People are like puzzles, made up of lots of little pieces, each piece representing a story. The frame of the puzzle is made up of all the little stories, the easy ones. Just like a puzzle, the inside is harder. The inside is made up of the heavier, more impactful stories. When those pieces are put together they give us full a picture.
If I described the frame of my puzzle, I would tell you that I grew up in a small town in western Kansas. My high school class had 42 people in it. I’ve worn glasses since I was 6. I went to a Catholic elementary school through 6th grade. I was not athletic back in the day. I was a lifeguard who loved spinning the whistle and who only halfway paid attention. I went out for volleyball and track because all my friends did. I remember running the half mile in track and literally coming in last place every time. I didn’t even care because my friend Janell and I giggled for two laps. I remember the time I dropped my lunch tray in elementary school twice in one lunch period and was so upset I went to the library and sat by myself. I remember throwing up in the entry way of Wal-Mart and having an employee literally box me in with carts so no one would step in it. I remember dancing on the bar at the Sandbar in college. Those are the easy stories that make up the outer edges of the puzzle of me.
If you asked me to tell you about the inside of my puzzle, I would tell you the story about my grandma passing away a couple of years ago. She was one of the kindest, sweetest women I have ever known. She never said a bad word about anyone. When we were little, she would let us have a tiny bit of coffee with cream and as much sugar as we wanted. She made cornflake cookies. She let me go get her mail through the little path in her back yard.
As I got older, went to college, and moved to St. Louis I didn’t see or talk to my grandma as much as I should have, making her death that much harder. When we traveled the nine hours to western Kansas for her funeral, we saw family that I had literally not seen or talked to in twenty years. When I say “family,” I mean aunts, uncles, and cousins, not distant relatives. I was flooded with memories from my childhood. My family was never included in “their” family dinners or “their” family vacations or “their” family gift exchanges.
As I stood in the funeral home and at the funeral, I could feel the tension. They didn’t say a word to me or my family. I felt like they were waiting for me to come to them. I didn’t. I didn’t think it was up to me to engage with them. They didn’t want anything to do with me as a child, why would they want anything to do with me as a grown-up?
On the way home, I had nine hours to think about my grandma and family and I realized that perhaps feeling rejected by that side of the family for my entire life was at the core of why I never really felt good enough.
That is one of my stories, one part of my puzzle.
The thing about individual and personal stories is, we don’t get to tell someone that their story is wrong.
It’s their story. Not yours.
Their perspective. Not yours.
Their experience. Not yours.
It’s like moving an end piece into the center of the puzzle because you think it goes there. Or worse, taking a piece of your puzzle and forcing it into theirs. Let’s stop trying to change someone’s story, or worse, completely taking it away because it’s different than ours.
Stories have always been and will continue to be a way that we connect with each other as human beings. I have no doubt that you have a story around family that is probably totally different from mine and I bet we could also find things we have in common. That’s the beauty of the humanity puzzle.
What happens when you come up against a story that is so completely different from yours and so far outside of your experiences that you can’t wrap your head around it? You want to believe that it’s not true. You can’t even accept it.
I’m going to ask you to extend yourself here.
Our homes, communities, work places, schools and neighborhoods are filled with humans made up of hundreds of puzzle pieces. Their puzzle. Their stories. There is room for all of them regardless of what the news tells us.
Extend yourself. Go talk to someone and listen to their story.
If you’re interested in what it means to Extend yourself in leadership, download Finding Time To Lead and check out the EXTEND chapter.
- How might my personal story impact me now?
- What would it look like if everyone could tell their story?
- How do I make room for people to share their story?