6 Ways to Transform Your Life, Family & Community with Stories

July 13, 2015 | 0 Comments

Guest post by Caitlin Roberson

My mom was/is a crazy woman: Every night before bed, she read two books to my sister, brother and me. That’s two books each. As in, six total. (As you can tell here, crazy = wonderful.)

Thus went our nightly ritual: Brush your teeth. Put on your pajamas. Toddle to the basket lined with frilly fabric — just the kind that gives little girls delight, — and pick your two.

That’s when new worlds opened up.

While I’ve long regarded these nights as favorite childhood memories, I didn’t come to understood how deeply they influenced my life — across my career, relationships, hobbies, and psychology — until years later.

In this blog, I’ll explore six lessons I’ve learned about the transformative power of storytelling — and how you can harness them to influence your own life, family and community. Collectively, they constitute the joy and motivation I derive from serving on Literacy Lab’s board.

1) Safety breeds confidence.

Snuggled under those sheets against my mother and siblings’ skin, I felt safe and warm. As such, story-time was my daily affirmation that because we had each other, everything was okay. Books became my playground, particularly for questions and fresh ideas.

What happens when you travel to new places? Are things okay when you challenge the status quo? Make risks? Take chances?

In Silicon Valley, we embrace beta releases and test-runs because we know they eliminate errors and position our products for success. Ideas and personal confidence are no different. The more we troubleshoot them, the better. Stories offer this testing environment.

2) Exploration creates livelihood, or better said: full living.

I attribute the fact that I’ve enjoyed living and traveling abroad, and started and successfully transitioned a company, to the environment my mom created about 8:00 pm each night. What better way to first learn the art of exploration while experiencing its challenge and wonder by proxy?

Take, for example, The Boxcar Children, which inspired me to hatch infinite variations of outside games. Nancy Drew made me proud of my spunky personality. Anne of Green Gables showed me how much I wanted to fall in love one day. (It also taught me how much it could hurt.) Each are lessons — in creativity, individuality, and the value of relationships — I still carry with me.

3) Characters teach character.

Think for a minute about “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” (an Aesop’s Fable). Whiney, mean, untrustworthy. Because he lied, the main character ended up vulnerable to wolves and 100% alone. Personally, I always wondered if he got eaten. Regardless, no one wants to be that guy.

Characters teach valuable lessons. Persevere, and you’ll eventually find family (Are You My Mother?). Scary things happen when you run away (Where The Wild Things Are). Everybody needs a bedtime (Goodnight Moon).

Such is the function of stories: To instill values that we reference our entire lives, in a format that sticks.

4) Vocabulary skyrockets (+ sustains) career satisfaction.

According to nearly a century of data collected by the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation, one’s vocabulary is the single-most indicator of career satisfaction. In other words, the more words you know, the happier your job tends to make you. Pause for a minute to consider the potential spillover effects of happier professionals: On marriages. Traffic. On diets, sleep patterns, even crime rates.

What better conduit of words than stories? Literacy’s impact on every individual is lifelong.

5) Leisure hatches possibility.

As Peter Thiel observes in Zero to One, technology distracts us from the reality that our environments are strangely the same. This is one reason I love actual books: They force us to put our email away and cell phones down.

But even when consumed on devices, stories encourage us to set time aside and cultivate imagination. Of course, action-packed schedules are all well-and-good, but neuroscience clearly suggests we stumble on our best ideas when we pause for unstructured play.

With as fast as change now accelerates, the world needs our best ideas. We in turn, must spend more time reading.

6) We improve the world to the degree we entertain alternate world views.

In my family, it didn’t matter that we lived in married-student housing, nor that our family of five subsisted on less than my first job’s starting salary. If we wanted to travel, we opened a book. London with Mary Poppins. America’s orchards with Johnny Appleseed. With Laura Ingalls-Wilder, we could even travel back in time. During these ventures, my siblings and I absorbed variations of how other people saw things.

Your view of the world is precisely that: A view. How often do you entertain multiple perspectives? Are you a glass-half-empty individual, or are you fortunate to perceive your life as brimming full? I’d wager a guess that your answer reflects, at least in part, the stories you heard as a child — and the stories (or narratives) you tell yourself today, whether you’re conscious of them or not.

Just as empathy — the ability to understand another’s perspective — characterizes the best leaders, we could greatly improve our world if more of us could embrace others’ viewpoints. Books help us cultivate this skill.

Conclusion

All of the above fuel Literacy Lab’s mission: To equip parents, school teachers and caregivers to help kids succeed.

Not every child has sufficient access to books or the gift of story-time. Many parents work at night. Others aren’t literate or speak other languages. Regardless, the 1 in 4 kids in California who experience poverty are drastically less likely to read at grade level, compared to children from middle and upper-income homes. And the impacts continue the rest of their lives.

That’s why, this summer, I was thrilled to applaud Literacy Lab’s Executive Director, Mialisa Bonta, for her appointment to Google’s Impact Challenge panel of advisors this summer, alongside other visionaries like Condoleezza Rice, Honorable Mayor Willie Brown, Harrison Barnes, Audrey Cooper, Hunter Pence, Helen Zia, Fred Blackwell, David C. Drummond, Jacquelline Fuller. (Last year, Literacy Lab was a chosen funding recipient.)
I fully anticipate that several years hence, we’ll be telling the stories of how “it” all began, just like I’m now doing about bedtime with my mom. Will you join us?

About Caitlin Roberson

When Caitlin got divorced, she started a business, called Clear — as a way of taking more of a driver’s seat in her own life. As she refined her personal narrative, she helped craft powerful stories for software enterprises, like Google and LinkedIn. Then, Clear joined Skyword. Today, Caitlin still helps B2B tech brands sell, with stories. She loves it: Storytelling, and the process of building a company as a woman, have helped her crystallize what matters most to her, and why. You’ll know she’s Type-A when you see she graduated in three years from UCLA, earning a BA in English + Spanish, summa cum laude, while winning state-wide awards. She swears by good coffee, dines only with fine wine, and paints whilst wearing a beret. The rest of the time, she’s at the gym, sprinting or lifting weights. Caitlin is a Huffington Post contributor, and has ghost-authored three books. She’s a passionate supporter of non-profits that give people a voice.