The Power of Storytelling

Mary Bleech headshot

Ericka Schubert

December 16, 2021
My journey from film-festival gypsy to start-up co-founder

I’ve always loved stories. I was obsessed with Nancy Drew books as a kid, edited a short story magazine in college, voraciously devour fiction books, and frequently seek out indie flicks at local cinemas. My favorite conversations with friends and strangers alike have always been those that reveal something honest and unexpected about who we are.

The Sundance Institute was the perfect place to begin my career. I had the privilege of helping filmmakers and VR artists debut their work while supporting a platform that celebrated new, authentic voices whose stories connected audiences with people on the other side of the world. The community we created felt special because it celebrated the individuality of each of its members.
Snowy mountains in Sundance, Utah
Graduating from business school with my MBA in 2020, I faced a job market that was reeling from COVID-19. It was incredibly hard to find my place professionally, made even tougher by the social and emotional isolation so many of us experienced. For a moment, our stories as a species largely aligned: we were lonely, frustrated, and afraid. Simultaneously, in spite of this new shared experience, the usual means for community-building and support systems were no longer available. So though we knew we were “all in it together”, we didn’t experience the validation and support we truly needed.

It was during this time of ambiguity that I met Kaylee — one of my first and only new friends after relocating to a new city during the pandemic. Kaylee had been facing many of the same challenges I had experienced over the last year: confusion and loneliness from missing her friends and family who the pandemic kept geographically separated.

ChattyKathi, the company we co-founded, is based on a simple idea: when individuals feel safe and valued as their authentic selves within a community, they thrive. Consequently, their communities grow stronger; diverse ideas shared freely spark creativity and boost engagement, fortifying performance and diminishing turnover. We quickly realized that this revelation would prove especially relevant for schools and companies struggling to adapt to virtual or hybrid culture. To build ChattyKathi, the question we first had to answer was, “how can we help individuals feel valued as their authentic selves within a community?” The answer, we found, rests in friendship psychology. We learned that frequent interactions that promote fun, validating, and inclusive conversations are the key to lasting relationships. Or, in simpler terms, conversations that welcome individuals to share who they really are through their stories make all the difference.
Group of happy people with sparklers
Yet, the modern world presents our brains with millions of sensory stimuli every day and, to cope, we learned to narrow and flatten those inputs. The consequence of this time-saving evolution is that we tend to minimize data and evaluate everything — from what we want to eat for lunch to how we think of other human beings — based on quick assumptions. Our relationships quickly become transactional and we feel alienated from one another, particularly in situations where we feel vulnerable, self-conscious, or nervous.

This situation is especially prevalent today’s professional space, but integrating storytelling offers a solution.
In order to feel connected in a disjointed, socially-distanced, virtual world, we need to find ways to celebrate and engage with one another as the multi-faceted individuals we are. When we know the many sides of our coworkers, not just the side they show us in meetings, we’ll work together better as a team and feel more connected to our companies. Beyond strengthening connections, this kind of human-centered exchange also drives employee and consumer retention and engagement.

My career has revolved around the power of storytelling to create connection and inspire empathy. At first, this was through working with artists and filmmakers to tell their stories. Now, it’s through the co-founding of a product to help you tell yours. We welcome you to join us!
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