The stories we tell

Charlotte Sheridan
3 min readDec 18, 2022

Hello and welcome to week eleven of my Advent Calendar of Change; 12 bite-sized exercises from Swim Jump Fly: A Guide to Changing Your Life. As we’re nearing the end of this blog (and this year), I thought we might reflect on storytelling, particularly the stories we tell ourselves.

Stories are everywhere. On our TVs, in the songs we listen to and in our newsfeeds. In 1997 Robert McKee wrote about stories in his book Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting. McKee says that stories “fulfil a profound human need to grasp the patterns of living — not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience.”

In my own book I’ve included many stories from the 108 people I interviewed. That’s because I believe stories are powerful. They can motivate and energise us and bring concepts alive. Stories can also normalise the challenges we are going through and make us feel less alone.

“There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others.” Michelle Obama

Jack is one of the participants in my research and he agrees about the power of stories: “The feeling that you’re not the only one going through this… at least you’re in the same boat as somebody else, instead of stuck out on the ocean on your own.”

However, we sometimes listen to stories that aren’t so helpful. We may think of ourselves in a certain way, with a certain identity, but that’s just a narrative that we’ve created. The challenge is that the stories we tell ourselves are just as powerful as the ones about other people. And these self-stories can shape, define, and often limit our lives for years.

Dr David Drake is the founder of the Center for Narrative Coaching & Design. He says that we have long-held patterns in our storytelling that echo across our lives. We play out the same story over and over, getting caught in it. He is interested in what we want to achieve by telling these stories. Could we let go of the old stories and welcome in new ones instead?

Charlotte Sheridan

Psychologist, coach, writer, photographer… juggling them all but often dropping balls.