Travellers’ Tales

This month’s topic is about journeys, their impact on our lives and the transformation
even the simplest journey can bring about.
Its also about the importance of telling the story of our journeys to ourselves and to others
because the transformation comes as much from the telling of the story of the journey as from the journey itself.

Start by watching my introductory video below (click on the bar under the video to read the full text).
Then spend some time on self reflection and further reading.

Travellers' Tales

Hello, its Jeremy here and welcome to my January contribution to the Living Money community.

And before I start, let me wish you a very happy new year. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, a good break, and that you start the year ready for your journey with Living Money.

Because you are on a journey. You have been, all your life. That’s why you are a different person from yesterday.

Whether it be a trip to the cinema, time spent in another part of the world, building or breaking a relationship, living through illness, journey’s are transformational,

Or are they?

Do our journeys actually transform us?

Or is it the stories of our journeys that transform us? Do we really get the real transformational benefits of this journey through life if we don’t tell the story to ourselves and to others.

And of course, its not always plain sailing. Sometimes the story is difficult to tell, especially if we have failed in someway. The temptation is to spin the story when we tell it to others, to hide our failures, to protect ourselves from ourselves, to paint ourselves in a better light.

And what is the impact of telling an incorrect story, to ourselves or to others? There are consequences, to be sure. Loss of personal integrity, failure to learn, unshared wisdom from our mistakes.

This community, the Living Money community, is about building our own route to personal and financial freedom. It is about developing a new, better relationship with money, one that puts us in control of our money, puts us at ease with our money and enables us to live a life of integrity and achievement.

So our journeys with money, our money stories, the stories of our changing and developing relationship with money are central to this freedom.

And so often its difficult to tell our true money stories as they often carry deep and difficult emotions with them.

And here’s the rub. When we tell the stories of our money journeys – or any journey for that matter – we enhance our own understanding of what happened to us. We learn from our journeys. We use what we have learnt to make a contribution to the world.

Telling a story gives meaning to what happened to us.

So, again its important to tell the true story, not the spun story. And its here that the real transformation takes place. When we find the courage to expose our vulnerabilities and our failures to ourselves and then to others something shifts inside us, a sense of relief and power that we are no longer living a lie.

And when we tell the story of a successful journey in a way that doesn’t floodlight us, over-promote us or put us on a too high pedestal, when we tell the story in a way that enables others to learn, then we grow immeasurably stronger.

How do we tell our stories? We need a structure, which may be as simple as beginning, middle and end. or the situation, my actions, the outcome. Or – in travel parlance, departure, change, return.

So the journey and the story have the same structure, which I find interesting. Its no coincidence that the words ‘journey’ and ‘journal’ are both derived ultimately from the latin word ‘diurnal’ or day, whose derivitives ‘diurnis’ and ‘diurnalis’ metamorphosed into the Old French words ‘jornee’ and ‘jornal’, both to do with daily activities and events, and then to the English ‘journey’ and ‘journal’

Lets be a bit more sophisticated in the way we structure our stories and look at the hero’s journey which Pixar has so superbly adapted to its portfolio of amazing films. Today we exchange supernatural powers for personal and difficult emotions that must be overcome. We survive our challenges with help gained on the journey, and this leads to an important discovery of self-knowledge or insight. This courage and wisdom becomes the modern day gift or boon to help our fellow human beings.

Our lives as an endless succession of hero’s journeys. New adventures, new horizons, accept or refuse, either could lead to fame or fiasco.

And it helps to know that journeys and stories follow a pattern, and this helps us to navigate future journeys and stories more efficiently, as long as we tell ourselves the true story.

I’ve only touched on the subject here. You’ll find more to help you on this page including some great videos and texts, as well as an example of my own money story and my own analysis of Pixar’s film ‘Up’.

So here is a good time, at the beginning of the year, to get into the habit of journalling, of writing down your own stories of your own daily journeys, small or large, always important.

I’ve found the ‘Day One’ app to be really useful for this and recommend it.

And when you journal, always remember to ask yourselves at the end those two questions ‘So what?’ and ‘What next?’

Thank you for being with me today, and I look forward to hearing your stories in the fullness of time.

All about stories

In the search for a wholehearted, fulfilled lives our stories matter. Other people’s stories matter. Stories bring meaning to our lives. Stories are the best means we have for learning, teaching and communicating. So the rest of this post is dedicated to the art of the story and our traveller’s tales.

Why stories matter

Here are fifteen reasons why stories matter, and why its important to craft and tell our journey’s story.

  1. Stories help us to protect ourselves by identifying danger situations and suggesting the right response
  2. Our brain is hard wired for stories; stories connect better than abstractions
  3. Re-writing our probably false first draft as a truer draft builds our personal integrity
  4. Stories often tell a common journey that tells us more about ourselves as we analyse it
  5. Stories follow a pattern; once we know the pattern it’s easier to navigate or survive the next story
  6. Stories contain symbols, motifs, structures that can connect us to our deeper selves
  7. We are all doing the best we can; we are all heroes; stories help us identify the hero in us
  8. Telling our own story teaches us about ourselves
  9. Telling our own story leaves us vulnerable, and vulnerability is ‘the birthplace of creativity, change and innovation’ (Brené Brown)
  10. We learn from listening to other people’s stories
  11. Stories help to identify feelings and emotions that we might not otherwise be aware of
  12. Stories are a way of passing on values and traditions and identifying boundaries
  13. Stories are the cement that binds together a community
  14. Stories are persuasive and one of the best ways to tell people what we want and what we want them to do.
  15. Telling a story that we make up to compensate for inadequate data helps us discover what we need to know
  16. Your story matters because you matter

Kristian Williams’ look at what makes a story relatable through Pixar’s eyes.

A struture for stories

Emma Coates, one time storyboard artist at Pixar suggests a structure to all Pixar movies which makes them truly special (this is just one of her well-known 22 rules of story telling):

  1. Once upon a time there was…
  2. Every day…
  3. One day…
  4. Because of that…
  5. And because of that…
  6. Until finally

Take Finding Nemo as an example (full credit to Jay Connor at workingdifferenely.org and his Pixar Pitch post):

  1. Once upon a time there was…a widowed fish, named Marlin, who was extremely protective of his only son, Nemo.
  2. Every day…Marlin warned Nemo of the ocean’s dangers and implored him not to swim far away.
  3. One day…in an act of defiance, Nemo ignores his father’s warnings and swims into the open water.
  4. Because of that…he is captured by a diver and ends up in the fish tank of a dentist in Sydney.
  5. And because of that…Marlin sets off on a journey to recover Nemo, enlisting the help of other sea creatures along the way
  6. Until finally…Marlin and Nemo find each other, reunite and learn that love depends on trust

KEN Robinson’s TED talk on creativity has much to teach us and we will come back to it. For now, note how he uses stories to teach, entertain and communicate.

Practical story telling

I invite you now to participate in some practical story telling in a three part process.

First, read my own analysis of the Pixar film Up, which I reproduce below. I did this as part of Bren´Brown’s Living Brave semester, a substantial part of which is devoted to story, and which I thoroughly recommend if you ever get the chance to enrol. Note how I’ve broken the story into different parts, similar to those described by Emma Coates above. And by the way, if you haven’t seen Up do watch it. besides being a remarkable film it has some powerful lessons for us, not least in the arena of financial planning and letting go (which is our topic for next month)

Next, watch the video of my own story. You’v probably seen it before so this time concentrate on how it and my journey follow a pattern. What do you think is the ‘inciting moment’ as Brené Brown calls it, or ‘One day…’ as Coates calls it? Where do I hit rock bottom, and what then happens? Brown tells us the ‘The middle is messy, but its where the magic happens’. Do you agree?

Finally, take an episode from your own life and write your own story, highlighting the different phases of the story using this or any other structure.

1 Breaking down Up

ACT 1: Rules of the world, challenge accepted, the inciting incident

Describe the challenge that your character faces.

My story is the Pixar film ‘Up’. The elderly hero is Carl, who in his youth met and then married childhood sweetheart and young adventurer Ellie. Their challenge in marriage is to break out of the conventional world, follow in the footsteps of explorer Charles Muntz and go together on an adventure to live at the top of Paradise Falls in South America. Ellie makes Carl promise this as part of their wedding vows.

Unfortunately, they never make it together. Lack of money, a miscarriage and the grind of life simply get in the way until Carl eventually remembers the childhood promise. He buys tickets to South America as a surprise for Ellie, but it is too late: Ellie is very ill and dies, leaving Carl alone and the promise unfulfilled.

How does s/he first respond to the challenge?

Does the character deny the problem? Blame someone else? Avoid the issue? Look for an easy answer? Fall apart? Run? Shut down? Get angry?

Carl starts with enthusiasm. With Ellie they try to save for their adventure, but with little success. As they grow older without achieving their new life they fall into a sort of melancholy. To be fair, they are quite philosophical about it, until Carl, presumably in a fit of shame at not being a successful husband decides it his fault that they haven’t got to Paradise falls, which triggers him to run out and buy tickets anyway, by which time it is too late.

After Ellie’s death Carl looses the will to go on. He is angry and sad, and takes it out on the world around him whilst trying to cling on to memories of Ellie in his house. He becomes bitter, blaming the world and the surrounding development for his ills.

Pick a few ground rules that were established.

We are in America. The main characters are Ellie and Carl. We meet them as children and see their life into old age and death in the first ten minutes.

Adventure – as characterised by explorer Charles Muntz – is central to the story. Carl and Ellie dream constantly of breaking out of the conventional life, their mundane jobs as a balloon salesman and zoo keeper, and heading to Paradise Falls.

They have their ups and downs, remain very much in love with each other, are essentially kind and compassionate, mild mannered and not greedy or pushy. Indeed, in Brené Brown terms, we see a couple who believe themselves to be enough, except for two things. They don’t have children and they haven’t made it to Paradise Falls together.

After Ellie’s death another character, Russell, makes an appearance. He is a young wilderness explorer scout. Russell’s and Carl’s stories become deeply entwined as the film moves on.

What is the inciting incident (their “face down” moment)?

What happens that forces the character to finally turn toward the problem and face the challenge? 

After Ellie’s death, Carl gets into a fight with the foreman of the tower block development next door, and is ordered by the judge to leave the home he and Ellie have lived in since their marriage and take up residence in the Shady Oaks Retirement Home. Carl cannot handle this and decides, for better or for worse and in spite of his age, loneliness and frailty, that now is the time to head for Paradise Falls.

ACT 2: Comfortable solutions, learning, the lowest of the low

What comfortable ways does your character look for to solve the problem?

During Ellie’s lifetime we get the sense that the Paradise Falls adventure is a great idea, but life is just not going to let them do it. There is feeling that they can always sit back and blame life for not giving them the opportunity to get to Paradise Falls, so they ‘solve’ the problem by using life as an excuse to leave the project on the back burner. They remain comfortable, but unfulfilled.

Carl tries to solve the problem by buying tickets at the last minute. Its not necessarily comfortable in itself as money is short, but it probably gives Carl the comfort of actually doing something to get to Paradise Falls

Name the experiences and/or emotions that s/he needs to rumble with in order to really solve the problem.

Accountability (Carl’s too late purchase of the tickets)
Anger and blame (Carl’s attack on the foreman)
Boundaries (kept too narrow and comfortable – Carl and Ellie should rumble with expanding their boundaries)
Disappointment (a recurring feature of their lives)
Expectations (their expectation of Paradise Falls is based more on desire than practicalities
Failure (this really hits Carl after Ellie’s death)
Grief (Carl for Ellie, Carl for Paradise Falls)
Heartbreak
Integrity (it can be inferred that Carl and Ellie suffer from fractured integrity as they, possibly subconsciously, have chosen comfort over courage)
Regret (this is partly what drives Carl to Paradise Falls in the end) Self-worth (Carl definitely has issues here)
Shame (almost certainly applies to Carl after the incident with the foreman and the judge’s decision)
Spirituality (difficult one, but its arguable that Carl achieves a greater connection with Ellie (as a memory) after her death than before). It certainly brings perspective and meaning to Carl’s life later in the film)
Vulnerability (Carl sheds his entire armour after the judge’s ruling and acts with great creativity and courage)
Wholeheartedness (arguably they have never lived wholehearted lives, and Carl even less so after Ellie’s death. The beauty of the film is how Carl’s acceptance of vulnerability leads to him becoming totally wholehearted, generous, forgiving, compassionate and kind at the end of the film

What is an example of your character’s lowest of the low?

After the fight with Muntz, with his house and possessions half destroyed by fire, Russell’s respect for him in tatters and Kevin (a rare bird) left in great danger, Carl hits rock bottom, is overcome with sadness for the loss of Ellie and shame for his failure to get to Paradise Falls.

What story do you think your character is making up or telling himself or herself about what’s happening?

At this point Carl is telling himself that he always has been and always will be useless (although, having got this far its very obvious that he is not). He is telling himself he has lost his friend Russell (although this is not actually true – Russell sees the safety of Kevin as a higher priority).

ACT 3: Lessons learnt, redemption, forgiveness

What role did vulnerability play in your character’s growth and learning?

If the definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure – how did your character face and handle these experiences? 

This is huge. Triggered by the threat of loosing his home and memories, Carl sheds all his armour, launches himself on the adventure they have been discussing all their lives, takes huge risks and exposes himself to emotional hurt by accepting Russell’s friendship.

How was s/he called to go into the arena?

Ellie’s death, the surrounding developments, Carl’s personal sense of failure, guilt and frustration, the threat to his environment

What courage did you see in her/his vulnerability?

Immense. Once Carl becomes vulnerable he changes entirely, becoming courageous, creative, compassionate and brave.

Identify one or two values that drive and inspire your main character.

Self-respect, adventure, freedom, giving back (eventually), home, kindness, love, nature, safety, travel.

2 My story

This is a video of my story of my journey, almost literally, from the dark to the light. As you watch it, identify the various stages of the journey / story and try to assess what was happening to me at the time.

3 Your story and next steps

Now, write your own story of an episode or journey in your life. Please share it if you wish to do so. How does it make you feel? What impact has structuring your story had on you.

What next for you?

We will return to our journeys and stories again. One important aspect of story telling which is so relevant to our quest for wholehearted living is the way we deal with failure and shame. Story is important here and in September I’ll illustrate with another of my stories who telling ourselves a false story is dangerous and debilitating.

I’ll share a final thought with you, which is this quote from Brené Brown:

‘Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do’