How I Became a Professional Storyteller
Stride: Michael, you’re a professional storyteller. Not a title many people pursue. How did you get here?
Michael: I believe we teach what we need to learn most. I got into storytelling because I used to suck at telling my story. I’ve always been good with words and ideas, yet I would find myself in high-stakes situations, somehow lost in translation, tongue tied and twisted.
Stride: So what did you do?
Michael: Well, before I began pursuing storytelling full-time, I had another life. Right out of college, I became a social entrepreneur. It was the late 90s in Boston… right place at the right time, and I had a lot of very quick success. I’m 22 years-old and the Rockefeller and Ford foundations are funding my organization, which was addressing digital divide issues. But within 12 months of that success, the whole thing crashed and burned… classic startup burnout story. I had a physical and emotional breakdown, and I totally hit the wall.
Stride: Whoa, what happened next?
Michael: I was so sick and delirious in bed – circulatory stuff, weird things nobody could explain – and all I could think about was my work. When I came out of that delirium, I was like what the heck? I’m this sick and all I can think about is this deadline, or this commitment. I have to reorient my priorities. So I left the organization I started and did a six-month sabbatical living and working at the leading yoga retreat center in the US.
Stride: Did you experience a transformation during those six months?
Michael: I really started looking at my own story. In that process, I realized how powerful the stories we tell are in the world. With story, you’re tapping into the DNA source code of humanity – how any idea manifests into culture. The process of how we dream something into reality is both our greatest tool for liberation and our place of suffering. This realization cracked the egg open for me.
Stride: What did you do immediately following your sabbatical to turn your new idea into reality?
Michael: Coming out of that experience, I recognized something missing from the innovation conversation – how we tell the story about innovation. I created my own custom learning agenda, and got paid to study what I was most interested in. Yet, for the first six months as a self-titled “organizational change consultant” I brought in zero income. People were like, who the hell is this kid? Usually, when you think of an organizational change consultant, they’ve got a few more grey hairs [laughs].
Stride: How did you make it financially those first 6 months?
Michael: Definitely credit card debt. I was also waiting tables. I had to really stick to my guns – it was clear to me that I was not born to live and work in a cubicle. I’ve been chronically unemployable my entire career – I’ve never had a real job, I’ve always had to create something for myself. That I was going to be hired for my story.
Stride: Was there a moment that gave Get Storied the traction to become a sustainable business?
Michael: I went through a really tough 3-year divorce process, and in the middle of that, I had the greatest creative renaissance of my life – I self-published a book in 90 days called Believe Me, which is a storytelling manifesto for change-makers and innovators. That book was a conversation starter, my new calling card. It became the platform for Get Storied.
Stride: You work with a lot of big companies now. How did you land your first big client?
Michael: I’m a big believer that chance comes to the prepared mind – show up to the dojo every day and practice, in whatever form that takes for you. From there, you have to make yourself discoverable. My first big “discovery” (client) was Ernst & Young. I was speaking at a Smithsonian storytelling conference, and this guy in the audience from E&Y approached me after. I was young and green, but he had one of those I have to work with this guy moments.
Stride: Please elaborate on becoming more discoverable. Many of us who are self-employed could benefit from that.
Michael: Google is the new background check – before any business meeting you’ve been googled. This means people are experiencing your story before they experience you in real life. If you tell your story well, you won’t have to sell them a darn thing… they’ll already be convinced. For me, they’ve already watched a couple of my videos, read a few articles I’ve written… they’ve already built a relationship with me, and that can even happen while I’m sleeping.
Stride: As a storytelling teacher, what’s the best advice you have for people telling their own story (business or personal)?
Michael: In the back of everyone’s mind, this is the #1 question: Are you selling me crap, or do you give a crap? You ask yourself this question on every single item in your inbox and social media feed. Which is really another way of asking yourself: do I belong in this story? Is this for me?
In our personal stories, we don’t spend enough time getting to know who we want to be in relationship with. Get clear about your audience – really understand what they want, and what gets in their way. You only learn that by really witnessing, listening, living in their world. Then roll up your sleeves. [please read Michael’s 6-step guide to making your self-employed story stronger]
Stride: How did you find Stride?
Michael: I asked my social media community for recommendations and a friend of mine mentioned Stride. Look, the reality is that health insurance is a broken industry, but at least with you guys, it was an easy process – I could just click through a few screens and easily look at my options. I just wanted name brand health insurance that gives me good coverage, and you guys made it so easy.
Stride: What’s your biggest health concern for America?
Michael: Learning the art of self-care… investing in self-care versus the modern-day martyrdom of grinding yourself into the ground. We’re living in really evolutionary times – we have so many opportunities in our lives, so many more experiences available, we’re so overstimulated. We need to learn the art of being versus doing. A lot of people want to live really big, ambitious, extraordinary lives, but they’re not building the container to hold it, to really allow themselves to expand into their lives. That’s what self-care is all about, strengthening the container for good things to unfold.
Stride: I noticed that you eat more chocolate than the average human. What is your go-to type?
Michael: It’s called Apurimac. It’s 100% pure and uncut, from a sacred valley in Peru. It’s made by Domori out of Italy, and it’s my daily chocolate… I’m actually eating some as we speak.
[Michael Margolis is an educator, anthropologist, and business storyteller. He helps change-agents and innovators tell their bigger story. His work has been featured by Google, Fast Company, TEDx among other places. Michael is left-handed, color-blind, and eats more chocolate than the average human. Check out his tribe of 250,000+ on twitter @getstoried, and for further learning, access his free storytelling mini-course at www.getstoried.com/redpill]