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Creators' Corner #29 - finding strength through stories

John Nicholas
John Nicholas
5 min read
Creators' Corner #29 - finding strength through stories
Photo of the week: our local swim spot at Saunders' Rock Beach. Morning and evening.

Hey friends 👋. Greetings from Cape Town! We're up to 228 creators this week. Thanks so much for being a subscriber. Here's the previous edition of the newsletter for those of you who missed it. You can also sign up here if someone forwarded you this email.

As always, please reach out if you have any thoughts or ideas. I would love to hear from you.


Line-up this week:

  1. Storytelling Reframe
  2. New sketch: goals vs. anti-goals
  3. Things you might like

1. Storytelling Reframe

The Stoics (Marcus Aurelius and the gang) practiced a number of mental techniques to foster resilience and find tranquility in life.

I wrote about two of these strategies in edition #20:

  • Negative Visualization: when you imagine losing something you take for granted (e.g. your health), you will appreciate it more, and
  • The Last Time Meditation: when you imagine doing something for the last time (e.g. going kayaking), you will be more mindful and grateful in that moment.
“The easiest way for us to gain happiness is to learn how to want the things we already have.” ― William B. Irvine

Another practice the Stoics were fond of is called Storytelling Reframe.

No matter what you're going through in life, as difficult as it may be, there is always one silver lining: you will have a great story to tell afterwards. Or, stated differently: “A good day’s a good day. A bad day’s a good story.”

I first came across this idea in William B. Irvine's book A Guide To The Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. What struck me was that I've used this technique a few times in my writing. And maybe you have too.

  • In Ripples of Resilience, I opened up about my frustration, when I was younger, with under-performing at swimming galas and the lessons I learned from working with a sports psychologist. It was the first time I shared this story.
  • In Creators' Corner #23, I detailed my struggles with job hunting this year. At the time I had interviewed for 25 roles and not landed one of them. I wanted to share this because I felt like a fraud, only sharing the wins from my life and not being honest about the setbacks.

Storytelling Reframe is powerful because it can help us:

  1. Foster resilience. Think of it as a gift our rational brain has given us for reframing our more primitive brain’s emotional reactions. Better yet, by opening up you might feel a weight come off your shoulders. Sharing a true reflection of my career struggles propelled me onto other wins.
  2. Generate ideas. When you reflect on your own setbacks in life, you will quickly realize you have more ideas for writing than you thought you had. Whether that was being locked inside for a year during the pandemic or the details of your worst first date or how your car broke down in the middle of the desert. These are all compelling stories.
  3. Help others. Stories of coping are powerful, not only to you as the storyteller, but to others who can learn from how you overcame the odds. Our stories connect us and make us human.

One last story to close... Cape Town had a city-wide power outage during my mentor session where I was planning on sharing this writing strategy. The irony! I sulked for a couple of minutes (why is this happening to me?!) and then realised this was a good opportunity to practice Storytelling Reframe. My two co-mentors, Melissa Menke and Matt Tillotson, took over and ran an incredible show. Lesson: things are never as serious as you think they may be. Also - surround yourself with good people.


2. New sketch: goals vs. anti-goals

In the previous edition I wrote about the power of anti-goals.

Here's my attempt at illustrating what motivates us more... goals vs. anti-goals... what we want vs what we're afraid of.

“It's a funny thing, Markos, but people mostly have it backward. They think they live by what they want. But really what guides them is what they're afraid of. What they don't want.” ― Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed

3. Things you might like:

  • 📖 Book of the week: West with the Night by Beryl Markham. Comfortably in my top 3 books of the year (together with The Pathless Path and A Guide To The Good Life). In what Hemingway described as “a bloody wonderful book”, Markham chronicles her life growing up in Nairobi in the early 1900s. She trained horses, hunted game and became a legendary bush pilot. She was also the first woman to fly over the Atlantic Ocean from East to West (a feat Amelia Earhart completed in the opposite direction a year before in 1935). A colourful, eventful life.
  • 🎥 Video of the week: The Danger of a Single Side Story by Nigerian author Chimanda Ngozi Adichie. I was chatting with my friend Hanyani about how rich and multi-faceted human lives are and that we often only show one side of ourselves at work. He then sent me this video, in which Adichie describes her early writing being influenced by Western novels and how she took a while to find her own voice and her own story. The first few minutes will give you goosebumps.
  • 📜 Creator of the week: my favourite new follow is The Cultural Tutor. He produces one high-quality thread per day explaining something from the world of art, history and architecture. The crazy thing is the creator behind this account was working at McDonald's up until April and has grown his account to 610,000 followers in 5 months. His philosophy? 1. Publish something every day (the power of deadlines); 2. Read a lot and read widely (you can only think differently to others if you read differently to them).
  • 💬 Quote of the week. Last weekend I had the honour of making a toast at the wedding of one of my closest friends. Francois loves the poem The Man In The Glass by Peter Dale Wimbrow. In many ways he has been my man in the glass and accountability partner over the years. Here's the last stanza:
You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

See you next week. Here's to sharing our stories.

– John


P.S. you can respond directly to this email or drop a comment below.

P.P.S. if you would like to support my writing, please check out my digital products here. I plan to add more of these in the weeks and months to come.

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Actuary and creator.

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