We all need a hero. From David Bowie’s ‘We can be heroes just for one day” and Bonnie Tyler’s “I am holding out for a hero” to Queen’s “Flash, Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth”, we are seeking someone insuperable to save us from our crushing sense of humanity.
The universe is made of stories, not of atoms,” wrote the poet and social activist c. So perhaps we can save it by telling stories? Footprints in the sands of time, in print and social media, they hold universal truths for us all, whatever the situation or context. So here are some of the best in my book, from whom I eternally draw inspiration.
- Bill Gates. I love Bill Gates because his vision seemed almost unattainable but he still managed to push through and achieve it. He put a personal computer on every desktop and in every home. At 31, he became the youngest billionaire ever then the richest man in the world at 39. But he did not stop there. He set about creating a new story. He committed to donate half of his wealth over his lifetime and enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. He has already donated US$28 billion to the foundation; philanthropy at its best. He is definitely a real life hero. Heroes are not just for storybooks. They can really help us save the Universe. Lesson: Dream big, visualise that dream and make it into a story which benefits others. By telling and involving others in that story, then you will make it come true. Not only for yourself but others too
- Walt Disney. Walt Disney appeals to my inner child. He said that “Storytellers instill hope again and again and again” and was unfailingly optimistic. He built his stories around strong conflict but made sure there was a satisfying ending. “A good ending is vital to a picture, the single most important element, because it is what the audience takes with them out of the theater.” ~ Walt Disney. Lesson: Like Walt Disney, be unfailingly optimistic yet pragmatic. Look for ways to show how your knocks and successes can help clients benefit from that wisdom. Everyone loves a happy ending.
- Shakespeare. Shakespeare was a born story-teller. Most of his stories already existed before he retold them, whether as folklore, history, or current events, but he reinvented them into a context his audience could understand across continents and generations. His ‘all the world’s a stage 7 ages of man: infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon and old age’ speaks to us all. Every possible emotion, struggle, disappointment and dream is captured in his stories. Lesson: Be a master storyteller, timeless and relevant to your client. Behind that brave façade, we are all going through personal trials, trying to make sense of this crazy world. Continually re-invent and repurpose your story with your client’s own predicament at it’s centre. We are all in this together.
- Dr Seuss. From Green Eggs and Ham to the Cat in the Hat, there is perhaps no children’s author as prolific as Dr Seuss. However young or old, there is always something about his poetry and storytelling which resonates today. Dr. Seuss once said, “Virtually every page is a cliff-hanger – you’ve got to force them to turn it.” . And “There is no one alive who is youer than you”. So in the book of your life, make sure your story is interesting and relevant. Lesson: Don’t apologise for who you are and keep it real. You have a story like no-one else so use it to help someone else who really needs to hear it.
- Richard Branson. Richard Branson is one of the richest men in the world but he never shies away from an opportunity to tell stories about remarkable moments in his life and those of others. His open personality is not afraid to admit he has flaws like everyone else. He even has a campfire on Necker Island around which people gather round to tell real people stories. As workforces are becoming more dispersed, the days of gathering around the water cooler or coffee machine to tell stories are dwindling, so we need to keep our campfires alive and fuel them with stories. Lesson: Collect stories about real people and build a community of like-minded people with similar values to your own. Clients want warm two-way relationships with real, vulnerable people not just a one-way cold hard sell.
- Age UK
My Dad, Charles, is getting older and has just celebrated his 90th birthday. We are all ageing and the world is also getting more intolerant of old age. We appear to be living too long and our governments don’t have the resources to look after us. Yet, we have so much wisdom to give back to help the future generations.
The best stories don’t always start at the beginning. That’s why I love Age UK’s film last year showing ‘The Life of Charles’ in reverse. The one-minute video takes the viewer on an emotive, reverse-chronological journey through Charles’ life, opening with a depiction of his neglect in the care home, and ending with a starkly contrasting image of the warmth, love and protection shown to the infant Charles by his parents. This brilliant story helps spark important conversation about human rights and old age. Serving to remind us we need to look after, value and treasure all people of all ages. We are all learning from each other.
Lesson: the best stories value what’s important in life, change mind-sets and spark meaningful conversations. So don’t be afraid to share what’s important to you with clients who feel the same way. It’s not only what you stand for but stand up for that engages like-minded people. Make those values shine out of everything you say, do and are
- Charlotte Bronte
Living in the cold, cramped conditions of Howarth parsonage, with a half blind father, a deeply trouble brother in decline and a life of hardship, Charlotte Bronte wrote to escape a troubled life. Concealed by anonymity, she wrote by the pseudonym Currer Acton Bell, she was a modern, progressive woman of her time. She spoke out for the oppressed women through her writing at a time when women were seen as either bearers of children or social adornments.
Lesson: Don’t be afraid to think differently from others and stay true to who you are. Your story will be like ripples on a pond, influencing more people than you could ever imagine possible.
- Oprah Winfrey
Entrepreneur, producer and actress, Oprah Winfrey succeeded in overcoming poverty and terrible experiences due to her sheer determination and perseverance. Enormously wealthy and popular, at heart she remains the kindest, humble human being who is a self-confident role model to other women and inspires everyone with her active involvement with projects of humanity. Despite hardship, she’s full of gratitude. “Education is what liberated me. The ability to read saved my life. I would have been an entirely different person had I not been taught to read when I was an early age”
Lesson: never compromise on the values you hold dear and make them part of your story. Live and practise those values and you will inspire others to do the same, every day of your life and theirs too.
- Malala Yousafzai
At the age of 15, brave schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for standing up for the rights of girls to be educated. On her 16th birthday after a painful nine months after the shooting, Malala stood up at the UN headquarters in New York and addressed a specially convened youth assembly. “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world,” she said. “I didn’t want my future to be imprisoned in my four walls and just cooking and giving birth”. This girl refused to be silenced and her story has been amplified beyond what anyone could have thought possible.
Lesson: Don’t be afraid to stand up and speak out as you will help more people than you know. In the words of Martin Luther King “darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that”. Malala Yousafzai’s story has illuminated many other people’s dark and desperate journeys, showing them a way forward.
- The hero storyteller in us all
We all have a hero inside ourselves and a unique story which will help others also find their hero. According to Prince EA’s inspirational video “It’s not death most people are afraid of, it’s getting to the end of our lives to realise we have never truly lived”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-sl2w6Saqk
Lesson: Do you have the courage to live the dream which picked you? Or will you let it get away and slip through? Be the hero of your story, tell it, be it, live it. Not just for one day. Every day