Live To Tell

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I don’t often read “list posts.”

And I rarely write them.

Story. That’s what it’s about for me. The content that matters most to me, that affects me deepest, is stories. Sometimes with a lesson attached. Takeaways are cool. But stories do what nothing else can. They bypass the scan-filter, draw me in, immerse me in the experience. Even if for a moment. They don’t have to be long. Takeaway or not, I am swept away. I’m moved. And that’s enough.

Funny thing is, that’s what I like to write as well. And if you look at the work that’s shared most over time her in our tribe, it’s almost always story-driven.

Sure, I’m more than capable of sharing tips and strategies, even making a list or two. But the thing I love doing more than anything is telling a story that in some way touches something. Lights something up. Makes you question. Or feel. Or ponder. Or melt. Or rise.

In order to have stories to tell, you need to live your own story. (click to tweet)

Every day. Or as often as possible.

You’ve got to live enough to have something to say.

Something drawn not from books or blogs or videos or magazines or TV or movies.

It’s got to be about you and the world. Your visceral experience. Your lens.

Live first. Then tell.

Or as Thoreau said:

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.

What do YOU think?

With gratitude,



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27 responses

27 responses to “Live To Tell”

  1. Hi Jonathan. I find that I am most drawn to stories. To me, stories are real and powerful. Stories draw me in. I’ve been down the path of thinking I need to write “list posts” and they turn out fine but they never fill me up as much as sharing a real story.

    And nothing is more exciting to me than getting out there and mixing it up with the world. Living, experiencing and connecting with others is what creates the stories of our lives.

  2. Yes yes yes! My best perspectives come from my own experiences and those are the stories I share with others. I find it difficult to receive another’s perspective when it isn’t grounded in personal experience.

  3. Anne says:

    I so agree Jonathon – stories are real and tell you something about the person and can provide insights you may not have otherwise gained. I just had my story published in a UK online publication and already it has sparked discussion on what success means to people. Will be interesting to see where it goes.

  4. Lisa Weikel says:

    Thanks for writing and posting this today, Jonathan. I often start to write a blog post and then decide not to complete it when I realize I’m not giving my readers “something of value.”

    Even though, deep down, I know there’s tremendous value in stories, I forget that my own just might have value too.

  5. Marcy says:

    I love stories and feel like they ‘tell’ a message best but I have gotten caught up in thinking I need to just write a list. The pull from the experts often starts swaying me but this gentle reminder helps me to do what I love…storytelling!

  6. Inspiring post, thanks! I’d add live your story and vote with your life for the world that you want to see. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” In the long run, it’s easier to keep going and tell a gripping story if you have a mission.

  7. I favor stories a lot more too. Many list posts just feel impersonal. Stories make you relate. Stories make me feel like what you’re saying is real. If you can tell these stories and integrate them into lists then sure that’s awesome too.

  8. Susan Kuhn says:

    Oh, you are so right, Jonathan. The masses rush to define the new “middling” characteristics of social media (list posts, etc.), while the story tellers lick their chops, knowing the knock-out punch of meaning that silences critics — and draws people close.

    Doesn’t mean you can’t tell a great story in a list post. James Altucher is a master of that. It’s just that when you copy technique thinking they are a God-granted shortcut to success….you aim straight for mediocrity. The truly gifted reach out from the heart of who they are every time, and maybe even bleed a little on the page to make that connection with the heart of each reader.

  9. Jonathan, thanks for articulating this, because I think it’s important. I *have* seen some good list posts in my time, but when that’s happens it’s because they’ve been deeply grounded in story rather than mere lists of “facts from on high.” And you’re absolutely right–it’s the story that makes the difference. That gives any post, of any style, its juice.

    I’m on the verge of launching a blog of my own, and I think you’ve hit on the reason why it’s taken me so long to get to this point. Somehow I intuited that I needed to live a bit more first before I could share my message with conviction. I want what I write to be based on experience, not theory.

    I think it’s possible for someone who has good technique (at blogging or whatever else) to disguise the latter as the former…but not for very long.

  10. We live our own story. Listen to people talking and notice what they are doing. Usually they are telling a fragment of their own life’s story / experience.

    As children we learn from the stories and books read to us. People absorbe stories in many formats, books, TV, film, performance and more. We are all creators and transmitters of our own and other peoples tales. When millennia ago we sat around the fire telling stories it helped to teach the tribe to follow their “way.” Now, whilst we do not often tell tales in this format, we do respond to stories in the medium which we prefer.

    Now if you are sitting comfortably I would like to begin. Once upon a time…………..

  11. …and while I was writing my comment, Susan (just above me) expressed the same thing much better than I did. 😉

    ::hat tip::

  12. David says:

    I think sharing your story is critical if you want to be visible to others, AND I think everyone alive has a story whether they think it’s interesting or know how to express it. Most of us have a subconscious belief that we’re not important. It’s hard, without very conscious parents, to get through childhood without taking that one on. It’s possible that others can see who we are better than ourselves. Sharing your story authentically allows others access to how you got to where you are. That gives permission to others to share their stories. To me it’s the basis of all relationships.

    —David Alexander, Visual thinker

  13. Anne Wayman says:

    Lists are often part of our story aren’t they? I make lists to go to Trader Joe’s but that’s not nearly as interesting as the baby who just ginned back at me in glee while his mom was sorting through lemons.

  14. David says:


  15. Ed Gandia says:

    Amen, brother! I know for a fact that my most loyal readers, students and clients have a connection with me because of my own story. Yes, the tips, strategies, insights and advice are important. But without story as the context, they’re often perceived as equal to what other leaders are preaching.

    Thanks for this beautiful message. It really resonated with me.

  16. Yes, it’s all about sharing, clear, powerful, engaging stories. Started in broadcasting, now working with start-ups as they discover new ways to share ideas with the world. Never been a better time to develop new formats. Always inspired by your take on things – long may it continue.

  17. Viviane says:

    Hi Jonathan,
    Thank you for this wonderful post. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Muriel Rukeyser: “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”

    Thank you again and keep up the wonderful posts!

  18. I’ve found in teaching my Staging Diva program that giving a list of business principals to follow is easily forgotten, much like those “list posts” which are so easily shared but rarely acted upon.

    But, when I tell them a story that illustrates the point, my students remember it. When faced with a similar situation in their own business even years from now, they know what to do.

    Jonathan, one of the things I love about your Good Life Project interviews is that because you ask about the “who” and the “why” you get great stories from your guests that stick with me long after I’ve watched the interview.

    There’s a Jewish saying:

    “What is truer than truth? Answer: The story.”

    That’s why they resonate so well. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Matt says:

    There are so many changes going on with the way Google does their search algorithyms it is hard to know what to anymore. Best thing is to express yourself from the heart, be relevant, and give something of value to help others.

  20. I am so grateful for this post. A million times thank you! List posts appear to be the new black: sure, they may seem slimming but after a while they become somber and boring. A clost full of black is a depressing thing indeed. In his book “A Whole New Mind” Daniel Pink writes about the power of storytelling and how in today’s “Conceptual Age” we must master aptitudes that are “high concept, high-touch” if we are to succeed in life and business. Story is one of those aptitudes. Pink writes: “When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact. Story exists where high concept and high touch intersect.”

    Thanks again for this post. It was awesome!

  21. Midwesterner says:

    Is this some kind of “insider” debate for bloggers? As a reader, with finite time available, I enjoy both types of posts. To quote a recent post from you, Jonathan, it’s not a zero-sum game. I agree with Michelle & Susan that there are good ones. A well-written list post combines story with list and one I particularly appreciate is Marc and Angel

    Either style can waste the reader’s time if done poorly.

  22. Steve Arensberg says:

    List posts are the fast food of the blogosphere. And I much prefer hand-crafted, from-the-heart, made-with-love offerings—whether meals or stories.

    Those personal, emotional connections are what make story so powerful, so memorable. Think back to any class you’ve ever taken, speech you’ve ever heard, or book you’ve read—you may not remember the facts, but you remember the stories.

    And as Ian said above: story connects us to our hunter-gatherer roots. When we hear stories, we channel our ancestors, crouching around the fire and telling stories to make sense of the world, to build community, and to push back the darkness.

    Story still has that power today, and that’s why we crave it.

    Thanks for challenging us to pursue and share our own truths.

  23. This has actually been a tumultuous topic for me as I build my blog. I get this weird feeling when I begin to write a “top __ list” even though it’s what people supposedly read the most. I enjoy the odd one, but get so much more from a powerful story.

    And I’m yearning to tell my story and the lessons I’ve gleaned through living it, but I often find myself censoring it because it’s rather raw (and I wouldn’t want to incriminate myself either). I guess it’s the paradox of being proud of who I am, where I’m from, what I’ve been through and overcome, and wanting to totally reinvent myself anew.

    Thanks for the insightful post. It’s a great reminder that people want to connect with me through my story, and that who I was isn’t who I am.

  24. Jonathan, my life principles strongly align with your post. Thank you for sharing. I find stories very powerful. Why? They have something for the readers/listeners/viewers to take away and use sometime in their lives. I also find them easier to write, as they come straight from the heart.

  25. I totally agree. I found that line by Thoreau a few weeks ago and it made me feel so inspired and also ashamed. I’ve been one person who’s always put off living for later. Don’t we all tell ourselves that we’ll start living once “whatever” is done or we get a little “settled”. But the most important thing is to stand up and live. Not just for writers. Because in the end we are all storytellers.

  26. Thanks for this Jonathan. And great discussion everyone.
    I feel the transforming power of ideas when they’re communicated through stories. Especially when the writer is being vulnerable and real and not just following a formula.

    Life is the greatest teacher. And heart-felt stories make ideas come to life.

  27. Drogo Jay says:

    “In order to have stories to tell, you need to live your own story.”


    I fu*king love this post so much. Especially the quote by Thoreau. So many bloggers are full of it and they know it. Majority of them haven’t even lived, yet they want to write and expect people to listen to them.