An origin story is a backstory that tells people about you, your business or organisation, or your movement. It tells people why you got started and speaks to your motivations and some of the challenges you may have gone through to get things off the ground.
Some of your favourite movies might have created origin stories for their well-known characters. Both Marvel and DC Comics love a good backstory and if you’re familiar with the 2017 version of Wonder Woman starring Gal Godot, you’ll recognise that as a classic recounting of an origin story. Equally, after the enormous success of episodes 4, 5 and 6 in the Star Wars series, the producers went back and told the origin stories of some of the places and prominent characters in that series, releasing episodes 1, 2 and 3.
Origin stories give people new perspectives and insights into something or someone they thought they knew. That’s exciting for an audience and naturally builds trust and connection with a business, brand, or movement.
What origin story can you tell about your own work?
At the School of Visibility, part of my origin story speaks to why I decided to focus on visibility in my work. It varies in length each time I tell it, but the barebones of it go like this;
In 2016, I was 6 months pregnant and had travelled to the US as a guest at Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit. On the second day, I was sitting in the audience with about 1,000 other attendees. The speaker asked us to close our eyes and consider the deeper purpose we’re here to fulfil and how that might play out in the coming years. I closed my eyes and sat quietly. For a moment I heard nothing and in fact, I had no real expectations of gaining any great insight. At the time I felt quite content that I was on my right path and that I was doing a decent job of fulfilling my purpose in life.
Then, in the silence came the words, ‘Make the invisible, visible.
It was so clear and concise and completely unmistakable.
Of course, I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I felt the weight of it. The gravity. Tears started trickling down my face and the sting of self-consciousness warmed my cheeks.
I had a feeling that everything I’d been working on over the past decade had been moving me toward that message. So I breathed into it, wrote the words down on the postcards we’d been given, and said ‘Yes’ to the universe.
You’ll notice that my origin story is connected to one element of The School of Visibility brand; why it exists. It doesn’t focus on how we get things done, it doesn’t try to express my complete motivation, and it doesn’t tell my whole life story. It’s an anchor point from which a conversation can spread out in multiple directions.
This means that if I’m in an interview where I’m asked to share my origin story, I can then bring in a whole lot of factors, depending on the audience being addressed. I might include:
I think of my origin story as part of a jigsaw puzzle. Not every piece is relevant for every interview, social media post, or page on my website. But in each environment I can pick and choose the pieces that are appropriate to the people I’m speaking to and I can draw those out.
What will your jigsaw puzzle look like?
If you don’t already have an origin story, I recommend spending just 30 minutes considering the following:
Once you’ve made some notes, test out different ways of expressing the same story. Speak it out a few different times and record yourself. Notice what you include and what you leave out. Or draft a few different versions for your website and seek feedback on which resonates. (Your About page is one place you might include your origin story as long as the audience can also see their journey in yours. If not, it’s important that your About page focuses on how you can help the person reading and you can save your origin story for interviews, stories posts, IGTV etc.) Once you have a draft, edit, edit, edit until you have something succinct and memorable.
Here are a few final things to consider when drafting or tweaking your origin story:
And that brings me to the final point…
Make it interesting. The golden rule of storytelling is show don’t tell. People want to be taken on a journey. You do that by putting them in the middle of your story and letting them discover meaning for themselves. An origin story is a perfect vehicle for that.