How would you start your story? What are the words you would choose to capture who YOU are and the impact you have made on others?
It’s a little daunting to think about, right? It’s like having to catalog everything we have ever done in our lives and come up with a snappy sentence that sums us all up. It seems next to impossible. BUT – if we don’t know how to start our story, how are we going to tell our story?
Our stories are important. Our stories connect us. Studies show that storytelling makes us better humans. So it’s a disservice to others if we don’t tell our stories!
One of the great lessons I learned from working at The Oprah Winfrey Show is “Everyone has a story.” Michelle Obama’s STADIUM book tour reminds us all that our stories matter. On the back cover of her book Becoming she writes: “Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”
So I ask you – Are you telling your story?
And I don’t mean through Instagram Stories, Facebook Stories, Snapchat Stories, or Twitter! I’m talking about the sit down face to face kind of story that reminds us all we are more alike than we are unalike.
As a story teller and speaker, I would be lost without my story. I hold onto my story the way I used to hold onto my baby blanket, and I still would if it was socially acceptable. My story is my comfort, my joy and my security. Even the ugly parts.
When did you realize your story was starting?
I was 14-years-old. My mother invited me to the filming of The Mike Douglas Show. It was one of the first talk shows on television and it happened to be produced in my hometown of Philadelphia.
My mom took me back to the show a few months later, only this time I asked HER to take me. The cast of Welcome Back Kotter, a hit show from the 70’s, was scheduled to be on the show and John Travolta, who played the sexy Vinnie Barbarino, was my pretend boyfriend. His poster hung in my bedroom where I spent a lot of time listening to his songs on 45’s on repeat.
As I sat in the studio audience, yes I was watching for The Girl with the Clipboard, but I was pretty much distracted with the excitement of knowing I was about to see John Travolta in the flesh. That’s when a producer came out to speak to us and announced that sadly, John Travolta had to cancel at the last minute. An early lesson that TV can sometimes be heartbreaking.
But I held on to the image of The Girl with the Clipboard through the rest of my high school years and I even took her to college with me.
When I returned to college from DC for my senior year, an arts center had been built at my college, Lafayette College. With zero training, I auditioned for the first musical to ever be produced on campus titled Chicago. At the same time, I applied for the TV internship in Chicago. And while I did not land the role of Velma, I did get the TV internship, and that’s when I knew Chicago was going to be a big part of my story one way or another, even though I had no idea where Chicago was – geography is not my strong suit.
I spoke WITH the audience, not TO the audience – they shared their stories. And those stories became the focus of the pre-show warm-up, just like the show. People left the studio with new friendships and connections. it was unexpected. I think they were expecting a standup comic, and while I do love a good joke and have secret dreams to be a standup comic, I am not exactly a comedian.
I often wonder if over the years of warming up the audiences for The Oprah Winfrey Show, if a girl sat in the audience with her mother and saw me and told her mom “I want to do that” and made me part of HER story.
I recently spoke at a Women in Trucking Conference – an industry dominated by men. And at the end of my speech I said “Remember, girls are watching.” When I said those words I felt their power.
Accept invitations from anyone who loves or likes you – fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, bosses, friends. We are never too old to discover the one thing that drives us and defines our story.
But what if the invitation you say NO to is the one thing that would change the trajectory of your life? The one thing that could lead you to finding your STORY. Saying NO is like saying we don’t care about our story.
Author and researcher Brené Brown, my speaker hero, says we are hardwired to tell our stories! Which means we should be hardwired to say YES to an invitation from our mom or dad.
Research from The Harvard Business Review says:
Stories create ‘sticky’ memories by attaching emotions to things that happen.
This is the part of my story that sticks with me. I hope it sticks with you.
Last November, I invited my mom to the Watching Oprah exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of African American History & Culture and after she said NO to me many times, she said YES.
We stood in front of the wall that displayed my name and a quote I gave about how we booked the studio audience:
The trick was getting the right audience for a given topic. Back in the day we’d put voice-overs at the end of soap operas. ‘If you are cheating on your husband call this number.’ Then we’d spend all afternoon answering the phones ‘Oprah Show please hold, Oprah Show please hold, Oprah Show please hold.
This quote gave me the great privilege of inviting my mom to stand beside me and say “Look Mom, I’m in the Smithsonian because of you.”
I thanked my mom for saying YES to my invitation. I also thanked her for not only giving me a start to my story, but also, a really nice end.
Look for the part of your story that sticks with you. Start there. And if you are having trouble finding a place to start, say yes to the next invitation that comes your way, from your mother or anyone who loves or likes you, and maybe you will find your story too.