A story that changed me

A picture of slices of Swiss cheese
What kind of cheese are you looking for?

People often ask me what this storytelling business is all about. I was recently asked to think about a book that changed me. I was bamboozled by the question at first. Which book should I choose?

I am a perpetual student, I’m always learning about something. But a book which taught me about a subject is not the same as a book which altered my opinion or the way I think about things. My first thought was Hannah Arendt’s On Violence. This might seem an odd choice but it was a set text and I didn’t want to read it. I fought with it sitting by a swimming pool on holiday in Madeira for several pages and then suddenly I got it and couldn’t put it down. I changed my opinion about the book, the book didn’t change me.

Next I remembered Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegurt. I read this when I was 16 and it’s stayed with me ever since. Then by chance I read an article which reminded me of some of the texts I read when I started studying history as a discipline. I ordered a new copy of E H Carr’s On History. Reading this had been the first time I had really thought about where historical ‘facts’ come from and that they are part of a constructed narrative. We’re told the stories that matter to a particular story arc; other stories are forgotten or hidden from sight. At this point I could have written about Foucault, whose work seriously threatened my firm belief in us being agents of our own destiny.

And then I remembered Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson. If you haven’t read it, this is a tale about two mice Sniff and Scurry and two Little People Hem and Haw who live in a maze. Every day they set off through the maze in pursuit of cheese. One day they find a massive stockpile of cheese. It’s fantastic. They settle down and enjoy their cheese for ages until one day, they discover the cheese is gone! Each character in the story reacts differently to this radical change in circumstances.

Who Moved My Cheese? Is about resilience, coping with change, self-awareness and self-limiting beliefs. Reading it altered my attitude to life. I signed up for an Open University degree. I got a new job and moved across the country. Both of these decisions led to me meeting someone who later became my husband and we now have two children. Stories matter. They change lives.

Do you have a story which changed you? I would love to know about it. Let me know in the comments.

  • Rachel Extance is a communications consultant. She uses stories to help businesses get their message across.

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