What Flavor Is Your Narrative?

Simon Sinek describing narrative flavor

“Every day I get to ask people the most interesting questions I can think of, to help them know themselves better and live into their healthiest, most fulfilled selves.”

What if I answer this whenever someone asks me, “So, what do you do?”

How does this sound, feel, and taste different from if I just said, “I’m a doctor”? How interesting, to think of a narrative having a taste… What flavor do you assign my answer above, as you read it? Maybe I should add some toppings:

“I have the privilege and pleasure of doing work that stimulates both my thinking and feeling brains. I get to use all that I have learned throughout my life, both personally and professionally, in service of connecting with and serving other humans. I exercise deep expertise and knowledge, and am also humbled to learn something new every single day. I love what I do, I impact people’s lives, and it’s almost all ‘just’ by talking to people.”

Simon Sinek inspired this post when I watched the video clip of him describing why communicating through stories–narratives–is so important and effective. Thinking of narrative in terms of flavor–what a novel and elegant concept! It takes a totally different perspective on words, from thinking or feeling with emotions to putting it in our bodies. Smell and taste are a primitive sense, and highly associated with memory and emotion. It is literally visceral. So when we tell our stories about work, families, core values, realtionships, struggles–anything meaningful–what happens to that meaning when we correlate it all with a taste? Both for ourselves and those who hear/read our tales? How fascinating!

My first thought watching this video was ‘bitter.’ When I think of the deeply grooved, dysfunctional patterns in some of my relationships, I realize that my narratives—the biases and assumptions I make when interacting with (or even thinking about) certain people—set us up for conflict and discord from the outset in any given encounter. Yikes. For some reason, describing them as ‘bitter’, imagining the taste on my tongue, catches my attention, makes me stop and take notice, more than naming it all as resentment, anger, and grudges. It motivates me to change the narrative, to shift my perspective, make more generous assumptions, withhold judgment, and Give the A. Who wants to taste bitter all the time? I want to make these relationships sweet, savory, and refreshing.

How can we expand this metaphor beyond our own individual stories?

What is the story of your workplace culture? How do the mission/vision/values statements land on the workforce? How would you first describe it in the usual adjectives: restrictive, supportive, rigid, chaotic, backstabbing, upbeat? Then what emotions do you associate: happy, sullen, lighthearted, anxious, safe? What about bodily sensations: tense, relaxed, sleepy, wired, restless? And finally imagine a taste for it: bland, spicy, bittersweet, moldy, rancid, salty, aromatic? How does this exercise affect your perceptions/memories/thoughts/feelings about work? Does it move you to think, say, or do anything differently?

I have never before described my work in the exact words I used above. It feels liberating to find and articulate stronger language for my experience. And it did not take me long to land on ‘sweet’ (I often describe my job as ‘the sweetest gig’–funny how we use this phrasing for things that are just that good) and ‘umami‘ for its tastes. I love what I do. I crave it, savor it. I bask in not just the flavor, but the warmth (it’d definitely warm, not cold or hot) and the texture (rich, dense, smooth with bits of crunch and chew). OH this is fun! My work is the most satisfying meal: marbled, medium rare rib eye with a nice crust, roasted sweet potato, sauteed Brussels sprouts, tiramisu, and chai. Oh and there is some flower salt and pepper on the table.

I wonder how my patients would tell their stories of me and our relationships, and how they would translate those narratives into olfactory and gustatory experiences of us? Am I (are we) bran flakes, kale salad, mac ‘n’ cheese, burnt toast, chia pudding, meatloaf and spinach, blue cheese? The possibilities are endless! And it’s important to query and clarify our unique associations with the flavors we assign. I may think blue cheese is fragrant and lovely; my patient may mean it as putrid.

Now I’m thinking of employee engagement surveys. Wouldn’t it be fun, and actually engaging, to include novel questions like these? Surveyors could easily design questions to indicate whether responses are meant in positive or negative ways, and categorize different foods or meals to represent different aspects of work–breakfast as relationships, lunch as tasks, dinner as meaning, dessert as perks.

Okay that’s enough for now. What a fun diversion this was. Now I’m wondering about figures of speech that reference food and taste…what do we mean to evoke with this language? A post for another time, perhaps.

Onward in curiosity, novelty, learning, and connection, my friends!

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