So hopefully you see the value in collecting your stories. Hopefully you are beginning to see that your life might be much more interesting than you have previously thought.
I have to admit that I’ve had a head start on what we are going to talk about today. We’re discussing how to gather your stories. Have you ever had something that you thought was a disadvantage but it turned into a major advantage? Freddy Mercury, the late lead singer of the band Queen, had the same. Mercury was born with a set of teeth that pushed out uncomfortably out of his mouth. From an early age, he was insecure about it.
It didn’t help that he was teased unmercifully because of it. Many of our insecurities we can hide. It might be a physical scar somewhere on our body or a deeper mental scare in our mind. But it’s impossible to hide a set of front teeth that are uncommonly large and out of place.
But it’s what we do with those disadvantages that define that truly matter. My disadvantage was that I didn’t think the way I was supposed to think in school. I was supposed to follow facts, figures and logic. But I told stories. When they would want a fact, I would defer to a tale about the fact. It would drive my teachers nuts. And my grades reflected it.
In my senior year of high school, I cut art class 89 out of 92 days. And I passed. Why did I pass? Because I learned how to tell stories well. To this day I don’t know how it happened. I would see my teacher in the hallway during those long periods of absence. After an initial grilling, I told her about what I had been working on on the side. I told her about my personal projects I was working on. Before I knew it, I was telling a few stories and she actually seemed interested. Somehow, through these stories, I convinced her that I didn’t actually need to be in class to get the work done.
I showed up two more times on random occasions. When I returned, I was the misfit prodigal son. I discussed what I had been doing. It was like an independent study was created without any approval from the administrators. It was the only time in my school history that my classmates looked at me with admiration- and it was for all of the wrong reasons why students get admired. Or was it?
Nevertheless, I passed the class. And I passed it with a good grade. I didn’t think anything of it until the next year when I happened to be passing by when the school bus dropped the kids off. One of them laughed when they saw me.
“Thanks a lot,” he said sarcastically. “Because of you and your whole “cutting 89 of 92 days of your art class, Roslyn High School now has an official attendance policy.
I laughed because there was a teacher that told me that I would be forgotten at that school the moment that I left. Apparently, I left a bigger mark than just about anyone in my graduating class. Who else had a policy created because of them? You are welcome, Roslyn High School. It was my pleasure.
There were two things I learned while telling that story. One is that our disadvantages often become our special advantages.
And two. There is so much value in gathering our stories. I told that ‘cutting class and passing’ story since the year it happened. Because I’m a storyteller. I didn’t see any value from it outside of making people laugh, think or cry. But it was so much deeper than that. Because I collected my stories, I was able to think about them. I was able to tell them. When I told them, I was able to improve them. I would see when eyes would raise, I would notice when people would lean in and I would also notice when people started to fade.
From an early age, I studied storytelling without realizing I was studying storytelling.
But none of that is worth a lick if you don’t have stories to tell.
Matthew Dicks, the author of the book Storyworthy, is going to be our guest expert interview on Friday. And what I wrote sporadically on random notepads, post it notes and on the back of envelopes he turned into a daily system of what he calls “Homework For Life”.
Now, Dicks and I are opposite here. I was a terrible student and hated homework. He is a schoolteacher and assigns himself homework. And this is what he did. At the end of the day, he would reflect on what happened that day. With that, he would ask himself one simple question.
If he had to tell a story from today- something that took place over the course of a day- what would it be? As the title of his book says, what was the most story worthy moment from the day? He also decided that he wouldn’t write down the entire story. Because of the time commitment involved and the fact that that story might not be very compelling, he chose to write a sentence or two.
This is what he describes as his homework for life. If you think you don’t have any stories, do you think that would change if you added homework for life into your day. If you do that, so many of your stories going forward will be collected.
What can be really impactful as well is doing this for your past. And, by doing this from your past, you will see how much more interesting your life has been. What you have buried in your mind because of modern business is gold that is eternally significant. Can I tell you how much I wish my grandparents had done this? We are so focused as a consumer culture on passing down generational wealth and we place little significance on conversational wealth.
If you died today, would your grandkids know the story about your first kiss? Would they know about the time you were fired from your job? Would they have any idea about your favorite car? Or what life was like the day you turned twenty one? When they discuss history, will they see it from the crafted, distorted and biased opinion of the news or will they see it the way that you saw it and lived it.
We have an obligation to gather these stories. My podcast and my blog are two areas where this is of great importance to me. In however many years, they can go back and see what we were going through and thinking when that crazy Covid thing happened. Or they can read about the morning that I proposed to their grandmother. If they want to learn, they can learn what it was like raising their parents, the wild stories that they can now use against them and anything that can add value and connection as a family.
But when we don’t tell these stories, they die when we die. And those are stories that will never be recovered.
So do your homework for life. Gather your stories from the past. And learn to tell them. We have an obligation to do so.