Art of Charm Toolbox | Narrative Building (Episode 604)

The Art of Charm (@TheArtofCharm) triumvirate of Johnny, AJ, and Jordan discuss the importance of narrative building — taking ownership of the past, being mindful of the present, and setting sights on what we hope to accomplish in the future. To build rapport with others, we have to know our own story first. [Photo by Jonathan Kos-Read]

“If you don’t understand your narrative, it puts you in peril.” -AJ Harbinger

The Cheat Sheet:

  • The monomyth, or the hero’s journey as identified by mythologist Joseph Campbell, is a pattern that shows up in stories around the world and across cultures — from The Odyssey to Star Wars.
  • We all have a story — a narrative — that informs who we’ve been, who we are, and who we’ll be. But are we making sure we’re in control of how we process this narrative?
  • Are you on a hero’s journey or a fool’s errand? It all depends on who’s authoring your narrative. Shouldn’t it be you? Following the narrative building exercises discussed in this toolbox episode is a good place to start.
  • Lessons learned by the narratives of others don’t necessarily enrich our own narrative — the details that propelled your grandfather’s story may not have a place in your own.
  • It’s important to have a grasp on how we relate to our own narrative; when we’re confused as to who we are, what we want, or what we’re doing, it’s difficult for us to communicate effectively and build rapport with other people.
  • And so much more…


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(Download Transcript Here)

We all have stories. But do you acknowledge yours as a sometimes imperfect journey through the past and present toward a future in which you’re an active participant, or do you let that story unfold, unquantified, in a way that makes you feel ungrounded and aimless?

In this toolbox episode of The Art of Charm, Johnny, AJ, and Jordan discuss the importance of narrative building — taking ownership of the past, being mindful of the present, and setting sights on what we hope to accomplish in the future. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

More About This Show

We all have a story — a narrative — that informs who we’ve been, who we are, and who we’ll be. But are we making sure we’re in control of how we process this narrative, or are we letting external influences muddy its progress?

Humans are creatures of habit. We do things often without understanding why we do them, and too many of us lose sight of who we are because we base the course of our own narratives on the experiences of others instead of constructing them around our own needs. But sometimes the narratives we build upon — ones that made sense in generations past — have become obsolete.

“Without challenging or understanding why, you’ll be compelled to do things and not have an idea why you do them,” says Johnny.

“It’s almost like giving up your free will,” says AJ. “Beliefs influence your actions so much, and if you haven’t thought about where these beliefs came from, the factual basis behind these beliefs, you can set up an operating system that leads you astray quite easily.”

Johnny tells us the story of his upbringing in western Pennsylvania as the descendant of a coal-mining great-great grandfather. He grew up with tales of a time when safety was an afterthought, the days were punishingly long, and the wages were low. No doubt about it: the life of a modern coal miner is tough enough, but the life of a coal miner around the turn of the last century is nearly unfathomable to us today.

Still, to Johnny’s great-grandfather, it was an improvement over the life he left behind in eastern Europe. And to any observer of the lives lived in Johnny’s family since, each generation has enjoyed the progress of a better life. But the narrative that got them to the present day has persisted: Don’t take anything for granted. If you work hard, you’ll get what you want out of life — and if you don’t get what you want out of life, it must be because you’re just not working hard enough.

But an unadapted narrative with origins in the nineteenth century isn’t going to be completely relevant to whatever stories are being crafted today.

“So then you have to learn how to swing the hammer,” says Johnny. “And if you do get yourself to be tough, you will find that you can get some of those things through relentless swinging of the hammer. Then you start to think, ‘Well, the hammer works.’ But it’s the old saying: ‘What got you here won’t get you there.’ Though the hammer of tenacity and stubbornness is not a bad tool — it can get you some things — it’s just not the only tool.”

Think of your narrative — your hero’s journey, as illustrated by mythologist Joseph Campbell — as a riff on the narratives that brought you where you are today and not a carbon copy of those existing narratives. To know yourself, you need to tell your own story.

“It’s actually easiest to get in tune with yourself first before you start running around trying to connect with other people,” says AJ. “The greater we understand ourselves, the easier it is to communicate.”

Listen to this toolbox episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn more about the three components of the narrative and how they relate to the hero’s journey, how our narratives become indoctrinated and distorted by the expectations of others, what we can do to articulate a narrative that contradicts these distortions and allows us to author our own story, how building new habits and skills in the present helps us pave an easier path to the future we envision for ourselves, how sharing narratives earns support and rapport, why it’s important to craft a narrative that outlasts your working career, and much more.


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AJ Harbinger - author of 1161 posts on The Art of Charm

AJ Harbinger is one of the world’s top relationship development experts. His company, The Art of Charm, is a leading training facility for top performers that want to overcome social anxiety, develop social capital and build relationships of the highest quality. Raised by a single father, AJ felt a strong desire to learn about relationships and the elements that make them successful. However, this interest went largely untapped for many years. Following the path set out for him by his family, AJ studied biology in college and went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology at the University of Michigan. It was at this time that he began to feel immense pressure from the cancer lab he worked in and began to explore other outlets for expression. It was at this point that The Art of Charm Podcast was born.

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