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{Part of the series “Telling Your Story: Essential steps for taking your story to the next level” Read step one here.}

So I’ve been through this scenario more times than I can count:

We’re sitting in a group and the leader asks a personal question. Everybody looks at the floor. The room is silent. Nobody makes eye contact with the leader.

The silence is uncomfortable.  People squirm in their seats.

Then one brave soul clears her throat and begins to mumble something very quietly. Heads turn.  Eyes look up from the floor. Her voice grows.  Everyone listens to her story as she dives into her mess, the story she’s dying to share.

Her bravery is like a small thread weaving through the circle, from one person to another, one story to another, until there’s an avalanche of memories and stories. It’s like a clogged pipe that’s suddenly opened and a flood of water pours out.

Our stories quench our thirst for more life, more grace, more ways of showing how we’re messed up and broken sinners, healed through the One who lived a great story. Stories become the catalyst for more stories and more brave storytellers.

When we’re vulnerable, others will be vulnerable too.  Our stories give permission for others to share their stories.

This is the second step in sharing your story:  Be vulnerable.

Author Anne Lamott says it well,

If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”

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When I was a gangly-legged kid, I decided one day I would learn to dive. Swimming was never a problem, but for some reason, the act of putting my head first and falling in seemed terrifying.

I was determined to learn, so I bent over, put my arms over my head and stared into the deep water. I had two choices: either dive in or sit on the pool edge. At some point, I had to make the decision to jump.

My body curled over, head first, and the momentum of gravity pushed my body toward the water, until I flopped into it belly first. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a start.  I tried again, flopping belly first, then head first, finding that the more I jumped head first, the less fear I felt, and the more willing I was to try again.

Sharing our stories is a lot like learning to dive.  We have to bellyflop before we can swan dive.  We have to start with small baby steps.

When I started writing, I struggled against the little voice in my head telling me it wasn’t good enough.

It only took a few decades to realize my greatest critic is the face I see in the mirror everyday.

But like all risks, at some point you have to decide whether you’re going to dive in or sit on the edge of the pool.

I decided to stop listening to the voice and get the words down even when they were less than perfect.  It’s like finger exercises on the piano–you have to practice in order to get better.

When you ignore the voice in your head and focus on taking baby steps, you find yourself diving in with less fear. You find yourself choosing vulnerability over keeping up appearances.

This is the beauty of storytelling. This is the beauty of diving into a life with no fear.

Tell your story

Questions to ask before you start:

So where do we start on this journey of sharing our stories?

Here are a few practical questions to ask yourself before you share your story.

1.  Are you willing to be vulnerable?

Sharing your story means sharing your mistakes, your heartaches, your greatest fears.  The most impacting stories often are the most vulnerable ones.  Donald Miller shared on his blog,

What God wants to do with our pain is turn it into ministry, into an empathy that will heal others. Some of the darkest season in your life may turn into a gift for somebody else.”

2.  Who is my audience?  

Is there someone specific I would like to share my story with?  Is there a small group of friends who like to swap stories? Is there a church or community group? A support group?  A friend I could invite over for coffee?  A group of budding storytellers or writers? One summer we had a True Story party at our house with the assignment that everyone who attended had to have a story on a certain theme.

3. Am I open to new opportunities to share my story?  What opportunities could I create?

If opportunities don’t come up, create your own. Blog. Write for others. Ministries and nonprofits often need volunteer writers and speakers. Join a writing group. Host your own Story Party.  [Stay tuned for some big news about an opportunity for you to share your story!]

4. Are you a good listener?

Listening to other people’s stories (whether through reading, podcasting, or in person) helps us understand what makes a story enjoyable or moving. It also propels others to be more willing to listen to your stories. Authentic stories are the most powerful. Join a group where authentic people practice vulnerable storytelling.

5. What is my motivation? Am I trying to tell a story or make a point?

The most effective stories are the ones that focus on the story first, because a well chosen story often lets the message speak for itself. Jesus was the master storyteller with his parables, because the stories, when understood, communicated a powerful message.

How will you practice vulnerable storytelling this week?  Will you dive in or sit on the edge of the pool?

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Sara

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