During a recent storytelling workshop I conducted, I had the opportunity to share a very personal and emotional story related to 9/11. Although I've shared my stories orally and in writing numerous times, and presented countless times to audiences large and small, in this case, I found myself uncharacteristically nervous. The sweats attacked me with a vengeance. And I had to fight through the first few moments of the story, telling it at the same time I was thinking, "God, I must look and sound awful." And then it hit me. The reason why I was struggling so much with this particular story was because 9/11 was and still is an extremely painful part of my history and experience. The act of telling it, of revealing that pain in some small way, scared me. For many people, the personal nature of the stories they want to share often results in a fear of being vulnerable or even a fear of being judged. Some of you know exactly what I'm talking about. You've experienced that fear, too. The fear comes from our less fortunate memories. We are reminded – consciously and subconsciously – of the times when we screwed up and we were judged (whether fairly or harshly), or when we were vulnerable and taken advantage of, or when we were humiliated and no one showed us grace. Sometimes fear is healthy, especially when it keeps us from doing self-destructive things. And sometimes fear just gets in the way of doing things we need to do. Those occasions require courage. The very act of sharing our stories demonstrates courage, and breaking through that fear empowers us and others. It's important to do. It's necessary to do. Why? Because everyone is on a journey in life. And no one's journey is perfect. And if we could all just accept that and move forward, then we could actually accomplish a lot together. A great way to do this is to share stories that bridge our lives and connect our journeys. That's because everyone's journey holds powerful lessons – not just for the individual sharing the story, but for the people reading, watching or listening to it. If I've said it once, I'll say it a thousand more times: everyone has a story to tell. Because everyone has a life full of experiences, events and memories that mean something. For the author, sharing a personal story can often be the key to understanding a past experience or healing from a painful memory. And for people in the audience, reading or hearing someone else's story often reminds them of similar experiences and triggers a sense of connection and belonging. I have witnessed this enough times to know it as my truth. Shared stories help us make sense of past experiences, and open us up to new ones. Some of the more recent stories people have shared on our site, Sidelined: Living with Crohn's, Agony of the Empty Nest, and The Loss of My Son to Social Services, drive this point home. These storytellers demonstrated great courage in sharing stories about deeply personal experiences. If they can do it, so can the rest of us. Story sharing is not only about coping with one's own past (or present) challenges. Think about it from a leadership and engagement standpoint. Sharing your professional and career experiences through stories can help you bring your team or organization together, and strengthen your relationship with those who work with you. Looking back at my career to date, I have had so many amazing experiences, and have learned some tremendous lessons from those experiences. Some lessons were painful, some were not. Some are embarrassing to tell. Some are hilarious. Some still make me beam with pride. And all are valuable. So it would be a shame not to share the stories of those experiences, even if it's only in the context of a 1-on-1 with someone who's going through a similar situation. It's in the process of sharing of those stories that we learn and connect the most. So, back to my recent 9/11 storytelling experience: what did I learn? Well, I learned that I still enjoy writing my stories more than I do telling them out loud. I learned that I had forgotten some things about my 9/11 experience that I needed to remember, and the decision to write and tell this story helped me do so. I learned some new things about other people's experiences on that sad, sad day. I learned, from my own 9/11 story, that moving forward is really about remembering and learning, first. I learned that I'm still capable of being vulnerable, and that is powerful. And I learned (again) that my vulnerability can empower others, by enabling them to be vulnerable. I use the word "again" because, in fact, I already knew this to be true. But sometimes, lessons are powerful and persistent, and they demand to be learned and re-learned. So, take the step. Get started with your story, and let me know how I can help. Because life's a journey. And your stories are the bridge.
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