Last year, for instance, a waiter at a Tampa airport restaurant told me a harrowing tale about his escape from Cuba decades ago aboard a leaky, homemade raft crowded with desperate refugees. A storm came up overnight; enormous waves broke over the raft in the darkness; the people aboard had no way to steer, no idea where they'd end up, if they didn't drown first. "I was terrified," my waiter said. "I thought we would all die. When I saw a ship coming to get us, I cried. I cried!"
More recently, while I was checking a proof at the printer's, my rep told me how he grew up in South Africa obsessed with soccer. He practiced a good 4 hours a day, every day, not because he had to, but because he loved the game so much. Even at meals, his feet were always juggling a soccer ball under the table. After his family emigrated to free themselves from apartheid, this young soccer fanatic discovered he had more skills and experience than anyone at his new school. He was even scouted by the pros. Now as a coach himself, he inspires his young players to dig deep and work hard for their goals.
And last weekend at a business conference, I met a lovely woman who told me she's still haunted by guilt over a mistake she made years ago. Despite a fascinating life filled with impressive accomplishments, this beautiful soul is struggling to find her bearings amid a swirling fog of regret and confusion. She can't yet see her next steps, but she knows one thing for sure, so sure that her eyes welled as she told me: "I want my story to matter."
Can you feel the primal human desire, the raw authenticity in that simple statement? I sure did. Because I've stumbled and struggled myself. I've learned the hard way that the road to success is paved with failure and adversity, forgiveness and resilience. And I want my story to matter, too.
This is what happens when we tell our stories openly and courageously. People listen; they understand; they relate; and suddenly they feel connected to us. They can't help it. Because when we tell our stories; they hear their own.
Discovering that someone else shares our story, even just a sliver of it, brings hope and healing. Someone else knows the road we've traveled; someone else has already arrived where we want to go. Their story tells us that the road is passable, and we don't have to travel alone anymore.
When we realize that we share the same stories, and that all of our stories fit into one overarching story--the story of humanity, the story of Earth, the story of the universe--we realize, too, that our stories do matter, every single one of them.
And that is precisely why we need to tell them.