side to enter into a year long rehabilitation process with her, so she could learn to walk with her new prosthetic leg.

"That will be $27.55", my driver announces, checking the meter.

Somehow, I find my wallet, pay, and hug my driver, lingering with him as long as I could in that early morning light.

I enter the well-appointed lobby of General Mills, get my security pass, and make my way to the room where I am supposed to set things up for today's salty snack food brainstorming session.

An hour later, fifteen 30-somethings walk in, checking Blackberries. I have a choice to make. Do I dismiss my journey from hotel to headquarters as a surreal preamble to the day -- one that has nothing to do with the work at hand? Or do I realize that my journey here this morning is the work at hand -- a story not only for me, but for everyone in the room that day?

Excerpted from Storytelling at Work
Storytelling at Work podcast
Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:53 PM | Comments (0)

August 19, 2017
The Four Shamanic Questions

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"In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions: When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?"

- Gabrielle Roth

Storytelling at Work

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:12 PM | Comments (0)

August 16, 2017
Listening is a Superpower

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As an innovation provocateur and storyteller, I am continually fascinated at how rare real listening is in most organizations. Everyone seems to be moving so fast or just WAITING for their turn to speak, that real listening rarely happens. Methinks, it goes all the way back to our childhood where we were deeply appreciated for speaking our first word, but never appreciated for the first time we listened. If you want to be a good storyteller, begin by being a good story listener.

24 quotes on good communication
Illustration: gapingvoid.com
MitchDitkoff.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:16 AM | Comments (0)

August 14, 2017
The Fence to Nowhere

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"Good fences make good neighbors," wrote the poet, Robert Frost, 63 years ago -- a now iconic poetic meme that looks at both sides of the human condition from two very different perspectives. Yes, it's true -- fences do make good neighbors. But not always. Sometimes, fences do other things -- like make good catalysts to help people understand the distinctions between selfless service, non-attachment, and idiocy.

The year? 1977. The place? Kissimmee, Florida. The occasion? A week-long, outdoor festival of spiritual seekers wanting to experience love. And I was one of them, having traveled 32 hours from Colorado for the chance to listen, learn, and be of service -- my chance to "give back" in response to the extraordinary gift I had been given six years earlier by the man whom all of us had traveled such long distances to see.

And so, when I arrived, after setting up my tent, I plopped myself down in the "service pool" and waited to be assigned to whatever project that needed to be done that day.

I sat there for an hour, doing my best to meditate, and staying open to the feeling that whatever was coming my way was going to be perfect. Though I was still relatively new to the so-called spiritual path, I understood that selfless service was a big piece of the puzzle. And though I had lots of skills to offer, I knew that, somehow, someway, whatever project I would be assigned to that day was going to be the perfect gig for me.

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A few minutes later, someone with an air of authority, points in my direction, beckons me forward, and explains that I am now part of the fence building crew

"Hmmm... fence building," I think to myself, "not one of my strengths" -- my most successful construction project, up to that time, being a letter holder I made for my mother in 7th grade.

The walk across the festival grounds to meet the fence building coordinator was delightful. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. And I waved at lots of smiling people. When I arrived, the man in charge was all business -- focused, earnest, and glad to see one more able-bodied member of his crew.

To my left, I noticed a pile of fence posts -- a pile, that even I could tell, was not nearly enough to extend across the massive field we were supposed to build a fence across.

While my "coordinator" scurried about, giving each newly arriving volunteer their instructions, I keep staring at the pile of fence posts. True, I was not a carpenter. And true, I had never built a fence across a field in Florida, but only an idiot could possibly believe there were enough fence posts on that pile for us to accomplish the goal.

Ah... my first existential question of the day -- what to do with my profound insight? What do I say? One option I had, of course, was to say nothing -- to simply go with the flow and be a good soldier. Another option was to exit stage right and return to the service pool -- hoping to be assigned to a different project with a better chance of success.

That's when I remembered a single bit of advice I heard my teacher say just a few years before -- that if I ever saw anyone about to step into a hole and said nothing, it was MY fault, not theirs. Bingo! My task was suddenly clear. All I had to do was approach the earnest, young fence-building coordinator and inform him, that based on my calculations, we were all about to step into a very big hole -- that, simply put, there weren't enough fence posts to build a fence across the field. Case closed.

My input, shall we say, was not well-received. With a blank expression on his face, the earnest, young, fence-building coordinator handed me a post-hole digger and gave me my marching orders for the day.

I paused. The moment of truth was now upon me. Do I begin working on a project I knew, from the outset, was doomed? Or do I just let go, trust the process, and see what happens. Besides, I thought to myself, there was always a chance that I didn't have ALL the information I needed to make a wise choice. Maybe a new supply of fence posts was going to be delivered later that day. Or maybe another crew of fence builders, from the opposite side of the field, were going to meet us half way. Or maybe, just maybe, my fence post calculations were seriously flawed.

And so I began.

It felt good to be digging holes in the ground. Good to sweat. Good to let go of the self-talk in my head. But even as I grunted and groaned, in the back of my mind, I knew that our chances of success were highly questionable.

The project went on for three days. From morning to night. In good weather and bad. Six of us dug. Six of us carried. Six of us stuck fence posts in the ground. No new fence posts arrived. No extra crew of fence builders magically appeared to meet us half way. The field did not get any smaller.

On the third day, when we ran out of materials, the six of us -- dirty, sweaty, and exhausted, simply stepped back and stared at the fence. As I predicted, it extended only halfway across the field, a kind of Andy Goldsworthy installation -- a bit of performance art that would have made a Zen master chuckle.

Two hours later, when the festival officially began, I witnessed hundreds of people, approaching from a distance. The fence had absolutely no effect on them. They noticed, of course, that they were approaching what appeared to be a fence, but since it only extended halfway into the field, they simply walked around it. It kept no one out. It kept no one in. It served absolutely no function at all. Except for me, that is -- a function that had something to do with what it really means to serve... what it really means to enjoy the experience of service... and what it really means to let go of all attachment to results.

TimelessToday
MitchDitkoff.com
If you like this one, here's another

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:47 PM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2017
Moses, Jesus, Jonah, and Me on The Toledo On-Ramp

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The spiritual literature of Planet Earth is full of stories that track the trials and tribulations of earnest souls on the path to God. Like Jonah in the belly of the whale. Like Moses in the desert. Like Jesus on the Cross. Every culture has their own, just like they have their own creation myths and favorite cheese. Indeed, the heroes and heroines of these soul-shaping stories have, in time, become a kind of code for the hard-to-describe qualities that define what it means to be an evolving human being -- the kind of stories we tell our kids whenever we want to impress on them something timeless and profound.

Good. We need stories. We need memorable examples of what's possible. What we don't need, however, is the assumption that the stories which have made it to the scriptures are the only ones worth telling. They're not. Each of us, in our own curious way, has had similar experiences -- modern-day versions of the archetypal challenges that try men's and women's souls. Like the time, for example, as a hitchhiker, I stood on the on ramp to I-70, in Toledo, Ohio, for ten hours, without a ride -- just the hot sun overhead and the creeping sense that God, if there WAS a God, didn't really like me all that much.

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What I didn't understand at the time was that there was a very divine choreography going on -- one that transcended my pinhole view of life, myself, and the universe.

The day started off quite innocently enough, in Montreal -- 1,729 miles from where I lived, me listening, along with 3,000 other people, to a very inspiring spiritual Master speak about his message of peace. It was a good day, a very good day, a day that filled me with joy and gratitude. After a good night's sleep in a modestly priced hotel, I began the long journey home, hitchhiking back to Colorado, with my good friend, Danny.

Three minutes was all it took for us to get our first ride. We simply stuck out our thumbs and entered a green Toyota, a pleasant young salesman behind the wheel. He shook our hands. He talked about his work. He gave us each a tuna on rye. Badadoom. Badabing. There WAS a God! Five hundred and sixty nine miles later, just outside of Toledo, our paths parted and our first ride of the day bid us a fond adieu.

The on ramp to the interstate was, shall I say, rather unexceptional. No movie was going to be made there that day, no marriage proposals made. Just two young, God-intoxicated men with their thumbs out, trying to get home before their money ran out.

One hour passed. Then another. Then another after that. Not a single car stopped or even slowed down. Many other hitchhikers came and went. But not us. We just stood there. If this was a junior high school dance, we were the fat girls with braces.

"Yo, Danny," I blurted, you know what this reminds me of?"

"No, what?" Danny said.

"Siddhartha."

"Herman Hesse's Siddartha?" he responded.

"Yes! Herman Hesse's Siddhartha."

"Really?" Danny replied. "And why is that?"

"Because," I replied, "Siddhartha once said that there were three things he had learned, in life, that had saved his butt. First, he could fast. Second, he could wait. And, third, he could meditate. So today, my good friend, we get to practice 1/3 of Siddhartha’s yoga -- WAITING. How cool is that?"

Another hour passed. Then another. Then another after that. If you are counting, dear reader, we are now in our sixth hour without a ride on the Toledo on ramp. Six.

One thing was becoming clear: Whatever Danny and I were doing wasn't working. So we decided it was time to experiment. First, Danny stood and I sat. Then I stood and Danny sat. Then we made a sign with "Denver or Bust" on it. Then we pretended to pray. Then Danny hoisted me up on his shoulders. Then I hoisted him on mine. Nothing worked.

If this was a coming-of-age movie, all our efforts would have seemed quite funny, especially the way the Director would have speeded up the film to give a kind of Charlie Chaplin-esque quality to it. But this wasn't a coming of age movie. There was no Director, no film crew, no catering tent. There was nothing except the two of us and the mid-afternoon sun shimmering off of the burning concrete, making everything seem vaguely like a mirage.

While Danny continued fixing his gaze on the oncoming cars, I found myself looking up at the sky and talking to myself. Was I being punished? Had I done something wrong in a previous lifetime? Was there some kind of lesson I needed to learn?

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Shooting a glance at Danny, it suddenly dawned on me that HE was probably the reason why we weren't getting a ride. In fact, the more I looked at Danny, the clearer it became that there... was... something... very off about him. While I couldn't quite put my finger on it, there was something about my so-called friend that was quite troubling...weird... strange.

"Danny," I said. "It's just not happening, bro. Let's check into a motel and get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow is another day."

And so we did. And so it was. Thursday, October 4th was definitely another day. Fueled by bad motel muffins and even worse coffee, we made our way to the now very familiar I-70 on ramp and took our positions, thumbs pointing West.

Nobody stopped. Nobody slowed down. Nobody.

"I wonder if this is what Moses was feeling in the desert," I began thinking to myself. True, our missions were different -- him trying to get to the promised land, me trying to get to Denver.. and yet.. might it be not true that our inner experiences weren't all that different -- our demons, our doubts, our dreams?

It was just about this time, that Danny and I realized that it probably wasn't such a good idea for the two of us to be hitching together anymore -- that the sight of two young men standing by the side of the road, might just seem a bit threatening to oncoming motorists. Like maybe... we had... just escaped from a maximum security prison and were just about to steal their car.

So we split up.

Ten minutes later a car stops and Danny gets in, waving goodbye, with a shit-eating grin on his face. I wave back, newly certain my luck was just about to change. It didn't I just stood there, now a solo act. My feet hurt. My head hurt. My eyes hurt. This wasn't funny anymore. OK? "Look, here's the deal, God, or whatever name you are going by these days. I NEED A FUCKING RIDE BACK HOME! DO YOU HEAR ME? I NEED A RIDE. Is that too much to ask? Is it?"

And then? Like some kind of astral Clint Eastwood emerging from a dream, I see a car slow down and stop. Lo, I say unto you, the car stops. The.. car.. stops. It stops. As in not moving anywhere. Stops. Seven feet away from me. Or maybe eight. A late model Chevy it is and, behind the wheel, a very attractive young woman. She is smiling, beckoning me to enter, pointing to the empty seat next to her.

She extends her hand and tells me her name is Lisa and, just like that, we are off. She offers me some water. She turns the music up. We talk. Fifteen minutes later, I see Danny standing by the side of the road. "STOP!" I blurt. "That's Danny. That's my friend. Danny. Stop!"

Danny gets it and gives me a high five. We ask her where she's going.

"Driving west," she says, "looking for love."

That's our cue. Having just spent two days listening to the most inspiring human being we had ever encountered, Danny and I let it rip, regaling her with all kinds of stories of the man we had traveled cross-country to see. His message. What drew us to him in the first place. And how we felt in his presence.

Entranced, Lisa asks us to keep on talking. We do. Then she asks us where we're going.

"Denver, Colorado," we say.

"Great," she replies."I'll take you there."

And so she does. Right to our front doors. 23 hours and 1,269 miles later.

By the time we got home, we had told her just about every story we knew about love, the purpose of life, and the teacher, back in Montreal, we had just seen. Lisa stayed in Denver for a month or so. There, she read everything she could find about the man we had told her about for 23 hours. There, she watched every video of him she could get a hold of. At the end of the month, she decided to become his student and receive the gift he called "Knowledge," her long journey West, looking for love, fulfilled.

COMMENTARY:

Back in the the 15th century, it was Copernicus, the savvy Polish astronomer and mathematician, who first disavowed humanity of its long-held belief that the Earth was the center of the universe, replacing it, instead, with the sun.

Copernicus, a man after whom very few children are named, somehow knew that his fellow human being's construct of reality was seriously flawed -- that the center of things was not our planet, but the star around which our planet revolved. And while many of us post-Copernican homo sapiens have long ago come to agree with him that the Earth is not the center of creation, we have not always understood the psychological correlative of that construct -- that our so-called "selves" are not the center of the universe either -- and that we, in fact are not always the stars of our own movies.

What I experienced, standing on that Toledo on ramp for ten hours many years ago, was a direct result of the way in which I had positioned myself in space and time -- me the center of my self-invented universe. The attachment to my desire to get back home in a time I had conceived of as "reasonable" was the belly of the whale that swallowed me whole.

The more my need to get back home was thwarted by unresponsive motorists, the more I morphed from a deeply spiritual being to "Oh, Lord, why hast thou forsaken me." My thoughts and feelings all took shape in response to the way in which I had constructed reality. Producer and Director of my own movie, I now had all the proof I needed to cast God as the boogeyman, Danny as a loser, and my own rapidly dissolving self as a victim of some kind of strange karma. What I didn't realize at the time was that even though I had had cast myself as the star of my own movie, I was also the extra in someone else's -- and that someone else -- Lisa, had a story line that was way more compelling than mine.

Her need to "find love" and, ultimately her spiritual Master, was the major plot of the story I had found myself in. My need to get back to Denver was only a sub-plot. Not once during my dark night of the soul on that Toledo on ramp did it ever dawn on me that the so-called reason why no one had picked us up was due to the fact that there was a woman, 10 hours away in Philadelphia, who was just beginning her journey West towards love. The choreography was perfect, even if it took her 10 hours to get across the stage to the precise location where we, the other actors stood, staring at the sky, waiting for our cue.

Time? You think you have it but, actually, it has you. On any given day none of us have the slightest clue about how long anything will take. Just because you have a goal, desire, or agenda doesn't necessarily mean it's going to happen. And the absence of it happening doesn't necessarily mean there is something wrong with you, that you're the victim of karma or need to more diligently visualize the outcomes you want. Life is a play. You are in it. Sometimes you're hero. Sometimes you're the extra. Your choice? To enjoy the ride or not. Even if the ride doesn't come.

FOOD FOR BEYOND THOUGHT: What project of yours is taking longer than you imagined it would take? What lessons or learnings might be in it for you?

MitchDitkoff.com
Excerpted from my forthcoming book
A related story about time

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:16 PM | Comments (2)

August 09, 2017
The Four Healing Salves

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:01 PM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2017
I'm From Woodstock. Yes, I Am!

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I'm from Woodstock. Yes, that Woodstock, the famous Woodstock -- the most famous small town in the world, some people say. Former home to Bob Dylan. Jimi Hendrix lived here for a summer in the house right across the street from where I live now...

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John Sebastian still lives here, as do a ton of other musicians, artists, writers, healers, therapists, car mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and just about anyone else you'd expect to live in a small town.

Other than winter lasting six weeks too long, I love Woodstock. I've been a resident for 21 years and I'm proud to call it my home.

That being said, in the early days of starting up my consulting business, I noticed a curious phenomenon about Woodstock, or at least my relationship to it, whenever a client or prospective client asked me where I was from.

Euphemism-itus.

If I declared myself to be resident of Woodstock, I ran the risk of not only being stereotyped as a counter culture whack job, but being in cahoots with an entire generation of freaks for whom the word "corporation" was second only to "military industrial complex" on the list of buzz kills -- a moment fully capable of leaving my inquisitor with the impression that I was either dangerous, highly unqualified to be of value to their company, or a candidate to be paid in 100 pound bags of chickpeas.

So, I decided to take the low road.

With a big mortgage and a family to support, I saw no reason to scare away potential clients -- especially potential clients who, when push came to shove, were asking where I lived just to break the ice.

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"Two hours north of Manhattan" was my standard response. "Upstate New York" was my backup, followed by "The Hudson Valley", "65 miles south of Albany", and the always dependable "Foothills of the Catskill Mountains".

So there I was in Munich at the International Headquarters of Allianz, one of the world's leading financial services institutions, with 142,000 employees and billions in sales.

My task? To lead a workshop, the next day, for the company's hard driving senior leadership team in an effort to jump start the launch of a company-wide effort to "gain a competitive edge through increased innovation".

Corporate speak? Of course it was. But it didn't matter to me. I didn't care what euphemisms my clients used to frame their business challenges. If I sensed even the smallest willingness on their part to become more innovative, I was there.

There, in this case, was the well-appointed, pre-dinner reception for Allianz' Senior Team and a handful of outside, consultants, like me, who had been flown in from God knows where to help the company reach its ambitious business goals.

The dress code? Business casual. The bar? Open. The client? Dutifully introducing me to anyone he could collar.

And so it went, the small talk, the head nods, the firm handshakes -- me patiently waiting for the waiter with the pizza puffs and the inevitable moment when the "Where do you live?" question would head its ugly rear.

Somewhere, in between my first and second glass of chilled 1987 Riesling, standing next to three large German men I had just been introduced to -- Guenther, Heinrich, and Hans -- the question was asked.

I opened my mouth to say "Two hours north of Manhattan", but out came "Woodstock".

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Maybe it was the wine or maybe it was the cumulative affect of the past ten years of mouthing geographical euphemisms. I don't know. But whatever it was, I knew this was going to be an interesting moment.

For three very long seconds, no one said a thing. The word just hovered in the air like some kind of Superbowl Blimp.

Guenther was the first to speak.

"Wow!" he announced. "Did you actually go to the festival?"

Hans smiled broadly. "My older cousin went. Lucky bastard. I was too young."

Heinrich just stood there, expressionless, saying nothing. Then he raised his right hand and gave me a rousing high five.

"I love Joe Cocker!" he announced.

Somehow, I got the feeling that tomorrow's innovation workshop was going to be just fine.


Excerpted from the newly published Storytelling at Work

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August 06, 2017
Why Your Brain Likes a Good Story

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Lucid, Harvard Business Review article on why your brain likes stories. Oxytocin anyone?

Storytelling at Work
Oxytocin-generating book excerpts

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:30 PM | Comments (0)

August 02, 2017
MONIKA'S STORY: Just One of the 140 Million Orphans in the World

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This is Monika. She is six-years old. Soon after Nepal's devasating earthquake in 2015, she was found, abandoned and alone, wandering from tent to tent, village to village, begging for food. That's when the Himalayan Children's Charities first heard about her and that's when Monika's life took a major turn for the better. Read the full story here in the Huffington Post by the author of this blog.

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Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

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