Hearing someone's story can truly change the course of our lives. Discovering there is great power in our own story can completely transform how we live.
I recall the first time I realized my story had significance. In the fall of 2005, I spoke to a group of high school students crowded in my former school’s library. I was a freshman at the University of Washington and I had asked for the opportunity to return to the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center, a school that serves newcomer immigrant and refugee students, to give a talk on how to prepare for college.
I recall a loud and impatient audience. However, as I began to describe my journey, with all my doubts, struggles and setbacks, I noticed the room began to quiet down. I don’t recollect everything I said, but I do remember (because I wrote it on a napkin) saying the following:
“In all honesty, you shouldn’t expect easy, but if you are willing to work hard and follow your heart you can achieve anything.”
By the end of my talk, the room was completely quiet and the silence was only interrupted after a teacher in the audience stood up to thank me. The students politely applauded and began to stand up to exit the library. However, one student stayed behind and as he approached me I knew he would probably have a question for me. I remember nervously hoping I had the answer, but he didn’t have a question. He told me:
“I’ve never heard someone speak like you just did. Your story has inspired me so much and I promise you I will work very hard.”
The look on his eyes was sincere and grateful. I was overwhelmed with emotion because, as cheesy as it sounds, that day I felt like a made a difference in someone’s life. And most unexpectedly, this student had made a difference in mine.
That day, my story became a way to reach, connect and encourage someone else. At the same time, the only way I know this is because this student took the time to tell me I had made a difference. I don’t even know his name, but he had a profound impact on my life. He helped me to discover the power of my story and gave me just enough courage to reach out to another school so I could speak to their students.
Almost nine years later, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to speak at over 150 schools as well as various universities and conferences, across Washington State and the nation. Most importantly, at each one of these occasions, I’ve also had the opportunity to hear many stories. I’m witness not only to the power of telling your story, but of being heard and hearing others.
Everyone’s story has power. The only reason why most us don’t believe so is because no one has told us otherwise. Unfortunately, we’ve made it easy to not recognize, congratulate and encourage each other. The good news is we can change this.
You don’t have to speak in front of a large crowd or approach everyone and tell them: “Hey, you don’t know me, but your story is awesome!”
You just have to let other people know that their stories have impacted you. Be genuine and intentional. You can start with one person—a friend, a sister or brother, a coworker or someone who you haven’t talked to in a while.
If there is one thing I've learned working as a storyteller over this last nine years, is that if you help others to discover their story, you will discover yours.