“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou
A few years ago, I was visiting my now-late paternal Grandmother. She was 93 and had lived a very full life. We were chatting about her travels and I asked her one question: “Where would revisit if she could only choose one place from all your travels?”
She didn’t even hesitate. My Grandmother stood up, wandered off in her 90-something way. When she returned, she handed me a travel book from the 70’s, and said “there.” I flipped through this little book fascinated by the photos of beaches and mountains. It was a little island off the coast of Portugal near Morocco.
As I looked at the photos, she told me stories of how she and my Grandpa had loved this little island. The restaurants, beaches, hikes, and people. It was 50 years ago, but she remembered it as if it was yesterday. She even told me that it was probably not nearly as great now that others knew about it. AND that it was magical for her.
It was around that same time that I learned that she had been a speaker – which is why she traveled the world the second half of her life. She was the #1 distributor of Watkins products (now found in Target) in the nation many times over and won trips around the world to share her experience with selling in a rural area. She had a community, people who trusted her, and it was during a time before supermarkets and big box stores. She was the person to go to for cleaning supplies, the best vanilla, and soup bases – which took her all over the world.
I had been speaking for 10 years before I realized that I had descended from a professional speaker. If I hadn’t taken some time to ask her about her life, I doubt I would have ever learned this. She loved traveling the world as much as I do. She was married to an Attica night-shift prison guard and farmer in the rural countryside of Western New York, yet she was one of the most traveled people I’ve ever met.
That was also the same day she asked me how tall I was. When I told her, she told me I was too big. That it would be to hard to find a man who was bigger than me. But then she said: “Well, I guess if a man gets out of line, you could put him back in line very quickly.” She was not one to mince words.
I never got to know my grandmother very well. She was a matriarch who told my mom that she had raised her 7 children and didn’t plan to raise any more (she meant us). That meant that we didn’t spend a lot of time around her and my grandpa. Most of their stories I know from my dad. And all of them are precious.
When my husband and I moved up here to a little lake community in Western New York this summer, I got a chance to hang out with my dad and ask more questions, which led to more stories. More stories of his life as a teenager – even here at this little lake.
Java (pronounced Jay-vuh) Lake is close to the huge farm he grew up on in Orangeville, NY – the one my grandparents lived for most of their lives after meeting at Sing Sing Prison in New York City. My grandmother was the late night phone operator while my grandpa was a prison guard. They married and moved to build a life.
My dad told me about how one of his brothers wanted to go see a girl he liked at Java Lake, but my uncle didn’t have his license yet. My dad drove him – and as they were heading back to the farm, they saw a newly dead skunk in Java Lake Road (literally down the street from where our little lake cottage stands.)
My uncle was the kind of guy who hunted and skinned animals to sell their furs to the fur-trader when he came through town (as you do in the country) and had always wanted to sell a skunk hide.
This was NOT something my dad wanted anything to do with – especially not in his car – but my uncle begged and pleaded, so they stopped.
The skunk was freshly killed and hadn’t released its offensive smell yet. My dad popped the trunk and my uncle got ready to move it in – which was the exact moment he was sprayed. Thoroughly.
Needless to say, the car AND my uncle took a lot of cleaning – and my grandmother was anything but happy with the whole idea.
My favorite thing about all of this – I wouldn’t know this story if I hadn’t been here the last 6 months. I wouldn’t have been able to picture it with such clarity – the old car, my dad & his brother as teens, the late night escapade, my grandmother being mad about all of it.
My family is one for telling stories.
I’ve heard the story of my parents’ first date more times than I can count – her white shorts, the dirty pond & a dare. I’ve heard about my breech, backwards birth and the fact that my mom doesn’t absorb novocaine (despite the doctor not believing her.) I know the stories of my aunts and uncles, my many grandparents, and even some about my great-grandparents (the one about my German great-grandma who made beer in her basement because American beer is terrible is one of my faves.)
I’m sad I don’t know more of my grandparents’ stories, but as I get older, I learn new ones from my parents. I hear about their childhoods, new stories about my own childhood, and even how they felt at my age with a 20-something in college.
Storytelling is a lost art.
I’m always amazed that people don’t know how their parents met. Or how their family ended up here in America. Or even how many times they have moved (16 before I turned 11 – including cross-country moves twice.)
Everyone WANTS to share their stories, but few of us are good listeners anymore. There’s always a new TV show or a new app to learn instead of taking the time to look at old photos and hear the memories of those who have gone before us.
Find out THEIR untold stories.
YOUR CHALLENGE: This holiday season, take the time to ask questions – especially if you have to do it via Zoom. Stop asking about what happened yesterday or what’s going on at work – start asking what happened 20, 35, 50, 70 years ago. Find out where you came from, why you are who you are, and what makes you YOU. Share your own stories – especially the ones no one knows. Give them a chance to get to know you better.
If you noticed in my stories above, I didn’t tell any EPIC stories. I told EVERYDAY stories. The ones that could have happened to anyone, anywhere. You don’t have to ONLY tell the crazy, horrible, scary, insane, all-the-things kinds of stories. You can share the little ones – because those mean the most.
What’s YOUR untold story?
DOUBLE DARE CHALLENGE: Grab a spot in our next SPEAK With Confidence 90-Day Challenge and start writing your stories down. WARNING: If you go deep enough, you WILL cry. You WILL hate me. And I will be SO proud of you.
Some Rockstars sign up and end up spending 90 days on Chapter 1 (shoutout to Londa, Kim, Judy & so many more) – the one that pulls out all your stories. And that’s ok.
We have a lot of Rockstars who come back a second time to work on Chapters 2-7 because they dove so deeply into their stories the first round.
The rest of the Rockstars end up writing one talk and then take it again to write a second.
You don’t have to want to become a keynote speaker or give workshops to join us for the 90-Day Challenge. Maybe you just want to be better at telling your grandkids the stories of your youth so you can live on even after you’re gone. Or so you can share the stories that illustrate why you deserve that promotion with more confidence.
Whether you join us or not, I ask you – PLEAD WITH YOU – to share your story. Challenge yourself to share more of yourself with others – and know that you’re not being selfish by doing so. You’re being selfish by NOT sharing your stories with those who so desperately need to hear them.
Your story matters. Period.