Storytelling at Work
February 26, 2020
You Are a Universe of Stories


Astronomers, in 1996, attempted a very interesting experiment. They pointed the most powerful telescope in the world, the Hubble space telescope, into a part of the sky that seemed to be completely empty, a patch of the universe long assumed to be devoid of even single planet or star. This experiment was a somewhat risky one, since time on the Hubble telescope was quite expensive and in very high demand. Indeed, there were many highly respected scientists, at the time, who questioned whether "looking at nothing" was a wise use of time and resources. Nevertheless, the experiment proceeded.

When the lens of the telescope was finally closed, 10 days later, and the images from deep space were processed, more than 3,000 galaxies had been detected, each galaxy containing hundreds of billions of stars.

Eight years later, in 2004, astronomers decided to perform the experiment again, this time pointing the Hubble telescope towards a different patch of sky -- a section of the universe also assumed to be completely empty.


At the end of this second experiment, using advanced detectors and filters that allowed more light through than ever before, 10,000 new galaxies were discovered -- each one also containing billions of stars.

As a writer and storyteller, I have asked many people to tell me their stories -- moments of truth in their life... or rites of passage.. or just something interesting that happened to them. Not infrequently, the people I ask look back at me with a blank stare, explaining, in various ways, that they really don't have any stories to share -- that not all that much interesting has happened to them in their life.

Metaphorically speaking, I am directing their attention to a patch of their own night sky and what I hear back from them is that there is nothing there. To them, it is empty.

As a long-time researcher into the storytelling phenomenon, I know their conclusion is not even remotely close to being true. Each and everyone of us, no matter where we were born or what our life experiences have been, contain a universe of stories within us: Memorable happenings... moments of truth... rites of passages... unforgettable encounters... lessons learned... cool experiences ... and a whole bunch of off the grid moments -- small, medium, and large.

And yet, when we are asked to identify our stories, we often draw a blank -- not unlike those skeptical astronomers who assumed there was nothing to see in deep space.

You have stories. You do. Of course, you have stories! If your life depended on it, you could identify at least ten of them in the next few minutes. And if I offered you a thousand dollars, you could come up with a whole lot more.

Why then, are so many of us blind to our stories? Why do so many of us insist there is nothing much to see or say?

Three reasons: First, most of us assume that a story needs to be earth-shattering in order for someone else to be interested enough to listen to it, and because most of our stories are not earth-shattering, we forget them quickly or never see them in the first place. Second, we just don't take the time. Remember, the astronomers who pointed the Hubble Telescope into deep space did it for 10 days, not 10 minutes. And third, most people don't know where to look or how to look. The "technology" we use to detect and unpack our own stories is not very sophisticated.

Consider this: If you look into the night sky with only your own two eyes, the most you are going to see, on a good night, is 3,000 stars. There is no way you will be able to detect that the universe is actually 47 billion light years wide with an estimated 100 trillion galaxies, each galaxy containing hundreds of billions stars.

You and I, my friend, are also universes. We are. Inside of each of us are 7 billion billion billion atoms. That's a one with 27 zeros after it. And while we might not have 7 billion billion billion stories inside us, we certainly have more than a few, each one capable of lighting up the night sky. And not just for our own selves, but also for the fortunate ones who get a chance to listen to them.

If you want to discover your stories (each one, by the way, encoded with its own special kind of light), you will need change the way you look for them. And, of course, before you even begin to look, just like our Hubble Telescope astronomer friends, you will need to become CURIOUS.

One way to identify your stories
Storytelling for the Revolution
Photo #1: Greg Rakozy, Unsplash
Photo #2: Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at February 26, 2020 11:44 PM

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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.

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.