Our stories are powerful.
We know this. Our heads nod in agreement — a unified front acknowledging ancient, collective wisdom. Truth.
“Yes, powerful,” we chant (in the most non-creepy of ways). Our consensus is glorious.
But a faint tugging disrupts our warm fuzzies. We think more deeply about how we honor this Truth.
Um. Oh, no. Something isn’t quite right. Like bloated bugs hitting a car windshield, error messages ping our minds.
Just. Be. Cool.
Ever so carefully, we part our eyelids, allowing a slit just big enough to spy undetected. We peek to see whether anyone has noticed. To our surprise, almost everyone has stopped chanting. Faces highlighted with halos of guilt, our unified front peeks, too.
Busted. Awkward. Oh, boy.
Deep breaths. We try to recover.
“Yes, her story is powerful. His story is powerful. Your story is powerful.
But, my story? Of course it is…well…
I’m just going to keep it to myself for now. Maybe bury it.
Hell yeah, I’m putting it out there…after a few tweaks. You know — dress it up a bit and trim out a few pieces. I just need a little more time to work on my messaging.
I am ready…almost. I first need to reflect on my story a little more, pondering it right into a self-torture device. Or a harbinger of opportunities not meant for me. Or a dream killer.”
Wow. This got real dark, real fast.
Back into the light. Time to regroup.
When spinning in a hazy cloud of confusion or unknowing, start with what we know. What makes our stories powerful?
Our stories are a powerful foundation through which authentic connection is made.
Our stories allow us to see each other as human — as being like or “of one.” When we see “same” in each other, our brains make us lean in. Hurting each other becomes harder as we are pulled to empathy. We are made receptive to learning more. Hearing more. Seeing more. The stage is then set to co-create a shared reality in which we understand how we are woven together, whether joined by a simple thread of “It was lovely to meet you,” or a complex stitching of something bigger.
As we connect, our stories communicate important information. This information replaces the guessing that occurs when we leave folks to fill in blanks by generating their own story about us. It helps others understand how they might work with and through us to breathe life into new ideas, relationships, solutions, and goals. It allows others to understand our path and make an informed decision about whether it aligns with theirs. And, in turn, we can understand the same by seeing their response to our story.
Do we resonate? Will we thrive together? Are we able to see, hear, and value each other? If yes, amazing! We have found a match worth sewing into our journey.
But what if the answer is no? Our bellies swish in dread at this thought. Hello fear.
And here is where I challenge us. When we feel fear bubbling up like heart burn after a bad burrito run, I challenge us to shift a little. To look at things differently if we can. Because this “no” has two faces, and if we shift, we see the one that is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! The face that looks like a compass, not a wall of rejection. With this “no,” we can have confidence to move on and keep looking. We don’t end up stuck in a bad fit. We continue our journey to discover that which is meant for us.
Our stories are powerful tools for serving.
The miracles, transformation, and learning our stories chronicle allow us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. They can help others stand where we once fell. Find power where we once felt powerless. See paths of possibility where we once saw walls.
Through our stories, we become to others living vessels of possibility and hope. The tales they reveal whisper, “You are not the only one. You aren’t crazy. This isn’t really a barrier. A path exists. You have a soul tribe who will understand.”
How many times has someone’s story helped us to forgive ourselves? Try something new or scary? Move to action? See new options or possibilities? Persevere? Feel a little less alone? Laugh when stuck in a well of tears?
How many times has just the right story come at just the right time? We asked for a signal. We asked for help. We asked for an answer. And boom, a story appeared.
Our stories have a divine timing for someone else’s journey, too.
Yes, our stories are powerful. Until they aren’t.
The power of our stories resides in the lens through which we gaze at them. With a lens of love, acceptance, and curiosity, we use our stories powerfully.
But, when our lens is one of judgment and fear, we use our stories to be powerless. It then becomes less about our story and more about the story we tell ourselves about our story. And this, my friends, is a wicked slippery slope…
It all starts with a dream. A new relationship, job, promotion, or opportunity. A desire to move forward in new or interesting ways. A yearning to explore possibilities without limits. A return to an interrupted journey.
And before we even get started, there sits our story. We know in theory it is powerful. (We were chanting after all.) Oh, how we can use it to reveal our learning, growth, passions, and gifts! To help someone see where we are going and why it matters! To wipe away their tears and reveal miracles and magic and possibility!
Then, because we just can’t help ourselves, out comes the other lens.
Well…we know we shouldn’t, but…if we look at it this way, our story reveals a deep flaw in who we are — evidence we are “less than” or broken. Some people may get it, but others won’t. “They” won’t…
The gremlins settle into our head. They convince us our stories have greater power over our future than we do. We worry our story will stand in the way of reaching our dreams. We tell ourselves to not even try. Modify our expectations. Be realistic.
- Everyone knows my story makes me unlovable because they will think…
- It takes me out of the running because they will think…
- It prevents me from being considered because they will think…
Stop. Stop. Stop. Put some duct tape around those gremlins and just stop for a second.
Who is judging our story? Who is building the wall?
It is not the man or woman who wants to understand who we are. They have not spoken with us. We have not yet provided them with the information they need to understand our essence and the gifts we bring. They haven’t yet been allowed to see, hear, and respond to our story. We are trying to make predictions our crystal balls aren’t equipped to make. We are trying to own others’ minds and actions, which aren’t ours to own.
It’s thought experiment time: What if your story was her story? Or his story? Or my story?
My guess is you would use a lens of love, acceptance, and curiosity. My guess is you would lean in. You may even take my hand and walk with me to my dream.
Our heads are nodding together again. Yep. Here we are, shaking our heads in agreement. And guess who we are? We are a large chunk of “they.”
Let’s take a few minutes to process this Truth. It is a bit of a mind melt, like quantum particles and the observer effect.
We (you, me, and everyone reading this) are a large part of the “they.” We are the friends to be made. The hiring managers. The admissions directors, talent judges, long-lost childhood friends. We are the people waiting to give you a chance. To co-create with you through your essence and gifts.
We are also the humans longing for someone to tell us a story that helps us see possibility and hope. That helps us heal. That helps us find the courage to go for it. We are the “they” that wants to feel a little less alone…
Does the “they” have another part? Of course. But don’t worry about them. They are perfectly respectable, amazing people, but they aren’t part of our path. They are meant to be woven together with someone else, and that’s OK. When your story doesn’t resonate…when someone receives everything they need to know about you and then closes the door…take a deep breath and smile. Because it has nothing to do with you. They were just not the right part of the “they.” Keep looking because you will find us. Count on us.
- What lens are you using to gaze at your story? How does this influence how you pursue your journey?
- When have you used your story to be powerless? What has happened?
- What if you looked at your story through a lens of love and curiosity? What do you see?
- How have others generated stories about you because they were left to fill in the blanks? How did this affect you? What if they had known your Truths?
- How might you use your story powerfully to reach for your dreams or serve?
I’ll leave you with some inspiration and a personal note.
I’ve wanted to write this post for some time but hadn’t managed to get to it. But then, I was inspired to just sit down and write by an amazing writer, advocate, and intellectual power house of a graduate student, Juliana Kerrest, who recently shared part of her story to serve others.
“When I applied to graduate school in 2015, I was very concerned about how I would explain the gaps in my college transcript caused by my struggle with depression, so I used the additional essay option they provided to explain my journey.”
And on a personal note beyond this amazing inspiration, I want to share the heart swell of immense gratitude compelling me to talk about our stories more broadly. Every day, I am blessed with the sacred gift of bearing witness to others’ stories. These stories move me. Inspire me. Give me hope. Release in me deep, soulful love.
These stories are powerful beyond measure. I believe unequivocally yours is, too. And I, my friends, am a pretty smart cookie.