I've been dealing with an existential crisis lately: What's my story?
Am I the writer who quit his job?
The dad who learned to slow down?
The guy who calls you to care about the world?
I once heard the best way to “find your passion” is to look at what you're doing now, to “let your life speak” as Parker Palmer put it.
So what's your life saying?
Or another way to put it: What bugs you? What's wrong with the world that you could fix? If you had the power, what would you do to change things?
Finding my story in other people's stories
Often in conversation, I will pull stories out of people.
I want to know where they come from, what their dreams are, why they do what they do. It's just something that comes natural to me. If a person doesn't know her story, I help her find it. If she does know, I help her figure out how to spread it.
So as I was thinking about my purpose, it occurred to me:
Maybe my story is about helping other people find their stories.
A little meta, I know. But it got me excited.
In fact, this is the thing that keeps me up at night and gets me out of bed in the morning. We all have a story to tell; and until we do, the world is missing an important gift.
The pain of not telling your story
There's no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
I've felt that agony, seen the pain of untold stories in the eyes of strangers seeking permission to share.
For 20 years, I waited to be a writer, keeping the dream a secret — storing it inside my heart, safe from failure. But when I finally owned my identity, my life was changed: I published a book, quit my job, and started helping others do the same.
It's been an exciting couple of years. And still, sometimes I wonder what would've happened had I never done that. What would my story look like now?
Oliver Wendell Holmes paints this picture:
Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them.
The title of the above poem is “The Voiceless” — an apt moniker for those who never let their stories out. It's a sad picture, isn't it?
But maybe that fact that this bothers me is an indicator of my purpose. Maybe my voice is found in helping the voiceless speak, in bringing untold stories to light. I can think of little else that excites me more.
Stories teach us how to live
Stories connect us. They engage the passion inside that makes existence not only bearable but beautiful.
Every time I hear a great story, it inspires me to live a better life. What's more, I'm most alive when helping others discover their stories, when they share that message only they can share.
This is probably why I created an online course.
I didn't want this to be just another class, an empty exercise in rote education. I wanted it to be special, a means of empowering the voiceless and setting loose a thousand messages the world needed to hear.
And that's just what happened — not because of me, but because of the power of story and relationship. Something amazing happens when people open up and connect with each other.
Perhaps it's a bit selfish because I get such a thrill from it, but I want to see more stories. More honest illustrations of the ugliness of life; more beauty through pain; more life and love and all things that remind us of what it means to be human.
And if I can help make that happen in some small way, I'll feel like my time on earth was well spent.
As far as I can tell, that's my story. What's yours?
(By the way, Tribe Writers is opening again soon. For now, I'd love for you to consider if it'd be a good fit for you, and if you'd be good for it.)
If you had to identify the core theme of the story of your life, what would it be? Share in the comments.