I was probably about eight years old when I realized that being a storyteller was an actual occupation, and I set my sights on it quickly. When parents’ friends and teachers asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was no longer a vet (I loved dogs) or an actress (I was pretty dramatic). It was “telling stories.” Then, as I got older, it was “the next J.K. Rowling.” As I got even older, my dream of writing professionally was trimmed and cropped so that it sounded plausible, doable, to those who skeptically raised their eyebrows at me when I told them I was majoring in English.
“A writer,” I’d correct them when they asked if it was because I wanted to be a high school teacher.
But I stood my ground. For the longest time, I stood my ground. I devoured books, I kept a compact Moleskine journal on my person at all times to scribble in, and I memorized that Robin Williams quote from the film The Dead Poets Society: “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” Man, I used that quote to justify my entire career trajectory. I’m passionate, I would tell myself. I’m staying alive for something that’s meaningful.
My dad was a business professor, and he started me young: he’d come home from work and toss me a glossy copy of the newest BusinessWeek.
“Read this,” he’d say, “because the world is a business.” And I’d take the magazine, skim the words, and try to understand how it was relevant when all I wanted to do was tell stories.
It wasn’t until I got my MBA, fell in love with marketing, and became a business consultant that I realized all those years of stubbornly insisting the business realm was soulless, cold, and nothing like my beloved books was completely wrong. That, maybe, in fact, Robin Williams was wrong too.
Business is passion. You can’t start, own, or run a business without it. And, in a way, every single business has a story at its core – especially small businesses, the ones who are truly the building blocks of communities, families, and economies everywhere.
I’ve seen it firsthand with business owners who pour everything into their business, from a startup golf course to a cozy coffee shop to a brewery enriched by its town’s history. I’ve seen it with people who will fight tooth and nail to keep their businesses open so they can serve the customers who rely on them day in and day out. These businesses are what they stay alive for, and they wouldn’t do that if they weren’t filled with meaning for what they do. I’ve probably seen more passion play out on this small stage I command as a business consultant than I ever have between the pages of my books.
While I may not be a published author (yet), I have, in a way, achieved my dream of becoming a storyteller: through the clients I help and the small businesses I support. We can all do our part in telling a story bigger than ourselves for each and every one of them.