Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Do you know what every human on the planet has in common? A story. Whether it’s one of defeat or victory, we all have a narrative that’s responsible for bringing us to where we are. For many, some of these stories may feel a little broken, or embarrassing. So, when we put ourselves out there as entrepreneurs, it’s no surprise that many are tempted to hide certain parts out of fear of what an audience may think. Doubts arise, such as:
“What if they don’t buy?”
“What if they think I’m stupid, uninteresting or begging for attention?”
“What if I scare people away with my story?”
One thing that can be counted upon is that every single one of us has been through some kind of experience that we could feel angry, ashamed, embarrassed or simply hesitant to talk about. And while most might agree that messy stories are inherently interesting, and get us to where we are now (for better or worse), it still comes as second nature to tidy them up so they’ll be accepted by the outside world.
Your story should reflect your true self
When it comes to connecting with an audience, however, you can’t afford for your story not to reflect who you truly are. Just like meeting someone new in real life, people need more than a polished persona: they need reality and authenticity. The more transparent and vulnerable you become, the more an audience will trust you. To be sure, it’s difficult to open up completely: doubt, fear and a host of other emotions tighten our hearts and zip our lips.
Sharing a story can feel a lot like pulling teeth — even as we recognize that brand storytelling is such a key and necessary component of marketing — but the unalloyed truth is that it’s impossible to tell your story to strangers on the Internet if you haven’t embraced and absorbed its fundamentals personally.
People I’ve worked with in the past hold back from sharing anything “too real” because they believe their lives have been ordinary, even boring. They tell themselves things like, “I don’t have a dramatic enough tale to tell”, or “I have nothing interesting to share”. And while this may be true for some (and that’s okay), I find that there are deeper scars hiding beneath most of these responses, regardless of any blissfully polished exterior. Because here’s the thing: we all have trauma to some degree.
As babies coming into the world, we were unaware of the dangers lurking in the shadows until somewhere along the way, something or someone fractured that newfound sense of security and replaced it with a degree of fear, doubt or insecurity. Our minds were not yet evolved enough to fully understand the complexity of experiences, so we regarded every interaction as deep and meaningful. Every tease from a peer meant we weren’t accepted, every disapproval from authority meant we weren’t good enough and every disregard from a parent meant we weren’t loved.
As children, these reactions are inevitable, and natural, but as adults it’s our responsibility to confront them dimensionally. Keeping pain hidden in shadows doesn’t make it go away; leaving internal wounds unattended to only makes them spread to other parts of your life, whether you realize it or not. If you don’t confront the part of you that was teased, you’ll spend your life trying to fit in. If you don’t confront rejection, you’ll be devoted to seeking validation from others, and if you don’t confront the part that was ignored, you’ll pend life searching for love in all the wrong places.
Break out of old patterns and reclaim your narrative
How does this seemingly private part of you affect your business? It can show up in many ways, such as avoiding difficult clients, creating challenging team dynamics, hiding from the spotlight and even being subconsciously afraid of making more money. The only way to break the painful patterns you find yourself in is to own your story. I’ve found a few ways to do that:
• Journal about memorable experiences: This is the perfect way to start excavating those hidden parts and get to know the stories that you tell yourself. Write about memorable experiences in detail, both the highs lows. If you’ve never done it before, engaging in this exercise will likely surprise, as it reliably brings what was previously hidden in the subconscious to light.
• Switch your perspective of the past: Instead of looking at trauma or painful experiences as something that happened to you, ask yourself, “how did this happen for me?” Although difficult at first, this simple shift can help create gratitude and inner compassion from any obstacle overcome… help find a greater purpose for pain.
• Practice cultivating and crafting your brand story: By understanding your tale, you can begin to see how it shapes your worldview and how you express yourself. Once you understand this story, honor all parts of it and discover its lessons — then the words and energy to share what you’ve learned with other people will come, along with the likelihood that what helped you will help others.
The more you own your story, the less power the painful parts of the past have. There will be a shift in the narrative you’ve been telling yourself for years; you’ll feel unapologetic about desires and unlikely to let the outside world dictate how you should feel or act. You’ll become more confident in yourself and be able to start leading in life and business with an open heart. Lastly, when you step up and own your story, something else magical begins to happen: other people begin to share their stories with you.
We all want to be seen and heard… all want to feel as though we matter, and when you share your story with the world, you give others permission to do the same.