Here is a video I recorded that describes my journey as a professional story coach, the traits I see in successful story coaches and how one can actually make a living at this work. Watch the video, or read the transcript below.
Good evening, my name is Tanya Taylor Rubinstein, the Global Story Coach, speaking to you from my home and studio outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. This video is geared for those of you who are interested in becoming a professional story coach. I want to answer the questions:
- What is a professional story coach?
- Can I really make a living at it? Is it just a fantasy to think that I could make a living coaching people on their stories?
I want to answer those questions for you because I have been doing both for over twenty years now. This has been my whole deal, my whole career. I have to say first of all that I feel like the luckiest person in the world. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have my ups and downs, that I don’t have my own personal struggles, but in terms of my work in the world – the work I get to do – I feel so incredible lucky and blessed. I was put on my path early, and I know that that is some great fortune or karma or whatever it was in my life. I love sharing it with others, teaching others, and training others. I’ve been doing that for a very long time as well.
So what is a story coach? What have I been doing these last twenty-some years?
Well, many of you know, I often refer to my primary mentor the late Spalding Gray. I met him at twenty years old and shifted gears from being a professional actor to knowing that I wanted to tell intimate stories onstage. Certainly my acting background helping me tremendously. I have a writing background as well, it isn’t so formal as my acting background where I studied from the time I was fourteen, with professional academies and an acting school in New York and in college, two different professionally based acting programs at Carnegie Mellon and Emerson College. But I wrote. I took many workshops from the time I could put two words together. I had a propensity for writing and writing stories, but I did have to learn to write for the stage.
That was a chop wood, carry water process for me and I literally created a writing practice based on the creativity movement that was happening in Northern New Mexico when I got here, a la Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way, Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird – those books and some workshops doing that kind of work helped me open tremendously to create a regular writing practice, an improvisational practice and create my first solo show and be successful that way.
But in terms of teaching others and becoming a professional story coach, it all began after the success of my second solo show. The way it really started was that people were coming to my solo shows, I was getting great reviews, it was really satisfying with the audiences and the press and getting known in my community in Santa Fe, New Mexico (which is one of the things that I will talk about later in terms of making a living, having a deep roots system in your own community as a story coach as well as creating work and programs online – I think it really is the marriage of both in this depth-based story work.) But people, and women in particular started saying to me, “I want to tell my story, I want to do what you’re doing.” Some had acting backgrounds, some didn’t. I started with creating a workshop for people to do 10-minute writing and performance pieces in front of an audience and it really took off from there and I continued to develop programs over these last twenty years, very successful programs.
I developed a transformational monologue process where I did that same process of creating 10-minute monologues for non-professionals, but instead geared them towards particular topics. The first topic I tackled was people who had experienced cancer. I created something called The Cancer Monologue Project. It became a book, it was in Oprah’s magazine, it had a life of it’s own and I knew I was really onto something. I went on to do shows all over the country, each show unique and different, with different groups of people who had experienced cancer either with themselves or with a family member and had a story to share with their friends, family and community.
So that was my way in. I began coaching short solo performance workshops and then cancer monologue workshops and it took off from there. I worked with people with mental illness, worked with a lot of people dealing with trauma, transition, loss – new mothers, sexual abuse survivors, veterans with PTSD, giving them the sacred, safe space with boundaries as well as the tools to unlock their stories and have the opportunity to have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, for most of them, to stand on stage and be witnessed in their stories. It was very deep work, very deep shamanic work.
I don’t do those anymore myself in terms of leading the events. I covered 40 topics and did 100 shows, and now I train others. I’ve been training others to be professional StoryHealer facilitators for the last seven or eight years.
Then I went back to my roots as an actor and solo performer and created probably my most well-known service, the Solo Performance Bootcamp, where people fly in from all over the world to work with me on their one-person shows that are done at theaters, conferences, festivals, all over the place. They come here and work it out with me or we do it on Skype now because that’s available, though I really prefer working with people in person, though there is always an aspect of finishing the script together on Skype.
I ended up editing two books that were published and branched out into coaching memoir. That really came after I was offered a gig which I kept for seven years, whenever I was in Santa Fe, meeting weekly in an elders community with a very savvy, sophisticated 80 and 90 year olds who were all writing their memoirs. We had eleven books published in that group of eight people, some people wrote more books than one. Mostly memoir, though there was a couple of poetry books and a group anthology that they each contributed to and I wrote the preface and edited the book.
That work was really about understanding organic structure in memoir, which I took and put together a class with one of my dear friends, Candace Walsh, who is an editor at New Mexico Magazine, has published her own memoir and edited three anthologies. We were a great balance, creating a course called Author It! that helped many people write and publish their memoirs in six months. Of course, many people took it twice to do the process over a year. We also worked with book proposals with those folks.
From there, I had a reputation as a story coach, as someone who deeply and intimately knew stories. It was interesting because I had gone through all of these phases with them and all of a sudden I was getting asked by visionary conferences like the Bioneers in Marin County to come out and teach a workshop on storytelling for visionaries and entrepreneurs in the new paradigm. I had some crazy things, working with folks in the insurance industry on how people could become more accessible through using storytelling as a tool for emotional intelligence in their industry. I started working with small organizations and as well as other entrepreneurs on their brand stories.
All of the sudden, brand story has become hot. Forgive me for a bit of eye-rolling here, but for some people out there saying that they are teaching “brand story” it’s really just another word for marketing and their background is not as deep storytellers. I do have a bit of a pet peeve here around people who have gone and gotten fancy MBA’s and then go into big corporations saying, “I am the great brand storyteller.” I think that all brand storytellers who are training others and working with individuals, corporations and executives should have a root system as deep storytellers themselves, because it’s not formulaic. There are elements and rules that work in any form of storytelling, from solo performance to brand storytelling to memoir or a story-based TED-style talk, but it’s all based in the root system of profoundly understanding story structure and form in a natural and organic way.
One little funny aside, I just saw something online from a rather well-known brand storyteller online who said something like, “You have to have your brand story for copy, websites, marketing material, but it doesn’t matter how you deliver it.” Well, in my experience nothing could be further from the truth for really powerful and effective brand storytelling, the best TEDtalks, it is all about embodiment. And neuroscientists know this, with more and more research from places like Harvard, Stanford and University of Texas, Austin about how storytelling affects the brain. There is emotional intelligence stuff and wonderful things from people like Brene Brown on vulnerability – and it’s all connected. It is so essential, not just the words of our story, but how do we tell it? How do we embody it? How do we live it in ourselves? I always say you can’t fake it. You can have this “story” but it’ll come off as contrived if you’re just doing it to sell a product. Researchers let us know that the words we use are only about 10-15% of how we communicate with each other. If how you’re viewing me right now has to do with my feelings, my experiences, my authenticity – do you read me as authentic or contrived? And people can see through it. If you say to people, particularly in the business world that it doesn’t matter how you express the story as long as you have this point and this point and this point. I say that nothing could be further from the truth.
So that’s my long-winded way of saying things, and I am a talker I could talk endlessly about storytelling. Alongside my love for my daughter it is the great passion of my life because I know how it changes lives for the better in so many contexts and all over the world. It’s one of the deepest, most essential parts of our humanity, is our ability to tell stories and share with one another.
Can you make a living at this?
Yes, you can make an excellent living at this. It depends on many factors.
Do you have strong training and a root system in story?
Are you willing to learn it?
Are you willing to do live events and focus stories and your story services in specific ways where you are needed? And create a deep root system through your own story work and the work you do in your community as well as doing workshops online. I feel that it is essential, particularly with brand storytellers, to first be planting their flag in the ground and doing deep work with themselves and with real people in person.
In making money with this work, it’s also about consciousness. There are stories that work and resonate with people, and stories that don’t. So it’s really about where your consciousness sits and where your intention sits. I think the best, strongest people that I’ve trained in this work and other story coaches that I respect professionally have some traits in common.
Enormous hearts is right up there.
The ability to listen and to listen between the lines and the words.
To mirror back to somebody, what is it you want most essentially to say?
To learning to titrate (which is something that can be taught, and I teach in my trainings.) Titration is is a medical term. How do you find the right dosage of compelling personal story, married with vision, with mission, with greater calling, to teaching without pontificating or being preachy. It’s something that can be learned, it’s like a dance.
I think that natural healers, people who are therapists, counselors, certainly actors and performers, writers, creative folks – the creative and the empathetic folks are the very best professional story coaches. Their marketing materials may not be as slick, they may not have as many Twitter followers as some of the MBA’s doing this work, but this is the heart and the soul of this work.
I offer two programs if you are interested in doing this work professionally. One is online and it’s called S-School, which will be offered in September 2016 as a full online program with all of my curriculum. It teaches you how to work with folks in terms of coaching story in memoir, brand coaching, story-based talks, solo performances and being a creativity coach which is the root of all story – and to do this in an embodied, imaginative original, unique way that grabs people and claims it as your own.
People can also work with me privately. It is often people who have done solo shows with me, memoirs with me, who I’ve directed and then realize that they want to start their own story coaching business. It can be formed in a way as unique as you are. Whether it’s going to be working with elders in retirement communities on their stories as I did for many years, whether it’s going to be as a memoir coach, or a brand coach looking for visionary entrepreneurial clients, or a brand coach looking for corporate clients. I will tell you one thing, they may sound different to people, but the basis of how to tell a great story is the same. Once you learn that, and you learn the basic organic structures, as well as learning to bring your full presence and embodiment to this work, you can communicate it to others.
I’ll tell you what, I meet amazing people everyday all over the world. Here in Santa Fe or a travel and direct shows on the East Coast, the West Coast. I get hired by organizations to come in and do transformational and therapeutic work, or where I do brand storytelling. Though the services are framed slightly different so the people in the organizations will understand, what I’m doing it showing up with my full presence and my full hear, deeply listening and help extract what people most essentially need to communicate to achieve their own authentic expression in a way that is going to reach out to the people that they want to reach out to and communicate with in business, in life and their art – and it’s all connected. Have a great night.
Again, there are two ways to work with me.