I paced nervously behind the black curtain while an awesome local Hip-Hop artist inspired and entertained the audience. Cheers echoed throughout the overflowing auditorium of over 700 people packed into every single seat and spilling into the aisles and hallway.
They were all waiting to hear someone speak about depression and suicide. They were waiting for me.
The past two months have been a Tasmanian Devil style whirlwind with huge mountaintop moments and a few car-dying-on-the-highway-in-Indiana valleys. I (somehow) planned, prepared and executed my first national speaking tour, sold my house and moved, started a GoFundMe campaign, and launched face first into my eighth year of teaching music in the public schools.
As we say in the north, “Uffda!”
Every time I have a suicide prevention event on the calendar I spend much of the preceding 48 hours consumed with a disgusting cocktail of nausea and dread like that roller coaster moment when you’re buckled in, leaving the station, and screaming, “WHY AM I DOING THIS?!”
“No part of me wanted to make that video,”
I say as I step out on the stage.
“No part of me wants to stand up here in front of all of you and talk about the worst day of my life.”
God didn’t just speak to me and encourage me to stay alive, he keeps whispering me over and over on how to tell a better story with my life. He (somewhat annoyingly) nudges me to leave my self-destructive tendencies behind and make the world a better place.
So wherever you are in your journey to live the best life possible, here are 9 things I’ve learned about telling a better story.
1. Decide that Your Story Isn’t About You
There is a reason Jesus stands out as the most influential human of all time (I mean, other than the fact that he is the son of God). He spent his entire adult life serving other people and encouraging others to live a better story.
If you want your story to inspire and uplift others, decide that a life serving others will always be better than a life spent serving yourself.
[Looking for ideas for serving others? Check out my post 50 Ways to Serve the Least of These]
Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” —Matthew 10:43
2. Pick Some Really Big Dreams and Freaking Go for Them
What are the crazy things on your “one day…” list. Run a marathon? Learn the guitar? Write a book? Start a Non-Profit? Fight Sex-Trafficking? Become a Foster Parent?
At some point, you’re going to run out of “some days.”
Setting big goals is a terrifying thing because you then you actually have to go after them. Plus you run the risk of feeling like a failure if you set out to accomplish something other than binge 42 hours of the latest televised waste of time.
Life is too short to let even a single day pass you by. Dare to make some Big Hairy Audacious Dreams and freaking go for them.
“Living a life fully engaged and full of whimsy and the kind of things that love does is something most people plan to do, but along the way they just kind of forget. Their dreams become one of those “we’ll go there next time” deferrals. The sad thing is, for many there is no “next time” because passing on the chance to cross over is an overall attitude toward life rather than a single decision.” —Bob Goff, Love Does
3. Own Your Story Like a BOSS
You can spend your whole life burying the worst things that happened to you, pretending you’ve never experienced any pain. It’s a valid strategy, I employed it for a lot of years and it mostly worked.
Yet, at some point most of your relationships are going to feel empty and incomplete. In order to be truly known and seen, you have to let people see the real you—the haven’t showered in three days, dirt under your finger nails—you.
When you allow people to see your imperfections, it gives them permission to breath and step into life’s imperfections with you.
Author Transparency in 3…2…1… this step required me to seek professional help with a counselor. So, if you struggle with this, maybe consider giving that a shot.
When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending—to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how this story ends.”
― Brené Brown, Rising Strong
4. Know Yourself and Set Boundaries, Like For Realz
If you want to tell an awesome story with your life, actually decide the person you want to be. Decide what you stand for and what you’re trying to accomplish in the world. Listen to God’s beautiful whisper about the person you were created to be and let everything else go.
And when you find yourself losing that person, be brave enough to get alone with Him and start again.
“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where i end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. Boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for your choices. You are the one who makes them. You are the one who must live with their consequences. And you are the one who may be keeping yourself from making the choices you could be happy with.” —Henry Cloud, Boundaries
5. Prioritize People and Experiences Over Possessions.
I just finished fixing up an ugly house and selling it for a profit to pay off my student debt. I was planning to flip another one until there was a moment about a year ago when I was working alone in the house on a Friday night and I heard this:
Sam, if you stay on this path you’re going to have a big fancy house and no one to fill it with.
The “stuff” of this world are just props and at some point we have to give them all back to the big prop master in the sky. Make others the purpose of your life. Learn to love and be loved well. People, not possessions, are what make a better story.
6. Ask for Help
Telling a better story requires you to step outside yourself and ask for help. No one can make it through this crazy real-life video game we’re all playing alone; every story needs accountability and companionship.
Every story needs, “Corner Four Relationships” as described in Dr. Henry Cloud’s book, The Power of the Other:
“The best Corner Four people treat each scene in your journey as important, and they make sure you see it that way too… They don’t look for perfection, but they do notice and celebrate small improvements. This creates an atmosphere in which growth can happen, and with the other factors like fuel, ownership, accountability, and feedback, it does.”
7. Use Your God-Given Creativity
All of the people I know who are telling awesome stories with their lives are brave enough to step into the arena of creativity. The experiment with visual art, photography, writing, music, design…
Truthfully, I am not sure it’s even about the art. I think it’s about the courage to make something and the grace to allow your creation to exist – regardless of what the world thinks about it.
“Recognizing that people’s reactions don’t belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest – as politely as you possibly can – that they go make their own [freaking] art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.” -Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert
All good stories have a moment when the hero has to lay down a part of himself/herself for someone else. Whether that’s a person or a cause, sacrifice doesn’t even seem to be in our culture’s vocabulary these days.
What could you give up to help someone else? That question is where true sacrifice and better stories begin.
“Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. You’re just passing it on to someone else.”
― Mitch Albom,
9. Never Stop Chasing the Best Version of Yourself.
Whatever your day looks like… stay at home mom, hotel room service attendant, President of the United States… work really hard and be the best at that.
Never stop improving. Never stop setting goals and chasing them. Never give up on a big beautiful life because it’s out there and it’s waiting for you.
“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”
― Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life
As my 45 minute talk came to a close, the audience immediately jumped to their feet. A packed auditorium rising to a standing ovation… for me.
Don’t get any big ideas: I am still a mess. I’m still selfish and cranky and have a frequent flyer pass on the struggle bus. But, for the first time in my life, my story is getting a standing ovation.
And the truth is, all of that isn’t because of me. It’s because of this man named Jesus―the one who told the best story with his life ever. A story so great, we’re still talking about it thousands of years later.
So let’s all do that―not for the applause or standing ovation―but because it’s the key to this whole recklessly alive thing. Loving God and loving people is the only way to feeling fully alive. Everything else is just a wasted page in your beautiful story.
Decide today what kind of story you want to tell with your life and go for it. You’ve totally got this. Your time is now.
What story are you feeling called to step into? Leave a message in the comments below!