a woman standing at a podium in front of a crowd

#18: The stories of your life

Bob Ewing
May 28, 2021
a woman standing at a podium in front of a crowd

Talking Big Ideas.

“Great stories happen all around you every day.”
~ Paul Smith

One of my favorite speeches is by David Foster Wallace.

He was a philosopher and writer most famous for his Great American Novel Infinite Jest. In 2005 he delivered a brilliant address to Kenyon College’s graduating class. Wallace began with a parable:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

Such it is with the moments of our lives.

Every day, we are immersed in them. Our pet makes us laugh. We get enraged by the car that cuts us off on the highway. We watch our child find joy in a banality.

Many of these moments slip by us. Others we notice briefly, and then they are gone forever. Few, if any, do we capture.



We are surrounded by fodder for speeches. Good storytellers make time to look around and capture them.

Reflect on your past day. Pick one moment from your life that made you laugh. Or think. Or pause and pay attention. Write it down in three sentences or less.


Moth storytelling champion Matthew Dicks calls today’s challenge Homework for Life.*

Every day Dicks picks one moment from his life and writes it down. He limits himself to five minutes and three sentences. Thousands of people now join him in the practice. These moments provide raw material for stories in future speeches.

What does it look like to do this? Here’s a few of mine from the past week:

Walked into Dale’s Autoshop just before closing. Dale’s there, with a big smile he tells his staff my name is Bobby Ewing, same as the old TV show Dallas. While I’m at the counter, another customer walks in . . . named JR; Dale is ecstatic.

Took a short walk with Ollie and noticed he finds tremendous joy in simple things like snowflakes, birds, and cow patties. Somehow covered himself in mud when there’s no mud on our walk, does it with a huge tail-wagging smile on his face.

Maryrose and I drove to Yellowstone, which is truly bizarre and unique: boiling mud, shooting geysers, steam rising all over, alien colors, giant creatures. How brain-melting and supernatural it must have seemed for everyone who stumbled across it in the past. Karl Popper’s three worlds, put yourself in their world 3, and bring people into your world 3.

Sitting at kitchen table going over week. Maryrose sees I have lots on my plate and I look overwhelmed, she smiles and clears my path ahead so I can focus and not stress. Right partner has massive impact on happiness and success.

Daily practice of this quick exercise builds our storytelling lens. The more we do it, the more we see the stories happening all around us. And we can travel back and relive them anytime we want. They remain ours forever.

Don’t worry about grammar or profundity. And don’t worry about finding morals or larger points. Just look around and grab hold of little moments you see.

The main habit we are building is awareness. Paying attention to our lives, watching and capturing whatever happens. Wallace concluded his speech with this:

[T]he real value of a real education . . . has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness. Awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: This is water.

This is water.

*Choose moments from your life. Capturing stories you read and hear about is a separate exercise.

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