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Elizabeth’s Powerful Symbol Story – The 35 Year-Old Letter

By March 13, 2024March 24th, 2024No Comments
elizabeth's symbol story -- the top part of her letter from the then CEO of Merrill Lynch

One of my friends and colleagues, Elizabeth, posted a perfect, 10/10 symbol story on LinkedIn. First, Elizabeth’s symbol story, then a little commentary on her story, the picture, and its impact.

Bill Schreyer was the CEO and Chairman of Merrill Lynch (MER) when I was a student at Penn State.

He was an inspirational leader and changed the course of my career.

Mr. Schreyer was a Penn State grad and a brother of my business fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi.

He was instrumental in helping arrange a tour of the Merrill trading floor when I was a junior, which left a great impression on me. So much so, I sent him my resume with a thank you note and asked for a job.

Being the wonderful advocate he was, I did work for Merrill that summer.

While looking for some old photos last week, I found the note from him that I thought was long lost.

He was kind to respond to me. A testament to who he was as a person. A testament to who he was as a leader.

Looking back on 31 years at Merrill, I am grateful for the connection I made back then.

Today, I am reminded that we all play a role in helping other people move forward in their careers.

I am proud to call Merrill my home.

elizabeth example of a perfect symbol story -- original letter from 1989
elizabeth example of a perfect symbol story -- original envelope from 1989

Elizabeth’s Symbol Story – a 10/10

Writing in our blog in 2005, I described “Symbols [as] more than just physical objects. Symbols are powerful emotional anchors that connect us to our stories. When you incorporate these powerful symbols into your narratives, you create what we call, ‘Symbol Stories.’ These stories transcend the realm of ordinary storytelling by forging a deep, instantaneous connection between the symbol and the experience it represents.”

Elizabeth’s letter just does this. A letter from 35 years ago, immediately transports her back to when she received the envelope, looked at the sender’s name, became excited, and eagerly opened the envelope to read the letter inside.

Here are five attributes of great symbol stories (see the blog article for details and examples).

1. Be a Concrete Representation of a Noun A person, place, or thing. For Elizabeth’s symbol story, it is her letter.
2. Simplify Complex Ideas Her letter represents more than 35 years of connection, family, culture, opportunity, giving back, and so much more. All in one piece of paper.
3. Evoke a Powerful Emotions Every time she sees or reads the letter, she feels the warmth of Bill Schreyer and the familial and cultural ties with her colleagues at Merrill
4. Create an Enduring Connection Dated 1989, the letter means more today, 35 years later, than it did when she first received it. Why? Because of everything that Merrill means to her.
5. Embody the Essence of My Message “I am proud to call Merrill my home” is implied and stated

Elizabeth’s letter, Elizabeth’s Symbol Story, is powerful and complex. Meaningful and memorable. And simply stated.

What symbols do you have personally and professionally that can readily communicate emotions and messages? That can engage hearts and minds? That can inspire action?

Contact us to chat about enhancing your culture, messaging, stories, engagement, and impact.

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Photography Source: Elizabeth Krisko
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Ira Koretsky

Ira Koretsky is the CEO of The Chief Storyteller®. He helps you improve performance and employee engagement with better communication. Storytelling in all its forms is his secret sauce. He is also an adjunct professor in public speaking, storytelling, and data storytelling at the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business. With over 25 years of experience, he is a sought-after global speaker, trainer, consultant, and coach for storytelling and public speaking.