Community Member Spotlight: Meet Esther Choy

Categories: Chicago Public Library Foundation Community

What happens when a storyteller shares her tale? Esther Choy inspires us to find our voices and let our stories do the work.

Part I: The beginning

“I never said, ‘I want to teach storytelling when I grow up,’” Esther shares by way of introduction. But looking back, there have been clues all around Esther’s professional career that led her to the path of storytelling. One notable memory comes to mind: Poring over hundreds of applications at the admissions office at the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business.

“It was an instructive experience to be on the receiving end of non-stories,” she says.

The first part of her insight was poignant: Credentials and qualifications are necessary, but they are not enough. The second part would define her calling:

“I realized that stories are critical in connecting with other people, in building trust, and in showing others who you are.” – Esther Choy      

Soon after, Esther started experimenting with storytelling. First, she helped individuals. Then, she began helping institutions. In 2010, she founded Leadership Story Lab. “I blink an eye and I’ve been doing it for 11 years,” she shares.

Part II: Rising to the challenge

Building a company in a relatively new field was difficult for Esther. “I had to learn how to assert myself, promote my ideas, and just get out there,” she recalls in candor. “It was especially challenging given the more traditional and stereotypical upbringing I had,” she adds.

How did Esther overcome the obstacles? Patience and perseverance. “In a lot of ways, it’s like ramming my head into a wall until it doesn’t hurt anymore,” she shares. Despite her hesitation and uncertainty, she knew she had a unique perspective and knowledge to offer so she kept pushing herself. Esther would practice with family and friends over and over and over. “I have no qualms admitting I need help, asking for help, and taking the help,” she says. This is a lesson she shares consistently with her clients, partners, and students.

Over time, she gained the confidence to take up space, find her voice, and tell her story. Esther has recently written a New York Times article about the power of a story.

“After 11 years it’s almost second nature, but it took a bit of time to get to that point. I still get nervous, but not as nervous.”

Part III: Lessons learned

How do you find your voice as a storyteller? For Esther, it starts with knowing who you are. “You have to balance between what you aspire to be and who you actually are,” she shares with the calm of someone who’s grown comfortable in her own skin. “It’s good to have role models, but it’s also important to embrace you – your strengths, weaknesses, passions, and motivations,” she continues.

Throughout the years, Esther has helped other storytellers find their voice. She works with doctors, engineers, marketers, and business professionals to use storytelling as a tool to communicate, inspire, and lead. And her quintessential lesson? Listen.

“We tend to be too interested in the story we want to tell and forget to tell the story our audience wants to hear,” she shares.

Listening is key to understanding other people’s experiences. That is the first step in creating a story that will connect with your audience. So, Esther’s advice? Stay curious. Ask questions. Listen to what people have to say.

Esther Choy joins the 2018 Carl Sandburg Literary Awards as one of our guest authors.

Part IV: The story continues

Esther Choy has made it her life’s work to empower others through stories. She has also used her voice to empower communities through the causes she believes in such as Chicago Public Library.

“In the old days and even now, you visit any European city and there’s always a town square at the center─ the predictable town square where you will find everything you need. When you get lost, you go to the town square. The Library is our city’s town square, a dependable hub of knowledge present in every neighborhood and available to everyone.

To understand Esther’s appreciation of the permanence of a library, we return to Esther’s earliest library memory. Growing up in Hongkong, Esther’s neighborhood had no permanent library. She would wait for a school bus converted into a mobile library every other Monday to borrow books. “Whatever I checked out, I had to finish in two weeks. I remember running to the bus so I could make it on time and return the books,” she recalls.

“I’m honored to serve at the Chicago Public Library Foundation Board of Directors. If I can become a conduit to helping Chicagoans access the resources at the Library and empower children, teens, adults, families, and communities to put that knowledge to use, why wouldn’t I do it?” Esther says.

Thank you, Esther, for powering our Library and empowering every Chicagoan.

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