A Storytelling Takeover
By Brandon Telg and Jaron Jones
Over the next week, Self Narrate, a Gainesville-based nonprofit run by two franksters, will be taking over frank’s social media presence. To kick off the week, we wanted to introduce ourselves and what we do to the frank community.
Self Narrate is a nonprofit organization dedicated to personal story development. The co-founders, Brandon Telg and Dr. Jaron Jones, empower their community by helping people craft and share their personal stories. Storytelling is a powerful tool for developing self-efficacy, building relationships and gaining perspective.
Self Narrate started with a simple challenge: “Tell me your story.”
Brandon and Jaron met in their first graduate class at the University of Florida, which was on interpersonal leadership. They were both pursuing degrees in the leadership development program; Jaron had just started his Ph.D., and Brandon was working on his master’s. The premise of this interpersonal leadership course was how it is necessary to know about yourself before you can lead anyone else.
The main activity for the class was presenting a 20-minute personal story about a moment in each student’s life. This story needed to be about a paradigm shifting moment of dynamic change.
Brandon and Jaron quickly realized that the last time anyone asked them to tell a story about something important to them was likely show-and-tell in kindergarten. They both had a challenging time figuring out what story they would each share, but after they completed the activity, they had a realization. Developing their stories, sharing them with an audience and receiving positive feedback from their peers was motivating. They felt great about themselves. They realized that they had overcome some tough life situations and that they can overcome anything that lies ahead in the future.
This experience was so revelatory for them, they knew that they couldn’t let this stay in that classroom. Their final assignment for the class was a group project. They had to go out into the community and create change. They knew what they had to do.
They decided that they would set up at different locations around the University of Florida campus with a sign that read, “Tell us a story, and we’ll give you a dollar.” What could be more motivating to broke college students than “free” money? They were so excited to share this storytelling experience with other students. More than 5,000 students walked past them each day. Can you guess how many students stopped to share their stories? Three. Just three students approached their handwritten sign that first day. Each day after was a similar experience. Neither Brandon nor Jaron could understand this phenomenon. It didn’t make sense. They couldn’t pay people to share their stories? When the dollar menu is a main food group for many college students, they couldn’t understand what was happening. So they decided to ask.
The students who did share their stories relayed two important facts. First, they thought there was a catch to the activity. And to be fair, the sign did look a bit suspicious. After all, Brandon’s handwriting is… objectively not great. Second, they said that they didn’t feel they had a story that was important enough to share. Both Jaron and Brandon were so disheartened because they believe that every person’s story matters.
From that moment on, they knew that they had to bring storytelling to their community and to the world. They saw a need to create a way for anyone to develop and share their story. So they did.
Jaron and Brandon developed a method to help people write their stories for the first time. They led workshops throughout the community for schools, nonprofits and other community-focused organizations. Over time, they facilitated numerous story development workshops, have had story development papers published, hosted large-scale story-focused events and even co-authored a book on how to write your story.
Ultimately, Jaron and Brandon want every person that comes in contact with the work of Self Narrate to understand two simple truths:
You Have a Story and Your Story Matters.
We all carry an innate desire to discover the meaning of our lives, to connect the dots, to interact with the world, and determine what our experiences mean to us. This quest for self-understanding is part of what makes us human. Humans have been telling stories for as long as we’ve existed, in order to understand and share the meaning of our experiences.
You are the only person who has lived through your unique experiences in life, who has encountered the same relationships and lessons and hardships at the same moments. No one else ever has or will interact with the world in the exact same way as you. The context of your life generates a wonderfully remarkable setting for your story, and your story alone.
Never stop identifying the key moments in your life. Always continue to find the truths in your story – about you, your life, and your experiences. Each moment of your life has tremendous meaning. Sometimes we just have to look at the big picture in order to discover our stories.
Read some of their work in partnership with the University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences.