What Is Your Origin Story, and Does It Matter?

Every hero or leader has an origin story. Why do we care about where someone came from? Sometimes we simply have a sense of curiosity about someone we meet. Often the interest in someone’s origin is to help us understand her present behavior or how she achieved so much. We believe that if we learn where she came from, who her family was, what she experienced then we would understand her.

If we were to be honest, the origin stories we most care about are the individuals who have achieved greatness or notoriety. Those who stand out the most make us want to learn their stories. How did they become who they are today? Why do they do what they do? We think we want to understand them, but really we are trying to understand our story better.

The latest neuroscience research has only confirmed what we already knew about humans. We love a good story. But it is more than love; we need a good story. We are wired to infer a causal relationship between everything we experience. The more stories we consume, the better we get at communicating a story of our lives. (StoryCorps is a great place to start to consuming profound stories of normal people.)

In the paragraph above, I deliberately wrote a story of our lives not the story of our lives. Do you know how many books have been written on the life of Lincoln, Jesus, Hitler, etc? We are still trying to understand these influential people and so we keep writing and we keep reading. Similar to the cooking challenges we watch on TV, the chefs are given the same ingredients and are asked to make something unique, we are always gathering the disparate ingredients of our lives and trying to make it cohere into something meaningful.

Just like the most interesting super heroes and villains, you and I have origin stories. An origin story is simply your answer to the following question: How do you make sense of how you have arrived to this day? Origin stories are interesting because they are driven and defined by a future event. The arc is defined and the story plays out. The hook in the story is the desire to discover and understand the how and why of the character. It is not to discover the plot. It is to fill in the blanks. It is to make the inexplicable accessible.

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