Stories Impacting Life
I want to talk about the influence of stories. All actors are storytellers. Remember that, particularly for the end of this post.
Now, see this kid on a horse? He eats stories for breakfast. I should know. That's a decade-and-a-half-old picture of me.
I inhaled stories. I absorbed them through my pores. I didn't even know it half the time. I don't just mean books. Sure, I read stories like a sponge soaking up spilled water, but I would watch TV, movies, listen to my parents and grandparents, NPR, friends, teachers, whatever came within range. I'd play videogames on a game boy with the volume off while re-listening to audiobooks of Sherlock Holmes tracking down impossible criminals, James Herriot getting kicked in the shins by large animals he was trying to take care of, or Patrick McManus hilariously getting chewed out by his wife/best friend/parents/inanimate objects when all he wanted to do was go fishing.
These had an effect.
When people tell you stories change lives, it’s a cliché and you’d be forgiven for just rolling your eyes, even if you like the sentiment. When somebody goes and changes your life with a story, that’s when the truth of the statement hits you.
I don’t just mean that in a new-agey, lets-heal-the-world way. I mean that as a concrete, scientific fact. Let me give you an example: in his book, Redirect, Timothy D Wilson reviews a study done with college students with mediocre grades in the middle of their first year. They were brought in for a survey. Before taking the survey, they were split into two groups. The first group was handed a story to read. It was about a student who got mediocre grades, realized that that was an indication of the grades he would get, and continued to get those grade until graduation. The other group got another story. It told how a student got mediocre grades his first year, buckled down, got serious about studying, and finished well ahead of the curve.
Here’s the thing: unbeknownst to them, the students’ grades were then tracked over the next three years. They consistently followed the pattern of the story they had each read. If they read about the student who got better grades, they got better grades. If they read the other one, they didn’t. No other pattern more accurately predicted their academic success as a group. Remember this was just a story about one random student in each case. Nowhere did it say “this is what will happen to you” or anything like that. It was just a story.
Read Wilson’s book and he’ll give you half a dozen other examples of how “story interventions” changed people’s lives. Or read Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, about the effectiveness of storytelling in marketing, management, and a slew of other practical matters. Or Blake Mycoskie’s book “Start Something That Matters” about how the story of his company, TOMS, propelled his business success, and gave away tens of thousands of free shoes to poor children in the developing world.
Or, if you don’t have a library card, (go get a library card but also) just think about acting performances you've seen, that changed how you think. Think about the story. Think about how your life reflects some of the stories you’ve absorbed, even without your thinking about it at all at the time.
Now, if you’re an actor, bring that all together, and you’ll find two important things. First, remember, you’re a storyteller. Second, you can change someone’s life with those stories.
Take mine. Most of the stories I took in were the Hero’s Journey type. You know the one: main character is at home, gets called out onto a quest, refuses, gets dragged out anyway, overcomes trials, conquers evil, saves world, comes home a better character.
I decided early that if that didn’t happen to me in real life, I’d go out and make it happen. So I saved up all my money, starting when I was little, through day and weekend jobs in college. And then I went out and did it. I spent 19 months traveling the world. I hit over sixty countries across all seven continents and came home after the adventure of a lifetime. I even wrote a little about it.
All because I read/watched/played/heard those stories.
So do yourself a favor, and, next time you’re deciding what jobs to audition for, think about the story and what life change you want to inspire in someone. It might be a lot bigger than you think.
(Picture is my own)