What’s Your Story?

One of my most rewarding experiences at INSEAD has been my involvement with the Storytelling Club, where students share personal stories, usually completely unrelated to their professional personas. 

You don’t hear many stories at business school. You’ll quickly find that most of your conversations center on your last job, your classes, your future job, or an upcoming trip. 

When I arrived at INSEAD, my roommates invited me to join them at a session of the Story Club. One woman told a story about her grandmother’s true love, a story of heroism, drama, and heartbreak between holocaust survivors during World War II. Another student told a story of how he and his mother coped with his father’s death when he was a boy, and how that shaped the rest of his life. They were amazing stories with humor and tears throughout. 

I was hooked. 

Storytelling is an old pastime in my family and culture. I remember trips to Bangladesh as a kid, sitting on the bed with my cousins or having tea on the porch with my aunts and uncles. We could sit for hours telling stories about the old days, the new days, and everything in between. Did my uncle really hitchhike from London to Dhaka and then assume a new identity? Did my cousin really flip five times in the air after crashing his motorcycle and miraculously land on his feet with no injuries? Did my aunt really marry my uncle because she was too vain to wear her glasses during their courtship and thought he was more handsome than he really was? Whether or not these stories were grossly exaggerated, I love that feeling of laughing until I cry, my heart racing as I wait for the end of a suspenseful story, or hearing tales of adventure and drama. 

It must have been this upbringing that made me love storytelling so much.

I love it when I meet someone new and we spend hours hearing each other’s stories. It seems to awaken some happy brain chemicals, but more importantly, I think it’s the best way to get to know a person. Aside from the sheer joy of hearing a story, you find out so much through what someone chooses to tell you. What do they think is important? What do they find funny? What has meaning for them? What shaped their lives?

With INSEAD’s Story Club, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know many of my classmates by listening to and coaching them through their stories. In a class of 500+ people, it’s impossible to really know everyone, so the club has helped me connect with people I might not have otherwise met. It also helps me get to know them on a deeper level than the usual “What did you do before? And what are you recruiting for?” kind of talk. Storytellers always say they liked the experience, both of sharing another side of themselves with their classmates, and the internal process of crafting the story and reflecting on their experiences. 

I’m hoping this post inspires some readers to think about their own stories or to ask their friends and loved ones to tell them more of theirs. It is a gift to able to understand the world as someone else experiences it, and I love doing that. I’m not sure if any other business schools have a group like this. This has made INSEAD special for me.