I make my living as a storyteller. I perform, teach, coach, train and consult, all under the umbrella of the word storytelling. I provide services to my clients and I do my best to make sure those services are nothing less than exemplary.
Let's dig a little into what service is and why it's a handy way to think about this kind of work.
First, it is a service. I offer intangible products to my clients, be they an audience, someone working on their own story, a business or non-profit that wants to use storytelling more effectively or a group of people I am training. While I might want to think of myself only as an artist, what I am paid for are services.
Businessdictionary.com defines services as: Intangible products such as accounting, banking, cleaning, consultancy, education, insurance, expertise, medical treatment, or transportation.
Sometimes services are difficult to identify because they are closely associated with a good; such as the combination of a diagnosis with the administration of a medicine. No transfer of possession or ownership takes place when services are sold, and they (1) cannot be stored or transported, (2) are instantly perishable, and (3) come into existence at the time they are bought and consumed.
That seems like a pretty good description of performance storytelling. My stories do not transfer possession when I tell them. While they can be stored should I record them, the expertise, craft and talent cannot be handed over by some kind of mind-meld. In a performance setting, stories are instantly perishable - they exist in that moment between the teller and a particular audience - and they come into existence as they are purchased and consumed. This definition stretches to cover coaching, consulting and training as well. They are intangible, perishable and momentary. The effects may (and I hope do) linger long after I've gone, but the experience itself is fleeting.
It may be uncomfortable to think of our work this way, as a service. It might feel too business-y, clinical or materialistic, but I find it makes me work harder and serve better if I remember that my clients deserve the best and, because it is a fleeting service, I have an obligation to work as hard as I can for them in my preparation and in the moment so the aftereffects will linger. They are paying for an enduring memory or lesson learned as much as anything.
I also strive to think of my work as this kind of service, as defined by dictionary.com: service (noun) an act of helpful activity; help; aid: to do someone a service.
Looked at this way I remember that I never know the impact of the work I do. I don't know who I have helped, I know only that I may have been of service. I have been fortunate enough to have people tell me that my work - whether it's a performed story, coaching or consulting - has lingering effects. That I have helped them. Knowing that this can happen helps me work harder and strive to be better in the moment.
Lastly, every once in awhile I have an experience that reminds me that storytelling can be another kind of service: a form followed in worship or in a religious ceremony
At its very best, storytelling can play the role of communal service. A group of people gather together in search of a common feeling and create something momentary and sacred. My best moments as a performer, listener, coach and consultant all have elements of the sacred about them because they connect me to my audience and to something beyond. Collectively we create a moment that will not soon be forgotten.
When I remember that I provide a service it doesn't lessen the power of what I do. I don't minimize my artistic effort, craft and talent. I don't feel as though I commoditize my work. What I do is remind myself that I am on this planet to be of service. I am fortunate that the service I provide is one that serves me, too; knowing that helps me work harder, dig deeper, offer more and serve better.
It is a privilege to serve the world, my audiences, my readers and you. Thank you.