“A great story is not (just) about providing information. It invites an expansion of understanding, a self-transcendence… It plants the seed for it and makes it impossible to do anything but grow a new understanding — of the world, of our place in it, of ourselves, of some subtle or monumental aspect of existence.” — Maria Popova
Popova wrote that storytelling not only sets standards but also makes us want to live up to them, to transcend them.
Life stories – real and fictional – have been around since Homo Sapiens started sitting around night-fires. They have the power to move, inspire, and teach us lessons to improve our lives.
Here are four short life-stories and takeaways that we hope will do the same for you.
Have fun 🙂
Story #1: What do you bring to the table?
Narada muni went to Vishnu’s abode at Vaikuntha and asked, “Why is Garuda’s (Vishnu’s eagle) statue outside your temple? Am I not your biggest devotee?”
Right then, they heard a loud crash outside. Vishnu said, “Narada, I’ve sent Garuda on an errand. Can you check what happened?”
Eager to prove himself, Naradada rushed out. He returned and said, “A milkmaid slipped and fell and broke her pots.”
“What was her name?” Vishnu asked.
Narada went out, returned and said, “Sharada.”
“What caused her to fall?” Vishnu asked.
Narada started getting irritated. But he went out, returned and said, “A snake crossed her path.”
“Did she break all her pots?”
“Go find out yourself!” Narada snapped.
“Find out, Narada,” Vishnu said patiently.
“Why?” Narada asked.
“I might want to buy some milk,” Vishnu said.
Narada went out reluctantly. On returning, he said, “She broke two pots. But she’s willing to sell you milk from the others.”
“And the price of the milk?”
“Oh, I forgot to ask,” Narada said, rushing out.
Right then, Garuda swooped in, oblivious to what happened.
Vishnu stopped Narada and said to Garuda, “There was a crashing noise outside. Could you go and check what happened?”
Then Vishnu whispered to Narada, “Let’s see how he does.”
After a few minutes, Garuda returned and said, “A milkmaid named Sharada got startled by a snake and fell down. She broke two pots of milk and is wondering what to do. I suggested she sell some milk to you. You are the husband of the Goddess of Wealth, after all.”
“And the price of the milk?”
“Four copper coins,” Garuda responded immediately.
Vishnu laughed and his eyes met Narada’s, who realized why Garuda’s statue always stands outside a Vishnu temple.
Real value gets created when you anticipate what people need and give it to them. When you create value for others, you put yourself in a position to receive it too.
Takeaway: Those who bring value to the table are the ones who get valued. And value gets defined by the receiver more than the giver. How are you adding value to your stakeholders?
Story source: Business Sutra by Devdutt Pattanaik
Story #2: Should you go big or go home?
Julie, a divorced mother of two, was depressed and overwhelmed. She needed help with high-blood pressure and fatigue.
Her excess weight and soaring stress levels put her at risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and deeper depression. If she didn’t start exercising, she would ride the downward spiral of disease and despair.
Yet, her stressed lifestyle made it impossible for her to join an aerobics class, wake an hour early, or commit to health five times a week.
The only solace of this woman who was burning out just to keep her children fed was half an hour on the couch in the evenings.
The earlier doctors told Julie to exercise rigorously. As a result, she felt both misunderstood (“How will I find time? You don’t understand me at all?”) and guilty. The doctors would get frustrated to see their advice ignored and give up.
Robert Maurer chose to break this vicious cycle. He asked Julie, “How about if you just march in place front of the television, each day, for one minute?”
Julie’s face brightened up and she promised to give it a try. This embarrassingly small step wouldn’t be hard to follow.
During the second visit, Maurer noticed that Julie’s attitude improved. Instead of coming back discouraged like most failed exercisers, she was more animated and less resistant.
“What else can I do in one minute?” she asked enthusiastically?
Slowly, the doctors built one-minute exercises into Julie’s routine, guiding her towards a healthier life.
Within a few months, Julie’s resistance to a wholesome fitness program dissolved completely. She joined an aerobics class and remained regular.
Takeaway: The journey to a thousand miles begins with a single step. Set tiny goals and achieve them. Scaling up from there becomes easier. What small steps will you take to improve the quality of your life?
Story source: The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer, Ph.D.
Story #3: What it takes to become successful.
During the Renaissance era, people hailed Michelangelo as a genius, especially since he sculpted the Pietà the tender age of 24 years.
But Michelangelo begged to differ. “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all,” he said.
Michelangelo’s life before the Pietà was as follows.
From age six to ten, he lived with a stonecutter, learning how to handle a hammer and chisel. Then he apprenticed under the great Ghirlandaio to sketch, copy and prepare frescoes in one of Florence’s largest churches.
Next, he got tutored by master sculptor Bertoldo and other luminaries until the age of seventeen. At twenty-four, he produced the Pietà.
Talent creates an opportunity to succeed. But talent doesn’t always come naturally, nor does it guarantee success. With persistence, continuous action, and patience, one can build talent and achieve their goals.
Takeaway: Sustainable overnight success is often a result of years of patience and toil behind the scenes. Talent alone never brings success. Hard work, persistence, and resilience are far more valuable.
Story Source: The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
Story #4: The enormous power of stretch goals.
After World War II, Japan was struggling to get back to its feet.
A large population resided in the cities of Osaka and Tokyo which were 320 miles apart. Raw material and labor got transported between both those cities by train in large amounts. However, each journey could take up to twenty-four hours because of mountainous terrain and a redundant railway system.
In 1955, the railway ministry challenged the nation’s finest engineers to invent a faster train.
Six months later, the team unveiled a prototype. Traveling at 65 miles an hour, it was one of the fastest passenger trains in the world.
But the railway system’s head wanted a train which traveled at 120 miles per hour.
Impossible, the engineers said. If a train turned sharply at those speeds, the centrifugal force could derail cars. To avoid turning, the train would have to go through tunnels in the mountainous terrain, building which would cost as much as rebuilding Tokyo after the war. 75 miles per hour was more realistic.
But the systems head believed in naukatsu – never compromise. He pushed everyone working on the project to do the same.
The engineers returned to the drawing board and made hundreds of innovations, many of which increased the speed of the train by half a mile an hour.
In 1964, the world’s first bullet train – Tōkaidō Shinkansen – made its inaugural journey between Tokyo and Osaka. It passed through tunnels cut in Japan’s mountains to complete its journey in three hours and fifty-eight minutes, averaging 120 miles an hour.
Soon, bullet trains were running to other Japanese cities and fueling a dramatic economic expansion. A study in 2014 showed that the development of bullet trains was critical in spurting Japan’s economy until well into the 1980s.
Within a decade of the Tōkaidō Shinkansen, technologies developed in Japan spawned high-speed rail projects in France, Germany and Australia, and revolutionized industrial design across the world.
A stretch goal pushed the team to think outside the box and begin a national (and global) revolution.
Takeaway: If you set a goal to improve by 5%, you can achieve it by working longer hours. But if you set an audacious goal to improve by around 30%, you think outside the box and devise innovative ways to achieve it. What kind of stretch goals will you set for yourself and your team today?
Story Source: Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg
Which was your favorite story? How will you apply the takeaways in your life? Do leave a comment. We would love to hear from you.