Storytelling is a gift. It is sharing a piece of ourselves, a glimpse into our thoughts, experience and feelings. We are a compilation of our stories and yet we can learn from those that others share, as well.
It’s easy to forget the importance of storytelling in our ever-busy, high marketing society. As writers, in particular, we rush around daily trying to find the best angle, scoop the news, meet a deadline or create content that will capture a reader’s attention and motivate or inspire action.
Occasionally that rush means we miss the mark, the reason we are writing, the essence of the story. The true gift that the words are meant to deliver – empathy, triumph, the need for us to rely on one another whether for services, friendship, support or connection.
Engaging stories capture attention and facilitate connection. The right story can bring readers to products or concepts, elevate understanding and create common ground. The best story creates community through text and images.
When I was a kid (and even now) I remember the commercials, after-school specials and books that made me feel – the ones that touched me to a point of tears or inspired me to do and be better. The moments where I got lost in the story.
As an adult I’ve learned that life is the ultimate storyteller, giving us experiences that can shape us and teach us the true meaning of empathy. I have learned that we connect best when serving others and that when stability seems unreachable, we need to reach out to one another and provide steadying support.
When we reach to each other in compassion with story we build one another up. Our stories give us license to break through barriers and lean on one another. Our stories bolster us and make us vulnerable, all at once. Our stories teach us that with faith, friends and tenacity, we can endure anything that comes our way. Our stories build community.
Last month I was encouraged to share one of my life stories on my blog. I hesitated due to the personal nature of the story, but was told it needed to be shared. My story speaks to the resilience and strength made possible in our lives when we truly connect and support one another.
In March 2013, I took a leap of faith and decided to turn my contract writing work into a full fledged business. I committed five clients to recurring contracts and launched Need Someone To Blog with a vision of high quality content, a determination to succeed and a really cool logo.
You see, telling my clients stories had inspired me to chase my own. I sought out cheerleaders, coaches and team members along the way to fuel and challenge me to reach my goals. Together we realized my dream. Soon those 5 faithful clients had grown into a solid base of 35 customers.
It was hard to believe that this success was all built around story – my need to tell it and my clients need to share it. As our Need Someone To Blog team grew rapidly, we were united in the purpose of telling the best story and enjoyed a deep satisfaction that comes from producing a great product. As I approached the final quarter of my first year as company owner, I was amazed at all we had accomplished and thrilled to see where our growth would take us.
Then, the unthinkable happened.
At 2:17 am on December 17, 2013, a week before Christmas, I woke up to an unusual sound. I heard an unknown and incessant pinging noise that wouldn’t stop. My husband, typically an unusually light sleeper, would not wake up. After three very long minutes of trying to waken him which resulted in the conclusion that our home was either being broken into or we needed new alarm batteries, I finally bluffed, “Fine. I will go confront the burglar by myself.” At that point my husband got out of bed, a bit disgruntled, and walked to the door. I grabbed my cell phone as backup.
As my husband pulled open the doorknob, thick black air rushed into our room, coating us with acrid smoke and making it difficult to breath. Suddenly the whole house alarm went off (later we were told we had released more oxygen into the area which caused the smoke to travel more quickly and surprisingly did not cause a flash up the stairs). Instantly I became fully awake as I saw flames reaching to the ceiling through the darkness downstairs.
I dialed 911 and began rushing from room to room, grabbing sleeping children and transferring them to our van parked on the street outside.
My husband went to fight the fire. Our teenage son woke up, covered himself in a blanket and ran to help Dad with the fire.
Our normally ferocious Australian Shepherd cowered and I found myself even carrying our dog to the safety of the car. The fire was too close to Michael, our trusty goldfish so he had to be left behind. There was no time to get him or my photo albums or my laptop which contained files material to running my business.
I saw my husband and teenager throwing water on the fire, (both had forgotten about our fire extinguisher in their sleepy yet reactive states) and tried to get them to leave the house. They wouldn’t come.
On my final trip out of the house I heard a voice coming from my robe pocket. It was then that I discovered my geo-location had been turned off of my phone and in my haste to evacuate the house, I had only dialed 911, not given them any information. I started to rattle off the address and a firetruck pulled up. By the time I was standing on the sidewalk, two more firetrucks had arrived and rescue efforts were in full force. Our central alarm service had worked and the fire department had already been notified.
The firefighters quenched the remaining flames and carried burning items outside to be sprayed down. They retrieved Michael, our fish, who survived his warmed water experience. The firemen assessed each of us and kept us secure in the van until the core temperature of the walls made the house “safe” to enter. They made us feel cared for, safe, watched over, and grateful for a central alarm system which we were told saved our lives.
Two hours later we were able to re-enter our home. It was like no home I had ever been inside. The walls were black, the cabinets charred. The lights could not penetrate the black air, making vision difficult and the air choked our breath, thick with debris. Nothing had been safe from the fingers of smoke.
We sent the kids off to school (they said it was better than staying at home) and discussed how to proceed. Most everything we owned was either covered in soot or destroyed. It was heartbreaking, unbelievable and scary. It was a story I never imagined would be mine.
And in the end, it’s a series of stories that need to be told..
The story of survival. Most families who wake up to a middle of the night fire are not so lucky. I am grateful every day that we were kept safe from injury.
The story of preparedness. It was speculated by the firefighters that the pinging noise I heard was our carbon monoxide detector (no wonder everyone had a hard time waking up). Please test and make sure you have a working carbon monoxide detector and smoke alarm in your home.
The story of resilience. As our teenagers showed up not only to school but to early morning seminary the morning after the fire, they showed us that they were more mature than we expected. They also proceeded to take and do well on finals that week.
The story of friendship. One of my friends dropped everything she was doing to stand by me and negotiate with the hotel when I was too numb to make decisions. That same friend then asked her children to give up their wii and related games over Christmas break so my young boys could have something to play at the hotel.
The story of comfort. We were lucky to have found a hotel with friendly staff and an on-site Starbucks for days where hot chocolate became a necessity of life. The hotel staff also left us treats on Christmas Eve and helped us to feel as “at home” as possible as we adjusted to hotel life.
The story of customer service. My local computer repair store saved the day by diagnosing that only my “brick” and power cord had overheated in the fire and that my computer and hard drive were salvageable. This same shop came to my rescue yet again when two weeks later I doused my laptop keyboard with the aforementioned hot chocolate on a particularly tense day.
The story of surprise. One family snuck into our teen daughters’ hotel suite and decorated it with a pink Christmas tree and all the fixings. Another set of friends (from my elementary and junior high school days if you can believe that!) did the same, only in blue, to surprise my young sons in our hotel suite.
The story of compassion. Our local boarding center groomed our very sooty dog and helped her feel loved and safe when she was unable to be with us. Later Daisy was able to spend the next few months with my Dad which I think she enjoyed more than living at home, but that’s another story.
The story of selflessness. A church friend determined that her role was to keep my young boys entertained while school was not in session and took them on countless outings and hotel swimming pool adventures.
The story of parents and family. It’s amazing how powerful the words, “What can we do?” can be. My sister’s quilting club brought warmth and a homey touch into our hotel when they sent specially made quilts for each one of us.
The story of college roommates. I swear there is nothing like girlfriends banding together to make sure the holiday season is celebrated with a trip to see the lights at Mission Inn and a Princess Carriage ride.
The story of “the-best-ever” neighbors. Our neighbors provided countless hours of last-minute play for months when contractors needed instruction and supervision in the after school hours.
The story of clients. I was afraid to share what had happened, but found as they learned my story (through social media), my clients took a chance and trusted that my company would produce their content despite the drama. Those same clients became business builders as they referred my company or came to “my office” in the hotel lobby so we could continue consulting.
The story of my team. I am amazed to work with such quality people. My team took pride in their work and assisted where needed with content, client care, and patience. Our team continues to ground Need Someone To Blog and keeps us growing to the point where we serve more clients than I ever dreamed possible.
Each of these stories is amazing in its own right. However, together they combine and keep me inspired as an individual and as an entrepreneur. They teach me that we each have something to give and they teach me that challenges give us opportunity to connect and rely on one another.
My story is one of gratitude, hope, love, and looking forward and I hope yours is, too.