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Are you bailing out before your happy ending?

Every storyteller knows one thing: a problem in a story is never a final defeat.

Think of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” When we hear in that folktale that Jack is poor, lazy, the child of a single mother, and about to sell their last cow, how do we react? We do NOT say, “That’s hopeless. Forget Jack!”

No! We are interested, because we know there will be a solution even though we can’t imagine yet what it will be.

When things get even worse and Jack trades that cow for 3 beans, we don’t say, “I’m not going to hear the rest of this story. It can’t possibly turn out good!”

Nope. We know that those very beans are likely to, somehow, contain in them the seeds of a happy outcome.

But That’s Just a Story…

You might say, “Well, that’s fiction. Jack’s problems are solved by magic, not by what could really happen.”

What about Nelson Mandela? He was raised in the provinces of a brutally racist and oppressive country. He threw his weight into trying to end that system, into creating a place where both blacks and whites could be enfranchised. The work of Mandela and his party were greeted with ever greater suppression, including his imprisonment.

In prison, though, Mandela continued planning with the other prisoners. He even reached out to his white jailers, trying to create, right there in prison, as much of his dreamed-of society as possible.

If you think it’s preposterous that Jack ended up with all the gold and music he could ever want, is it any more difficult to believe that apartheid could be completely overthrown, and Nelson Mandela could become the first president of a free South Africa?

How Do You Respond?

Whenever there’s a problem with your storytelling – wrestling with a difficult story, struggling to improve your effectiveness or scrambling to find more paying performances – do you act like the characters in the classic stories?

In other words, do you ACT on the knowledge that comes to you from story, on the knowledge that difficulties aren’t final, but that they lead to solutions?

Or are you saying, like so many others in our society, “I probably just don’t have the talent.” Or “Arts don’t get respect; what can I do?” Or “Times are hard; I won’t try to get more work until times are better.”

A Case in Point

Nowhere is this more true than in marketing. People feel that, when times are hard, they shouldn’t invest time, effort or money in their storytelling.

But this is precisely the opposite of what Nelson Mandela and Jack do. And it’s the opposite of what makes sense for storytellers.

When times are hard, some opportunities dry up, just like Jack’s old cow. But because of the hard times, there are new opportunities.

I Was Depressed

For example, in the 1970′s there was an economic down-turn in Massachusetts – just as I finished a graduate certificate in music education.

After years of free-lancing, I had decided that I wanted a part-time job teaching music in an elementary school. I set my sights on a community where I would have a chance to meet with groups of children twice a week. I wanted to be able to teach in depth!

I applied for 5 jobs. By the end of June, I had been turned down for all 5.

I was devastated. I had put so much work into improving my music education skills, but now I wasn’t going to be able to teach.

Then, one day in September, I got a surprise phone call from a non-profit in that same community. The agency director said, “I’m sure you know that, because, of the economic situation, music programs are being cut back.”

Actually, I didn’t know. I had been too discouraged to keep up!

The director continued, “But some parents still want their children to have music enrichment. Would you be willing to teach an after-school music program?”

I said, “I would want classes that met twice a week.”

The director said, “Okay!”

The Seeds Began to Grow

It turned out that there were enough parents who were willing to pay privately to prevent their children from losing out on a year of music education, to fill two classes at that non-profit.

After the classes had already begun, a parent called me. She said, “I just found out about your classes, but they are full. Would you offer two more classes for my two daughters?

I said, “We would need a place to offer them.”

She said, “I have an empty turret room on the third floor of my house. Would you like to see it?”

Within a year, I was teaching 2 twice-weekly courses at the community non-profit and 4 more at parents’ homes!

Not only that: all the music teachers who had gotten the jobs I wanted had been let go. Lack of funds.

What About You?

Right now, you may be tempted to pull back from working on your storytelling. If that’s so, I implore you to remember what you already know as a storyteller: difficulties are just doorways to solutions.

It won’t hurt that so many others are pulling back. In fact, that leaves more room for you, as you offer people ways to overcome the difficulties caused by the downturn.

Act like Jack. Act like Nelson Mandela. If people have new problems, there must be new solutions. How can you and your storytelling contribute to all of us having a happy ending?

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