Your Quest Is Your Story

Your QuestOkay, let’s face it. If I were to ask you to tell me about your quest, you’d probably give me a funny look and walk away. Well, unless you’re into online game experiences like MMORPG. But even then, we might quickly end up talking past each other.

What’s Your Story?

I bring up the idea of quest because I’ve been thinking about ways to help people tune into their personal stories. Despite the nearly incessant advice to tell your story, many people find it daunting. [Tweet this]

In fact, in recognizing the need to get story telling advice to more people, my friend Jeff, recently invited me to appear on The Next Step with Jeff Rock. He wanted to discuss several personal brand story telling tips I’d once blogged about, and to go into a little more depth. While you may want to listen to our radio chat, or read my original post, I wanted to offer you new perspective on story.

On some level, I suppose today’s emphasis on uncovering and telling your story can seem like so much hype. It seems trendy.  So, you may think emphasis on story will simply pass. Only it won’t: Because we live in story. [Tweet this]

Stories are at the very core of our humanity. Stories are how we make sense of the events of our lives. As Seth Godin points out, it’s the power of narrative that keeps our lives consistent and predictable. Or, we can harness that power to change our lives for the better!

Controlling Our Narrative

Godin notes that too often the stories we tell ourselves get in the way of more effectiveness and success. They create a comfort zone that holds us back. I think this is especially the case when we navigate life on autopilot. We lose control of our own narrative when we operate without self-knowledge. As a consequence, we fail to make choices that let us live in a way that’s personally meaningful and fulfilling.

Controlling our own narrative means shaping our own story. [Tweet this] And that requires having some sense of what we’re seeking in life. It helps us build on experiences that have significance to us, as well as direct our efforts toward achieving what we most want for ourselves. Ultimately, our narrative is about finding and achieving our own personal vision of success.

How Your Quest and Your Story Are Related

Our lives are filled with many ups and downs. We succeed. We fail. We trip and we get up. Yet, the reality is that while many things happen to us, only some experiences factor into our story. So, the question becomes how do we identify the experiences that fit into our narrative and move us forward toward success. [Tweet this]

Considering this question led me to take a fresh look at some ideas discussed by creative writing instructor, and screenwriting expert Robert McKee. According to McKee, story takes the form of a quest. As he describes it:

“For better or worse, an event throws a character’s life out of balance, arousing in him the conscious and/or unconscious desire for that which he feels will restore balance, launching him on a Quest for his Object of Desire against forces of antagonism [conflict]…”

The actions that the character takes to restore balance, often with a degree of challenge or conflict, are key. Those actions, taken in the course of the quest, represent the spine, or arc, of the story.

Of course, the kinds of dramatic inciting incidents that make for great screenplays aren’t usual for most of us. This is not to say we aren’t powerfully affected by circumstances or conditions that shape our view of what needs to happen in the world. Playing a role in achieving our vision can set in motion a lifetime of work that becomes our quest! [Tweet this]

What this means is that what we seek in life sets our story in motion. Put another way, if you were using a the story structure of the Pixar Pitch, you’d be staring not at “once upon a time.” Rather the arc of your quest is defined by “until finally…” And every step you take to achieve your heart’s desire would be what happens in between.

What You Were Meant To Do

This is more of an aspirational approach that asks you to consider what it is you’re meant to do in life. Clearly a challenge. Yet, if we pay attention, life usually hands us some big clues about our purpose. [Tweet this]  For example, Shane’s life journey brought him face to face with a nearly impossible community health project in Central America. It was something that sparked his quest to beat the odds. As Shane puts it:

“… I’ve never gotten over the thrill of helping people overcome impossible obstacles. I help hopeless causes by diving head first into complexity, making sense of it, and optimizing how people do things, whether in a refugee settlement, a factory floor, or a boardroom.

“When I see a better way to do something … [or] … a way to fix a process … I’m compelled to devise a solution. If it crosses a border, beats a budget, or bends a few paradigms, that’s when it gets fun.”

Don’t Live Someone Else’s Life

Figuring out your quest will demand that you undertake some introspection that examines how your vision, values, passions, interests, activities, and even circumstances contribute to your sense of purpose in living your life. Living Your StoryThere is no one recipe for it. Nothing about this process is easy, but it’s worth it – especially if you truly want to own your life and live your story! [Tweet this]

And if you need a little inspiration to get started, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you read Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement address. In it, you will find what I think is one of the best reasons for investing in this process:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Find your quest and your story will take care of itself. [Tweet this]


What’s your quest? I’d love to know. Take a moment to share it in a comment.


    • says

      Thanks for your kind words, Jeff!!

      After our conversation, I found myself looking at other ways to get people to uncover their stories. As you know, there is some real benefit to people when they uncover and share their stories!

      I was thinking that one of the reasons people don’t work on their stories is that it’s a retrospective exercise. So, it can seem like only so much history. Yet, when they can connect the significant events of their lives to their vision or quest, it can change the context and bring them the benefit of doing the work!!

      I’m happy you liked this post!!

    • says

      You’re always so sweet, Kimberly!!

      I’m really happy you enjoy my posts, and that the message of this one truly resonates for you! I enjoy sharing my perspective. Yet, I especially love when I can pull together the great ideas of people I admire, and weave them together in a way that offers new perspective.

      I really appreciate your friendship, and glad you’re a loyal reader!!

  1. says

    Walter- Really enjoyed your post and thanks for the good reminder to tell our story. It’s kind of funny but I think the older we get, the more comfortable become with telling our story. We realize we’re all in this big game together and all share similar experiences. The cool thing is that the older we get, the more “story” we get to share :-)

    • says

      Thanks for your great comment, Mitch!! I’m really glad you enjoyed this post!!

      Yes! I agree that maturity certainly has some value when it comes to stories!! I think as adults we tell stories for all sorts of reasons. We seem to love to draw on our varied experiences to make a point, share a good laugh, or offer advice or guidance … just to name a few!!

      What tends to be more of a challenge is to find the themes that wind their way through our stories. Very often, those themes represent what is most important to us as we carry out our sense of mission in life.

      This can be more of a challenge for younger people. Partly, it’s because they don’t have a large base of experience. Partly, it’s because they are still in a formative process. Yet, I would contend that the stories (often fiction) that resonate for them hold clues to their sense of vision and purpose.

      This story stuff is really fascinating!!

  2. says

    I love how you have stressed the importance of knowing your quest as well as your story. You are right in that everyone is talking about how important it is for people to tell their story (which it is). But really, what great story doesn’t involve a quest of some sort? That is what gives the story purpose.

    Thank you for pointing that all out so cleary and eloquently.


    • says

      Thanks for your comment, Cliff!! I really appreciate your kind words.

      Yes, it’s true! Every story involves a quest of some sort. Sometimes, that quest can reflect all the elements of the classic Hero’s Journey. Other times it may contain only some of those elements.

      What I love about uncovering your quest, though, is that it starts with your vision for the future. Knowing that makes it a lot easier to identify events of the past that have fed that vision!

      Thanks, again!


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