When you’re selecting stories to tell, it’s tempting to pick safe, familiar stories. Stories that closely relate to the development of your business.
There is however another class of story. The forbidden stories. The stories you’d rather bury deep underground inside your head, never to see the light of day.
This is one of mine…
When I was quite small growing up, we used to spend hours on the local school playing fields, either playing football or using the school tennis courts. We were never encouraged to do this, but nothing was done to stop us either. After all, we were just playing.
Then one day, when I was ten or eleven, huge maroon railings were erected around the perimeter of the fields. ‘Warning: Anti-climb Paint,’ said the sign on the outer perimeter. ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted.’
‘What’s a trespasser???’ I wondered at the time.
Of course, the fences didn’t stop us getting onto the school fields. But they did send a very clear message. This is private. This is ours. It is forbidden to be here.
One of my friends knew a way into the school, passing through someone’s garden. For a while we carried on playing football, although not as conspicuously as before. Then one day, my friend found that one of the outdoor classrooms could be opened by squeezing your arm through a gap by the door.
I have to admit, it felt exciting at first. Playing football felt forbidden. Being inside a classroom felt double forbidden. We started to move small things around. Swap people’s homework around. Draw the odd penis here and there.
One day, two of my friends were shuffling around inside a draw. Somewhat bored, I took a football we’d brought and smashed it against a fluorescent tube in the ceiling. Dust from the broken light fell everywhere, and for a few moments everything stopped. Then my friends laughed, and started scattering papers, and breaking other lights. For about fifteen seconds, glass crashed about everywhere.
“Shit, there’s my Dad!” I hissed, crouching down underneath a table. Shards of glass covered the floor. My friends crouched down too. Sure enough, my Dad was walking past on the other side of the fence, with our dog Sammy. At that moment, Sammy crouched down to do her business. We waited under the table, barely daring to breathe. Clearing up the dog’s mess, my Dad seemed to look right at us for a moment. Then he stood up and walked past.
We looked at each other, with cold realisation setting in. I remember looking back as we ran off, watching the classroom door flap around in the breeze.
Of all the stories I have in my repertoire, that was the one I felt least comfortable about telling. Why? My actions that day didn’t reflect who I thought I was, or who I still think I am. But I did learn a few things:
1. This has only occurred to me in hindsight, but if the fences had never gone up we’d never have thought of going into a classroom, let alone breaking anything. When all areas are private and enclosed, children lash back in unpredictable ways.
2. I learnt how a single bad decision can escalate a bad situation into one that was way out of control.
3. I learnt about taking responsibility for my actions, effectively by doing the opposite. I didn’t like how it felt holding that secret, or how it sat with me. It still wasn’t enjoyable in any way to write that story, all these years on.
But I think you’ll agree, forbidden stories do make more engaging stories. The challenge at the end becomes linking your story to your content, or sales message.
In some cases, this might be impossible, and maybe unnecessary. A forbidden story has the power to stand alone in your marketing. Its role is more to share some inner part of yourself with your audience, than it is to generate direct sales. Effectively you’re letting people get to know the real you, by sharing some of your darkest mistakes. After all, we’re all human. We all make them.
Of course, you still need to structure the story correctly. If you look at the story above, there are ups, downs and suspense. I teach all that in Nurture Email Mastery.