Ever wonder “who am I to…?”
Write a book, start a business, lead a movement, make art, stake a claim, land a role or anything that matters AND has a long history of kick-ass players and achievements that’ve come before you.
What is there possibly left to do or say or write or create that hasn’t been done before?
The answer is your voice. Your stories. Your lens.
You don’t need to be the next Jobs, Curie or Van Gogh to do great work and create things that matter. Paradigm-shifting innovation is not the only path to impact. You can add value to an existing body of knowledge, solution or experience by crafting the container, the context, the voice and story, the mode of delivery in a way that illuminates and connects.
It’s not a quantifiable thing. But that space in between, the one that’s filled by soul, vision, language, purpose. It’s where the magic takes root. If I can feel that radiating out, regardless how many people have come before, that experience matters to me in a way 1,000 similar ones didn’t. It lands.
I’ve been told to rise above adversity a million times. But when I hear Maya Angelou recite And Still I Rise…I get chills. It lands. I RISE.
Nearly every great story follows some variation of what Joseph Campbell called the “monomyth” or “hero’s journey.”
An inciting incident leads to a deep and unsettling yearning and sets in motion a quest. The protagonist departs on a journey. Many times hopes are dashed and challenges presented. At times, she’s pushed to the point of giving up, but doesn’t. Somewhere along the way, a guide enters the picture who leads to an awakening. Our protagonist is changed, returns transformed and shares her discovery (I know, highly-simplified version for those who know the archetype).
Millions of stories have been written using the monomyth framework. We’ve all read, heard and seen this story played out so many times. So why did Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, a textbook example of the hero’s journey archetype, explode into the world’s consciousness and become one of the top 10 selling books of all time?
It wasn’t the narrative, it was the way it was told.
Just this morning, Y Combinator co-founder, Paul Graham shared a link to a project by Phillip Toledano called Days With My Father that moved me in a profound way. A beautiful photo-essay about the last 3 years in the life of one man’s father.
I knew neither. And countless stories have been told about how different people experience their final acts. Rarely have I connected with the ones I’ve seen or read or heard. Yet I was transfixed. Lost in images and words and emotion. Turning the final few pages, I broke down. I was there with them. Imagining my own relationship as a son and, someday God-willing far into the future, at the end of my time as a father and husband.
In 2009, Google aired a commercial during the superbowl that the exploded online and left tens of millions talking about and sharing it for days. It didn’t feature a jazzy new technology, operating system or search functionality. In fact, the only technology shown was about the oldest, most un-newsy thing Google does. Basic search.
So, why all the hubub? Because it told the story of search in a deeply personal, story-driven way. The ad, titled Parisian Love, created an emotional context, a voice, a story that had millions choked up. And talking about it around the world.
The ability to craft the container in a way that allows the consumer to connect not only with emotion, but with something deeper in themselves, with those around them and with the creator, even if that creator is an entity, is where so much of the power lies.
When I read a book, listen to music, experience art or movies, movements, products, services or ventures, I often find myself silently asking…
“Can I feel the maker’s soul through their voice?”
Because people don’t buy inventions, creations or messages. They don’t buy technology. They don’t buy products and services, archetypes or frameworks.
They buy the craft. The connection. The emotion. The promise. The essence. The soul. The voice. They buy what those things do to and for them.
They buy the yearning to feel more of what that “thing” lets them feel. And that’s not just about the nuts and bolts of what you make, but how you create the experience of connection and consumption.
So, when you’re wondering “who am I?” maybe the better question question to ask is…
How can I create an experience that allows others to feel my soul through my work? And in doing so, feel their own?
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