Entrepreneur Notes: Game On or Game Over?

Last night Tell Me A Story’s Live Show celebrated its 8th Anniversary of storytelling nights at Shot Tower Coffee in Philadelphia. Since May 2011 I’ve produced and hosted over 50 of these events. This is over 400 stories shared! TMAS began because the co-owner of the coffee shop wanted a community event centered around storytelling. I was telling stories on stage at the time and was commuting back and forth to NYC because there wasn’t much here. We were introduced and brainstorm the show idea together. In a time when there were really only competitive StorySLAMs and comedy variety shows, our little show was a breath of fresh air and safe space for people to be themselves and connect with an audience of deep (and enthusiastic) listeners. 

Yesterday afternoon while getting ready for the show, and seeing Instagram comments re: the 8th Anniversary like “Happy Birthday!” and “Congratulations!”, I thought is this something to be congratulated on? Is this a big milestone or a big embarrassment? I settled on the latter as the answer to my query.

NOT A HELPFUL HEAD SPACE TO BE IN BEFORE HOSTING THE SHOW!

My inner monologue went a little something like this: I have been doing the same thing for eight years? In a coffee shop? That only holds 50 people tops? It looks like I haven’t even tried to make this show bigger and better. People will think that this rinky-dink operation is all that I do. Or they won’t see the value in working with me in a workshop or 1-on-1 because this show has nothing to show for itself. What are the expectations of the audience? How can I please them? How can I convince them that this is worth coming to again? What if the storytellers are disappointed once they arrive. Does Shot Tower even want this show to be here anymore? 

I was not being kind to myself. Nor were my thoughts grounded in any sort of external feedback or truth. The worst part: my inner thoughts and fears made it really hard to come up with anything compelling (or funny) to share at the beginning of the show. The theme of the night was Game On and all I could think about was Game Over. What’s the point of continuing my Live Show if it feels so disconnected from everything else that I do with Tell Me A Story? And I feel disconnected as well. Is the only way to lighten the load, and stop worrying about whether or not people are having a good experience (both audience and storytellers), to quit doing it?

When I arrived at the show and greeted the storytellers, I heard myself saying “It’s been eight years. Will it ever end?” followed by uncomfortable laughing. As the audience poured in to the cafe, I wasn’t looking at the sea of new faces that appeared excited to be there. Instead I saw the empty seats. I had made such a big to do on social media about how the show was going to fill up quick, “Come early for seats!” and now it wasn’t even full. I then felt horrible about the previous day where I gently asked my parents and my boyfriend not to come because “I needed those seats for other people.” But there was room for everyone!

Once the show began, I calmed down a bit. I was able to be an active audience member for each storyteller and quietly cheer them on. Each and every story was funny, thought-provoking, and honest. Each storyteller put in so much work and then let it all go in the moment to have fun with the audience. There was a great energy in the room. And (surprise) no one came up after the show to say “Why are you still doing this? This is a waste of your time!”

And here’s the thing. I really do love the Live Show. I love putting together the line-up of storytellers, I love meeting with each person for their 30 minute Story Rehearsal. I love when new people come to the show and when past audience members return. We have had several shows in the past with five audience members and now we always have more than thirty.

Know what else I love? I love Shot Tower Coffee! It’s an amazing place.It’s not just a coffee shop, it’s a community. I love that it is an intimate space for story sharing. It is owned by two amazing humans who also own other amazing businesses. It’s run by a great team who have been nothing but supportive of me and TMAS for eight years. And the regular customers almost always come to the show and have been known to tell a story or two!

The Live Show has enabled me to go deeper with storytelling and how it can help people in every day situations — both personally and professionally.  I love teaching my workshops and helping people find the stories that will help them with take their communication to the next level. And more than teaching the workshops, I love working 1-on-1 with people. Together we commit to cultivating a narrative that will change the person and their audience. It’s thrilling. 

I am not writing this to announce to the world that it’s Game Over for TMAS. It’s still Game On. The game just needs to have a different set of expectations. And as a player, I need to be reminded that there aren’t any set rules for this one.

Or, maybe the answer is this: there isn’t one game being played. There’s actually two. The Live Show and the rest of the TMAS brand don’t need to fully weave together as one. The Live Show can stand on its own as a fun, inspiring, and meaningful community event. There’s just as much value in storytelling for entertainment’s sake as there is with using it as a communication tool. The archive of videos from past shows don’t have to exist to serve as an educational tool. They can exist for the storyteller to have archive of their experience, and for story lovers to engage and enjoy.  I am really good at planning community events, and if I see the show as just that, it will no longer feel like I have to prove myself that it means something more.

I don’t want to feel embarrassed for working on this show for eight years. I want to feel pride. I want to measure TMAS’ growth, not with audience/venue size, but with community engagement. I don’t want a 1500+ member Facebook group like the Philadelphia chapter of the Moth. I don’t want to sell TMAS’ workshops and coaching from the stage. I want these two key elements of what I do to live in tandem and support each other. It’s not Me vs. TMAS or even TMAS vs. TMAS. Both of those are a losing battle. 

My new Game On has to be with mindset. How can I measure the success of what I built? How can I measure personal and professional growth in a productive way? How can I evaluate what’s working and what’s not without placing blame or judgement? And how can I play the game without worrying too much about how others view it from the outside?

I’m going to explore these questions and find some answers. And I’ll make sure to keep this conversation going with future Entrepreneur Notes.  Thanks for reading.