Back before the coronavirus shutdown, I took Brenda to dinner at a treasured restaurant in Cincinnati. Let’s call it Fancy Place. It started as a birthday celebration, but before we had our entrees, things took a surprising turn.
Our waiter was incredibly welcoming and professional, obviously well trained. The management of Fancy Place has a reputation for schooling their staff meticulously in how to treat every guest so that each person experiences their visit as a special moment.
Our waiter and his team did not disappoint. They anticipated our every need with grace and efficiency. His description of the menu brought each plate to life in a beautiful and enticing way. Brenda and I were enjoying the experience long before any food had arrived at the table.
After making our food choices for the meal, our waiter asked, “Would you like anything to drink to compliment your meals? Perhaps I can recommend a wine?”
“Do you have any non-alcoholic options you’d recommend?”
In response, he waxed on about several fabulous non-alcoholic options but became especially animated when he said, “I can also highly recommend one of my favorites, a German root beer called Bavaria (not it’s real name). We tried many root beers to find one worthy of our menu, and then we found Bavaria. You’ll really taste the difference.”
Don’t laugh if you’re a wine snob. We immediately ordered a bottle for Brenda and were genuinely excited to experience this exotic beverage.
The waiter soon brought the root beer to the table, holding it gently in both hands as if he was presenting a bottle of elegant French wine.
I struggled to stifle my laughter as he went through his dramatic presentation and pouring.
The reason I was laughing so hard is that this exclusive and refined beverage he’d just poured for Brenda was surprisingly familiar.
The highly acclaimed Bavaria root beer is the very same root beer my sister brings home for family gatherings. She buys Bavaria in bulk at her local Farm & Fleet store in Illinois.
It’s bottled in Wisconsin, not Germany. And I wonder if Farm & Fleet sells Bavaria in the aisle next to the tractor tires and hog feed.
Let me be clear. I love Bavaria root beer, Farm & Fleet, farmers, and Fancy Place restaurant. This isn’t a slam toward anyone. For me, it shined a light on the power of perception.
It’s ALWAYS how you perceive things, not how things are.
Fancy Place has spent years cultivating its reputation, and it backs it up with fantastic food and fabulous service. They’ve done it so well that before you even call to beg for a reservation, you’ve already bought into the perception that your dining experience will be memorable.
Anyone who’s heard of or dined at Fancy Place tells themselves a story about what a wonderful place it is. The story is so strong that had I not had my own pre-existing story about Bavaria root beer being the bulk brand at Farm & Fleet, I’d have been swept away by the story our waiter told, which I think he believed. I’d have believed that Brenda was, indeed, enjoying an exclusive German delicacy.
We live the stories we tell.
As soon as you and I wake up each morning, we begin telling ourselves stories, stories that are uniquely our own. Most of these stories are similar to the ones we told ourselves the day before and the year before. And whatever those stories are will shape the rest of that day and beyond.
Our stories are so familiar that rarely do you or I think about them as “stories.” They’re the truth. They’re how the world is. They’re reality.
It’s pretty fantastic that each of us gets to tell our own story of the world. When we realize this, it means that we have far more power to influence our experience of any circumstance than we may realize. With that power, we can shape and reshape things that many people believe are set in stone.
But first, we have to realize that EVERYTHING we’re experiencing is being filtered through a story, either yours or someone else’s.
And the story matters more than the facts.
Is Bavaria root beer an exotic root beer or is it the root beer of regular people? Whether you bought yours at a high-end restaurant or at a bulk discount store, it’s the same root beer. But depending on which story you choose, you’ll have a different experience of it.
Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl on Sunday. Just under a year ago, he joined a team that had a losing record in 9 of the 11 previous seasons. Those are the indisputable facts. But the story he helped his team members tell themselves created a very different experience and very different outcomes for all of them.
GameStop is essentially the same company today that it was a few months ago. But the stories a few influential people told about it changed the stories in the minds of many of their followers. Those new stories flipped people’s behaviors and the company’s share price in historic ways.
When Steve Jobs told a radically different story than his team members, they called it his “reality distortion field.” Indeed. Our stories always distort how we experience our world.
Even this post is telling you a story about stories. And I illustrated the story I’m hoping you’ll accept with stories that support it.
Write the story or receive it. Just don’t forget it’s a story.
Every day, you get to tell yourself a story that affects how you live and experience your life. And because there are people who grant you authority, you also have power to influence them to adopt your story about the world.
How often do you remember that?
How much of your precious energy do you invest in pushing against the current reality as you see it? Sometimes, that’s a necessary thing. Yet, it’s not the only move you have available.
You and I could make at least one more move. Without changing the facts, we can tell a different story about them. It can be a story that:
- reduces your frustration levels and shifts your attention to what is possible
- inspires people to want to join you
- helps people view their own capabilities in new ways
The root beer is the root beer. But the story I tell about it will greatly influence how I experience it, even more than its flavor does.
2021 is going to be 2021. But the stories you tell me about it can inspire me to engage or encourage me to give up.
Lead us with your best stories, please.