“Most of us are slaves of the stories we unconsciously tell ourselves about our lives. Freedom begins the moment we become conscious of the plot line we are living and, with this insight, recognize that we can step into another story altogether.”
— Carol S. Pearson, The Hero Within

I came across this quote through the brilliant Sarah Peck. I have told myself many stories in my life and I have slowly released myself from their snare. A recent story I uncovered was that I am a “misfit” and that most people just put up with me in social situations.

This is a story that’s haunted me since I was very small. It’s not that I believed myself to be quirky or misunderstood. This story was much closer to believing that I was “unlovable” or, at the least, “unfriendable.” Despite the mounting evidence to the contrary–I have brilliant, loving, and supportive friends–in recent years, I continued to tell myself this story as I acclimated to a new community and new relationships.

When I became aware of this story, I was able to live a different plot line. I’m no pariah and I don’t need to act like one. That doesn’t make me any less shy or introverted but it does fundamentally change the way I act in relationships.

What does this have to do with your business? Simple. You tell yourself stories about your customers. And most likely, those are limiting stories:

  • They won’t pay enough for this.
  • They want fast & dirty.
  • They like the flash & sparkle of my competition more.
  • They will only buy this a certain way.

Are you a slave to the stories you tell yourself about your customers?

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Often, I work with my clients to bring attention to these stories and the effect they have on the decisions they make in their businesses. A story about their customers not valuing the product or service they receive leads to an artificially low price. A story about the way customers are used to buying can stymie innovation.

This quote from Frederick Buechner appears in Anne Lamott’s classic book on writing, Bird by Bird:

“You avoid forcing your characters to march too steadily to the drumbeat of your artistic purpose. You leave some measure of real freedom for your characters to be themselves. And if minor characters show an inclination to become major characters, as they’re apt to do, you at least give them a shot at it, because in the world of fiction it may take many pages before find out who the major characters really are.”

I used to use this idea to prod my group coaching participants to drop old stories about their customers and allow those customers to grow, evolve, and change.

Our customers are integral characters in the stories of our businesses. In many ways, they are the main characters with our businesses operating more as settings or worldviews and us, as business owners, acting as semi-omniscient narrators.

The stories we tell are the stories of the people we serve. But all too often we pay more attention to parroted beliefs and limiting thoughts than the actual, expansive stories that are playing out in front of us, with us.

When you bring attention to and question the stories you tell yourself about your customers, those same customers–your characters–can help you co-create new stories that take your business in all sorts of new directions.

Truly getting to know those customers, not just the stories you tell yourself about them when you’re frustrated or feeling doubtful, is the key.

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