Storytelling at Work
February 08, 2019
Life Beyond Story


Storytelling is a two-sided coin. One side is imprinted with all of the symbols of the stories you have ever told or heard -- your "memorable moments of truth" in this life, experiences you've had - small, medium, and large -- that express, in narrative form, what you have learned, felt, and remembered. The sense you have made of your life.

The other side of the coin? What is beyond story. ISNESS you might say. PURE BEING. The EXPERIENCE of life without your interpretation of it.

Indeed, there are many self-help disciplines and spiritual practices that are designed to help their practitioners go beyond their story, the premise being that our stories are often self-invented prisons we have created that artificially define and constrain ourselves. Our "persona", if you will -- the wind-up doll we create and trot out into the world.

This, I think, is one of the great paradoxes of life -- not unlike Lao Tzu's famous quote: "He who knows, does not speak. He who speaks, does not know."

On one level, Lao Tzu was spot on. On another level, Lao Tzu was saying something that a skilled skeptic could easily dismiss as proof that Lao Tzu "does not know because he spoke, so why should we bother to listen to anything he has to say?"


As the Zen Buddhists remind us, "The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon."

So it is with stories and storytelling. They are not the moon. They are fingers pointing at the moon. But pointing has its place. It does -- as long as we don't become prisoners of our pointing or forget to experience life in the unfiltered present because of our tendency to be overly identified with the stories of our past.

That being said -- what follows is an elaboration on this phenomenon from my 2015 book, Storytelling at Work.

"Let's assume for the moment that, after reading my book, you are intrigued by the notion of telling your own stories. Fantastic. Great. That's the reason why I wrote the book in the first place. So... you begin thinking about your own moments of truth and start writing them down -- at least the titles, that is. The more titles you write, the more stories you remember -- stories from your childhood, travels, work, relationships, quest for meaning, accidents, disappointments, victories, near death experiences, strange lights in the sky, and so on. Let's say you top out at 359 titles. But let’s take it one step further.

Let's say you actually write your stories. But not only write them -- you tell them, too, until every story of yours has been told. You could, of course, choose to tell your stories again to other people in other ways. You could, of course, choose to turn them into screenplays, novels, songs, sitcoms, i-phone apps, or webinars. But you don't. You feel complete, every story in you having been told.

So there you are with no more need tell a single story (not even the story of why you are no longer telling stories). Like small puddles evaporating after a storm, your need to tell your stories has completely disappeared. Now there is only solid ground beneath your feet. Your friends and fans, accustomed to your delightful story telling, are keenly disappointed, but you say nothing. You say nothing because you have nothing to say. You have no point to make. The words you would normally use to populate your tales have gone south for the winter. They are vacationing somewhere on a remote island, cocktail party chit chat for the night.


Your last story has been told.

Though you are fully awake and can see many things happening, you have no need to connect the dots, no need for a plot, characters, conflict, or a resolution. Everything is what it is. You are what you are, breathing slowly, wanting nothing, feeling grateful, enjoying the time before the first story was ever told. You think of telling that story, but don't.

You let it go. Like the milkweed floating by. And the leaf...

Why Tell Stories

Storytelling for the Revolution
A funny story about minced garlic

Photo of Milkweed: Dawid Zawilla, Unsplash
Photo of Moon: Bejamin Voros, Unsplash
Photo of Book: Nong Vang, Unsplash

You have a story3.jpg

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at February 8, 2019 12:28 PM

Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?


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.

Order the book:

Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling for the Revolution is Mitch Ditkoff's newly published book about the power of personal storytelling to elevate the conversation on planet Earth. Provocative. Evocative. And fun. YOU have stories to tell. This book will help you tell them.
Storytelling at Work
"The world is not made of atoms," wrote the poet, Muriel Rukeyser. "It's made of stories." Learn how to discover, honor, and unpack the stories of yours that show up "on the job" in Mitch Ditkoff's award-winning 2015 book, Storytelling at Work.
Do you want to know more about the book before buying it? Click here for Mitch's response to frequently asked questions about Storytelling at Work – the perfect book for people who think they have no time to read.
The Workshop
Storytelling is an "unconscious competency" – an ability we all have that all too often remains inaccessible to us. Enter the Storytelling at Work workshop – a simple way to activate this powerful, innate skill.
Wisdom Circles
Want to establish a culture of storytelling in your organization or community? Looking for a simple way to help people to share their meaningful, memorable stories with each other? Here's how.
Podcasts & Videos
Click here to view and listen to a series of interviews with the author of this blog. Go beyond the written word. Listen. Feel. Elevate the conversation. Understand what the big deal is about personal storytelling.
Blogs 'R Us
If you like this blog, you might also like Mitch's other two blogs: The Heart of Innovation and The Heart of the Matter. Mitch is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.
Idea Champions
When Mitch isn't writing, he's captaining the good ship Idea Champions, a leading edge innovation consulting and training company based in Woodstock, NY. What their clients say.