The Two Most Powerful Words In Storytelling

The Two Most Powerful Words In Storytelling

Recent studies show that depression is at an all time high, and is steadily increasing since the rise of social media.[1]

Perhaps the reason is because we’re constantly comparing our everyday lives to everyone else’s highlight reel.

I, too, was guilty of posting only the best moments of my life on social media – the vacation photos, the awards, the celebrations – because who wants to share the boring or the painful moments, right? But I’ve recently made efforts to be more vulnerable, and to show the bad along with the good.

I’m starting to see a bit more of this vulnerability poke through on some of my friends’ timelines, but for the most part, it is human nature to share only our proudest moments, and avoid the embarrassment of our painful past (or present).

Let’s examine this in one segment of my life journey: Entrepreneurship.

Read the four-paragraph story below. True story, by the way.

Paragraph A: I was once a starving artist, by literal and figurative definitions. I remember nights where all I had to eat for dinner was microwave popcorn. One night in particular stands out in my memory… I had just talked to my mom on the phone, and even though I acted like everything was fine, mother’s intuition told her differently. An hour later, my older brother shows up at my apartment door with a container of leftover spaghetti for me to eat. I guess she could hear in my voice that I was hungry, but I was too proud and independent to ask for help, so she asked my brother to come to my aid as quickly as possible.

Paragraph B: Fast forward to now, and I run several successful businesses that have cumulatively generated millions in revenue, and provide my family with a nice lifestyle. Over the years, we have won awards for business growth, and have been recognized in publications for our industry expertise.

Paragraph C: Of course, the operation of these companies wouldn’t be possible without the amazing team of people we employ, and I find it rewarding to provide meaningful income for others.

Paragraph D: I did not come from an entrepreneurial family, nor did I go to business school, so I am extremely thankful for the knowledge I have learned and implemented over the years, and for the mentors that have guided me along the way. For this reason, I feel it is my duty to teach others about financial empowerment through entrepreneurship, and I do this through public speaking, writing, coaching, and mentorship. I find my purpose in the scripture “Give a [person] a fish, and you feed [her/him] for a day. Teach a [person] to fish, and you feed [her/him] for a lifetime.” – Matthew 4:19

Examining the story arc above, if you were to only read paragraph B (minus the “Fast forward to now” part) in a blog post, a social media post, or otherwise, without any context from the the other 3 paragraphs, you might think I’m just a greedy capitalist douchebag.

Context is important.

The two greatest words in storytelling are “THEN” and “NOW”.

Some other ways of phrasing it are:

  • I used to ____, but now I ____.
  • I was once ____, but now I’m ____.
  • From ____ to _____.
  • How it started vs. how it’s going
  • Before & after

The most impactful stories are the ones that illustrate the greatest character transformation.

Horatio Alger is the author often credited with creating the “rags to riches” narrative, which had a formative effect on the United States during the Gilded Age – an era of economic growth that occurred during the late 19th century, from the 1870s to about 1900.

There are other areas of my own life where this has proven true…

How I learned this in fitness

I used to post photos showing off my physique, until a friend casually said to me in conversation that I just “have lucky genetics.” I realized that this person came into my life at a point where I was already in good shape, so from his perspective, I had always been that way.

He didn’t know the background of when I struggled with weight, and was unhappy with my appearance.

He didn’t know that most of my family members are overweight, so I’m genetically prone for obesity.

He didn’t know about the reports from my doctor that I had high cholesterol and too much visceral fat (the belly fat that is directly linked to cardiovascular disease), which motivated me to get intentional about my nutrition and fitness.

So I dug up some old photos of my chubby self (these photos were harder to find because they pre-dated iPhones, so I actually had to find physical albums), and juxtaposed them with recent photos like the one below.

The transformation inspired many of my friends and followers.

Now, instead of them writing me off as lucky, they asked about my formula and how went from A to B. Most people who know me well, also know that I’m a busy guy and I don’t spend hours in the gym, so my process intrigued them even more.

The details of my fitness journey are beyond the scope of this post, but I break it all down in my 6 Pack Dads program.

In popular media

If you think about your favorite movies, TV shows, songs, books, and the characters within them, we see tons of examples of the “then & now” format in popular media.

In the classic rap song Juicy, by The Notorious B.I.G., the entire song, and nearly every bar within, is a contrasting statement illustrating how the late Christopher Wallace went from poor to wealthy, unknown to famous, unwanted to desired, criminal to legitimate, etc.

Lyric excerpts from Juicy (The Notorious B.I.G.)


When we tell stories in this way, it inspires others.

When we omit the negative, it breeds resentment and increases depression in society.

When the wrong people feel depressed, hopeless, envious, and enraged, they express their frustration by hurting themselves and others.

So how can you help?

Next time you post a vacation photo, consider juxtaposing it with the long days you’ve been putting in at work.

Next time you post photos of your six pack abs, consider showing off your previously fat self too.

Next time you show off your exotic car, consider describing the all-nighters it took to get there.

You know inside what it took for you to get here, and why you are proud of this moment; let the world know why too.

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