Why Your Story Matters

As a kid I used to climb this tree in my front yard overlooking three of my neighbors’ homes, four if I craned my neck to look behind me. Once I scaled the tree, to the left, there were two branches that met in such a way that it formed a perfect seat for me to settle into for hours reading Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew mystery novels. From the street, I was totally invisible. (I tested it.) While reading, I kept a watchful eye for any outlandish or salacious behavior from my neighbors that I could then report back to my family. Our neighbors were terribly boring though, so mostly I just ended up being a creepy kid in a tree reading stories about other people’s interesting lives. But from an early age, I learned the power of story and its transformative abilities.
People occasionally ask me why I started writing Aiming for Okay. It’s twofold really. One, I do it for me. I do it because it forces me to take time each week to write, to practice putting words and sentences, and hopefully, meaning together. I read an interview with Chris Rock once where he said comedians are the only ones forced to test their material out on an audience before they get to see what works and what doesn’t. I respectfully disagree. While I am in no way comparing myself to Chris Rock, what you’re getting here each week, for better or worse, is straight out of my brain and onto the screen, unedited (by anyone other than me), un-reviewed, and many times, uncomfortably hard for me to re-read once it’s “out there,” maybe because of the subject matter or maybe because of a typo I can’t believe I missed. But each week I write and send it anyway.
On the other hand, I do it because I feel like I need to. And I don’t mean that in an overly self-indulgent, “my story is soooo fascinating” kind of way (because it’s not), but rather, it feels like the right thing to do, like some sort of act of gratitude. I have encountered an inordinate amount of willing storytellers in my life, people kind enough, courageous enough, bored enough, drunk enough, sober enough, whatever enough to share flashes of their lives with me. Those stories, those little peeks behind the curtain, gave me a better understanding of me, made me feel less alone, made me feel a little more a part of. These people were practicing skills I hadn’t yet acquired, didn’t even know I was missing: honesty, courage, vulnerability, perspective. So I write because if I can give that feeling of “you’re okay, too” that has been so freely given to me to even just one person, then that’ll work for me. And if not, consider me grateful for the opportunity to try again next week.
It is vitally important to me that we share our stories with each other: who we are, what our experience of life is, how we manage and don’t manage. We are never, ever, ever alone in our experiences. Ever. Ever. Ever. But if we don’t share them or allow someone else to share with us, how will we know that? Without stories, our experiences exist in a vacuum, wasted.
I’m not saying share your life story with every coworker you run into at the coffeepot (discretion is a beautiful tool), but put a little more of yourself, your actual self, into your encounters with other people. Say thank you with your mouth and your eyes when someone holds a door open for you. Invite someone you don’t see very often (and don’t want anything from) to grab a coffee. Listen to his answer when you ask him how he’s doing. You are telling a story even when you’re not talking. That may be when your story is its loudest.
But do share your story, the things that make you you when you can. We need to hear our own voices. We need to move ideas from inside our heads to outside our heads—that shows us where we’ve changed, what’s still incubating, and maybe even what’s not on our radar yet that someone else can see or hear.
We have endless opportunities each day to be generous listeners and honest storytellers. Every moment, good and bad, is building out the plot to the life we get to share with others.