Storytelling at Work
January 29, 2019
A Jar of Minced Garlic

minced garlic.jpg

So there I am at La Comer, San Miguel de Allende's biggest grocery store, having just located the papayas, soymilk, and rice cakes, when I look down at my list and notice there is an item I've still not found -- an item my dear, sweet wife needed badly in order to prepare her special dinner tonight: MINCED GARLIC.

Unable to remember the Spanish word for "garlic", I realize there's no point asking anyone in the store to direct me to the proper aisle for an item I can't name, so I begin aimlessly wandering around the largest grocery store in San Miguel, as I attempt to identify what category of food "minced garlic" might belong to: Condiment? Vegetable? Spice?

"Garlic, garlic, garlic," I begin chanting under my breath, but no Spanish equivalent comes to mind. Nada. Zero. Zippo. This goes on for way too long. And then... praise the Lord...and pass the guacamole, appearing from who knows where... badaboom, badabing... it comes to me in a flash: "OJO!" Yes, OJO! That's it! The three-letter word for garlic in espanol has somehow bubbled to the surface of what is left of my mind.

Brilliant! Genius! Ojo!

My energy newly soaring, I'm an hombre on a mission and though I have no clue how to say "minced" in Spanish, I don't really care. I mean, how difficult could it be to find the fourth item on my list -- especially since I know the word for "small" in Spanish is "pequeno" which is almost exactly the same thing as "minced". Right?

Boom! Claro! Excelente!

Not wanting to spend the rest of my day wandering aimlessly around the largest grocery store in San Miguel, I set off to find the nearest clerk, which I accomplish in less than a minuto. There, only 30 feet away, stocking cereal in Aisle 5, is Javier.

"Senor," I say, respectfully, "una pregunta, por favor. Donde esta los ojos pequenos en una botella?"


Javier just stares at me. That's it. He does nothing. He says nothing. He just stands there with a faraway look in his eye -- somewhere near New Jersey.

"Dude," I think to myself. "Mine is not that difficult a question. All I'm asking is where the freaking minced garlic is. You work in this store, right? One would think you'd have at least SOME idea where the minced garlic is, no?"

Javier keeps looking at me, his head now cocked to one side -- a change of body language that moves me to begin making odd little hand gestures in the air -- my own, self-invented sign language for "minced garlic."

That's when it dawns on me that Javier must be a NEW employee at La Comer, confused as he was about the whereabouts of minced garlic. So I bid the boy a buen dia and keep on truckin', looking for SOMEONE with way more grocery store expertise than the obvious wet-behind-the-ears, Don Javier.

And I find her in a heartbeat in Aisle 6 -- the fabulous Guadalupe, she of the big brown eyes, hairnet, and cherry red lips.

"Senora," I begin, "por favor, donde esta los ojos pequenos en una botella?"

Guadalupe must have been Javier's older sister because she looks at me with that same blank look in her eye. Was she sleep-deprived? Probably, what with the eight brothers and sisters she had to take care of at home, her father working two jobs in Dallas, her mother diabetic.

Guadalupe continues looking at me, but no one is home. Not even close.

"Gracias, senorita, no problema," I manage to say, moving slowly away and returning to my random aisle-cruising technique from just a few minutes ago, when, lo and behold, there, smack dab in front of me, positioned perfectly at eye level, in Aisle 8 (the imported foods section), I see a guapo looking jar of minced garlic, it's label clearly lettered in English for people like me.

FINALLY, I have everything on my list! Hooray! Yahoo! Papayas? Check. Soy milk? Check. Rice cakes? Check. Not to mention the previously undetectable bottle of minced garlic. I'm done! Mission accomplished! Yes, I am a very good husband!

It was only on the ride home, having entered into some kind of Newton-under-the-manzana tree-trance, that I realized the Spanish word for garlic is "ajo", NOT "ojo" -- and that I had been asking perfectly innocent grocery clerks, for the past 20 minutes, if they could help me find "a jar of small eyeballs" -- even going so far as to make totally ridiculous hand gestures in space for what imagined to be the international symbol for minced garlic.

AJO! Not OJO! Welcome to my mundo.

More stories of mine in this book
This one, too
Taking it to the streets (and into homes)
The business version
What I learned from 26 second graders about storytelling


Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:13 AM | Comments (0)

January 28, 2019
Storytelling is the Trojan Horse of Wisdom


Most people, sometime in their life, enter into a period of seeking. The language they use to describe their quest may be different, but the intention is the same -- to tap into a higher dimension of knowing and become self-realized. The specific form their seeking takes is quite variable. Some go on pilgrimages. Some retreat to caves or mountains. Others join ashrams, read holy books, meditate, practice yoga, or try to find a great teacher.

But no matter how you slice and dice it, the underlying assumption of all these seeking strategies is pretty much the same. "There is something I don't know. There is something I've not yet experienced. There is a deep wisdom I need to find." And so begins the hero's journey. Or the heroine's.

And while all this seeking sometimes leads to the kind of awakening the great sages have been talking about since the beginning of time, methinks there is a complementary, start-where-you are strategy that also needs to be considered -- not to replace the classic quest for Knowledge, but to help seekers understand that they already have, within them, much of the wisdom they are seeking. It's just hiding.

And where it's hiding is in story -- those magical, memorable, tell-able moments of truth that have already happened to us -- times when the light went on and we connected to a timeless knowing, even if the catalyst for that unforgettable experience seemed mundane.

Story, quite simply, is the trojan horse of wisdom, the shape our life lessons take, the container for all the clues we need to live a conscious life. But until and unless we open the "trap door" of this trojan horse, much of our potential remains unknown to us.

It's like the classic story of the poor farmer and his wife. Every day they worked the fields from dawn to dusk. Every night, for dinner, they ate boiled potato skins and shivered in the cold under the only threadbare blanket they could afford, Then, one day, the original owner of the house stopped by, escorted them into the kitchen, and lifted a loose floorboard to reveal a big bag of gold, which he then bestowed on them. For 50 years, the farmer and his wife had been walking above it, never more than a few inches away, living their lives in total poverty. But now... they were rich beyond belief.


If you like, think of your journey into the power of story as a lifting of the floorboards. What you will discover is the great treasure there and the undeniable fact that you have already learned much of what you need to know. Now all you need to do is reach in and grab your stories, explore the riches within them, and start sharing them with others. Not only will you benefit from the telling, but so will everyone else who is privileged to hear what you have to say.

It's a revolution of storytelling that's being launched, folks -- each of us coming out of the closet to share what we know and what we've learned along the way -- not to preach, impress, manipulate, educate, or bend others to our will, but to fan the flames of wisdom in a world that sorely needs it.

Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling at Work

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:30 AM | Comments (0)

January 26, 2019
STORY THE FUTURE: Online Workshops and Interviews on the Art of Storytelling


Click here to register for STORY THE FUTURE'S most recent online offering -- a great way to learn more about the art and science of storytelling. Includes a wide variety of sage input, methods, techniques, and conversation from some wonderful thought leaders, change agents, and on-the-ground practitioners in the storytelling space.

My most recent contribution to the field

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:59 AM | Comments (0)

January 25, 2019
Ten Reasons Why People Don't Share Their Stories

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I'm sure you've heard the expression, "Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?" -- a question whose roots go back to an old Carl Sandburg poem. The same question holds true for the storytelling revolution. I can flap my mouth about the power of personal storytelling until the cows come home, but unless you and a critical mass of others step up, nothing much will happen. This is a volunteer army I'm talking about, a self-appointed crew of courageous people willing to make their way to the front lines of their own life and tell it like it is -- to share stories that will spark reflection, insight, wisdom, and love in others.

Are there obstacles on this storytelling battlefield? Of course there are. But the biggest ones are invisible -- old thoughts, assumptions, and beliefs that stop us from speaking up. What follows are the ten most common of these obstacles:

This is the biggie, the mother of all obstacles -- the belief that you are not heroic or important enough to speak up -- that your stories are mundane, insignificant, and meaningless. Nothing could be further from the truth. You are a human being, the "crown of creation", a member of the species known as homo sapiens -- "the wise ones".


You already have a ton of experiences worth sharing. If you don't think your stories are interesting, it's probably because you haven't probed them deeply enough. In other words, if your story was a box of Crackerjacks, you haven't found the prize yet -- or what William Blake, the 17th century poet, once described as "eternity in a grain of sand."

Bottom line, everything becomes interesting the moment you become interested. You can find meaning anywhere. The stories you tell don't need to be earth-shattering. They don't need to be cosmic. You don't need to be a spokesperson to speak. All you need to be is a human being who wants to elevate the conversation on planet earth. Sometimes, it's the simplest of stories that pack the biggest wallop.

Well, it is certainly possible that no one will care about your stories. And it is certainly possible that no one will listen -- especially these days, when ADD is almost epidemic and listening is in short supply. Your assumption about this, however, most likely comes from your past experiences and if you buy into this belief, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Maybe, from time to time, you've made attempts to tell your stories and have had little success in getting people to pay attention. Join the club. But just because it's been that way in the past, doesn't mean that's the way it's going to be in the future. Just because your last relationship ended badly, doesn't mean your next one will. Hopefully, you have learned something from your experience -- something that will increase the odds of your next relationship being all you want it to be.

The same thing holds true for storytelling. If you want to increase the odds of people listening to your stories, there are some simple things to pay attention to:

- Make sure you care about your story.
- Practice telling it and get feedback from friends
- Choose a time to tell it when people are most available to listen
- Be animated in the telling. Modulate your voice.
- Before beginning, set some context and get permission to tell it.

There's a high probability that you and I have never met -- that I know nothing about you other than the fact that you are reading this. But that's not entirely true. One thing I know about you is that you are a way better storyteller than you think you are. First of all, you are very experienced. You grew up on fairy tales. You watched TV, movies, and read books -- all of which were made of stories. Indeed, 65% of your present day conversations, explain sociologists, are composed of stories. It's the DNA of how human beings communicate. It's the spine of our interactions.

Psychologists refer to this ability of ours as an "unconscious competency" -- the ability to do something without totally being aware that we are doing it. Like breathing... or complaining.. or riding a bike.

The other reason you think you're not a good storyteller is because you have a tendency to compare yourself to other storytellers. Like Garrison Keillor, for example. Or your grandfather. Or your favorite TED speaker.

Cease and desist! It is a waste of time. The storytelling revolution you are being asked to join will not be covered on the nightly news. It will not be turned into a screenplay by Steven Spielberg. The storytelling I'm asking you to do takes place on the front lines of your life -- often with an audience of only one -- maybe your best friend who will love you no matter what. But if you keep telling yourself you're not a good storyteller, you silence yourself. And silence is not what's needed now. What's needed now is millions of people stepping forward to share what really moves them.

We can't wait for Sundays or someone "in a position of power" to shape the narrative. Look where that's gotten us. We need you and all your friends to come out of the closet and let it rip.

wake up.jpg

And why might that be? Usually, because you don't like feeling self-conscious or stressed or judged. Or maybe because you think people will think you are "full of yourself", "hogging the show", or otherwise being a prima donna. Fuggedabout it!

While it may seem as if storytellers are the center of attention, the reality is this: the listener is the center of attention. Or, even more accurately, the meaning of the story is the center of attention. The storyteller is merely a catalyst, a facilitator of a moment of insight and understanding in the mind/heart of the listener.

Is an actor, on stage, the center of attention? For a brief moment, yes, but only to capture the attention of the audience so they can feel something and leave the theater with that feeling becoming the center of attention in their own lives. Of course, there are always people who want to be the center of attention for all the wrong reasons: Egomaniacs. Narcissists. People looking for approval. They care less about what people get from the story than being remembered as the person who told the story. But that's not you. You are not about hogging the show. You are not about trolling for love. You are about speaking authentically and sparking moments of insight and understanding in others (and all without proselytizing, evangelizing, or trying to convince anyone of anything).


Public speaking is a bigger fear than the fear of death. Strange, but true. Standing in front of an audience (or even one person) is so anxiety-producing for some people they say they would rather die. Ouch! OK. I get it. You imagine yourself on stage and everyone is looking at you and some of the people looking at you are frowning or bored or checking their email under the table. Of course that would be stressful. But guess what? I'm not asking you to stand on stage and be a public speaker. All I am asking you is do to is share your stories in the informal flow of your own life. One-on-one, with your best friend or your mother, is absolutely fine. No pressure!

The storytelling revolution I'm inviting you to participate in is happening wherever you are. It is not a big deal. There will be no marketing campaign, no slogans, and no dues to pay. And, if all else fails, remember the words of Mark Twain: "If you speak the truth, you never have to remember a thing."

Kapish? To tell your stories, you do not have to memorize anything. You do not need to affect an English accent or look longingly into the distance. All you need to do is tell your story.

Here's as simple as it gets: There's a person (you) with a goal and some obstacles to overcome. Then there's some kind of resolution. That's it. All I'm asking you to do, when the time is right, is to share a meaningful story from your own life -- a surprise moment, an unexpected victory, or a lesson learned.

HINT: Speaking is not stressful. What's stressful is focusing on what people think of you.

Of course! That's totally fine. Your stories are your own. They are no one's business until you choose to make it their business. Indeed, there are some indigenous tribes living deep in remote forests who believe that if someone takes their photo, they will also take their soul. This is sometimes how we feel when telling a story -- that the person who had heard our story will now have power over us, that we have given away access to a sacred part of us that will now forever be violated by "the other". This is especially true if you are very identified with your story -- an experience, in fact, you consider to be sacred.

Telling one of those stories to a disinterested, arrogant, or judgmental audience will put you in the "pearls before swine" zone. Totally understandable.

That being said, you have two choices: You can choose not to tell stories about parts of your life that are "out of bounds" for the general public. Your second choice? You can see yourself as a catalyst for change -- that, somehow, your life experiences, told in story form, may be of benefit to others, a way to help them gain easier access to parts of themselves they may out of touch with.

That's what Woody Allen does in his movies. He puts his neurosis on the silver screen and "takes one for the team". He gives shape to the collective psyche so the less adventurous people in the audience can get in touch with aspects of their own life that may be hidden or ignored. This, of course, takes courage, insofar as some members of the audience may become so uncomfortable with what they see on the screen that they shoot the messenger. C'est le vie.

If you truly want to be on the front lines of the storytelling revolution, you will need to come out of your privacy closet and let it rip.


Here's my simple answer: Yes. Sometimes, you will be judged, but so what? First of all, you are already being judged almost all the time by others -- including the people closest to you. It comes with the territory of being human. You could, of course, choose to isolate yourself from others, armed only with your favorite mobile devices and some ice cream, but even then people are going to judge you from a distance. "Your FB posts are too long." "Your texts have too many typos". "You wait too long to respond to my emails".

What you need to remember is this: At the highest level, storytelling is not about you. Not only are you not the center of the universe, you are not even the center of your own story, even when logic dictates that you are. You may be a character in it -- even the hero -- but the real center of the stories you tell is the meaning other people will derive from it -- the learning, the lesson, the insight, or wisdom they will be able apply to their own lives.

See #7. Having "trust issues" is simply another way of saying that you think people are going to judge you. You've been hurt before by others. Or ignored. Or misunderstood, blamed, abused, dissed, diminished, ridiculed, mocked, or disempowered. Yup. Welcome to the human race. If you let trust issues have their way, forget about becoming part of the storytelling revolution. You'll be holed up in your house filing your papers or waiting for your next lifetime.

Remember... my asking you to join the storytelling revolution is not the same thing as asking you to go on CNN and hold forth as the spokesperson for the storytelling revolution. All it means is that you are willing to share your stories with at least one other person at a time and place of your choosing.

Certainly possible, but so what? Songwriters, whose songs are "covered" by other singers, always run the risk of their songs being stylized until they're barely recognizable. What began as their song will be interpreted in countless ways by others. It will morph. It will change. A folk song may become a blues song. A blues song may become a rock song. This is not a bad thing. It may, in fact, increase the shelf life of the song. So let people change your stories. Remember this is really not about you anyway. You are just the messenger. This is about the meaning people will make of your story and how they will apply the essence of your story to their own lives. Your storytelling is just getting the party started.

You have a story2.jpg

Ah.. welcome to the fabulous world of storytelling Zen koans. The thought that your story isn't ready to share can be both true and untrue at the same time. Indeed, it is the tension between these two polarities that most commonly leads to inaction. On one hand, it is absolutely true that your story may not be ready for prime time. You may be in the process of incubating on it, refining it, hatching the "story egg", so to speak. If you tell your story too early, you may be trotting out a half-baked message that will fall with a thud. Yup. It's the same thing with new ideas. Sometimes you might have an awesome idea, but if you communicate it too soon, you might subvert its potential of it actually landing.

But there is another side of the storytelling coin for you to consider. Sometimes, the assumption that "my story isn't ready to share" is simply a function of perfectionism -- the same reason why you don't try anything new. You tell yourself you don't have enough information, or enough degrees, or haven't done enough research yet. Please be mindful of this tendency.

Sometimes, the only way your story will be ready to share is to tell it. Or what Tom Peters meant when he said, "Ready, fire, aim!"

This is the same reason why many Broadway plays start off in Peoria. "The path is made by walking on it," goes the old adage. Start walking.

The Wisdom Circles of San Miguel
The facilitator of Wisdom Circles
Storytelling for the Revolution

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:19 AM | Comments (1)

January 24, 2019
The Man from Croatia

Writing with red pencil.jpg

It was a bone cold night in January, four hours after my wife and kids had gone to bed, and I was sitting alone in my man cave, with nothing but a laptop, i-phone, and the painful recognition that even though I had written five books, created a successful company, and had supported my family for 15 years, I had yet to accomplish a single meaningful thing in my life.

This is a feeling many writers know all too well, the moon howling moment of dread when they recognize that their early promise of genius had either not yet born fruit or the fruit they did manage to pick was rotting in a bowl of an unhungry stranger many miles away -- the kind of feeling, I imagined, that was at least partially responsible for Vincent Van Gogh cutting off his ear, a man who had sold only a single painting his entire life, and to his brother, at that, a man he knew was buying mostly out of pity.

It was at precisely at this moment, too late to be early and too early to be late, that I just happened to glance down at my inbox and noticed an email coming in from someone I did not recognize, a man with very few vowels in his last name.

Clearly, this communication wasn't from a friend of mine. No. This was something from a stranger -- a man, he explained, from Croatia, who had been reading my blog for the past five years and now that he had been diagnosed with a terminal disease and maybe had three or four months left to live, wanted me know that last night's posting had touched him deeply in a way that filled his whole being with gratitude. An oasis the writing was for him, he explained -- a place where he could rest and renew. He was writing to me at this late hour to thank me and request that, no matter what happened in my life, I continue making the effort to write... and that it mattered, at least to him.

I just sat there, stunned, my whole body shaking, tears of joy rolling down my cheeks.

Excerpted from Storytelling for the Revolution.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:54 AM | Comments (0)

Wisdom Circle Ground Rules

Circle Hands 2.jpg

A Wisdom Circle is an opportunity for a small group of people (6-12) to come together in a relaxed setting to share their life stories with each other -- memorable moments of truth that have, contained within them, a specific kind of message or meaning.

Simply put, all of us have wisdom inside us -- insights, awakenings, or "lessons learned" that we have experienced along the way. A Wisdom Circle is an opportunity to share this good stuff with others and then "unpack" the stories a bit. The message or meaning we have for each other is delivered via the telling of our stories -- not by teaching or preaching or advising. The storytelling does most of the work.

In order for a Wisdom Circle to be effective, the people participating in it need to be willing to abide by a few key ground rules. These "banks of the river" keep the energy flowing and increase the odds that everyone will enjoy the process and receive maximum value.

Here are the ground rules:

1. Keep your stories to five minutes or less.

2. When telling your story, remember you are telling a story about a specific "moment in time" (with a beginning, middle, and end). You are not telling the "story of your life" to a captive audience.

3. When someone, in the circle is telling their story, listen deeply and non-judgmentally. Be fully present!

4. When it's time to respond to someone's story, after they've finished telling it, either ask a question or reflect on how the message of the story applies to your own life. If you have nothing to say, that's fine.

5. No therapizing, fixing, or advising allowed.

6. Allow the facilitator to facilitate. In other words, if the facilitator asks you to wrap up your story (because you are exceeding your 5-minute limit) or if the facilitator intercedes for any reason, allow that to happen.

7. Honor confidentiality.

Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling at Work
The creator of Wisdom Circles

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:22 AM | Comments (0)

January 23, 2019
26 Quotes on Storytelling

26 inspiring quotes about the power of stories and storytelling.

Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling at Work

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:04 PM | Comments (0)

January 14, 2019
Testimonial from the Executive Director of the San Miguel Writer's Conference & Literary Festival


This just in from Susan Page, Executive Director of the San Miguel Writer's Conference and Literary Festival in response to my storytelling presentation at the January 10th Literary Sala.

"Mitch Ditkoff is a wonderful ambassador of the power of storytelling to transmit wisdom and has the rare talent to keep an audience riveted. His message is inspiring and authoritative, and his presentation, entirely entertaining. For a keynote or workshop that will leave your audience smiling and diving deeper, long after the talk, and in love with the speaker, don't miss this seasoned, skilled presenter."

More about what I am up to these days
Storytelling for the Revolution

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:34 PM | Comments (0)


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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