Talking Big Ideas.
“Strong people don’t put others down. They lift them up.”
~ Michael Watson, boxing champion
My brother married the woman of his dreams on Sunday.
We celebrated on a horse farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We played volleyball in the sunshine. We enjoyed jousting, bull riding, and a dunk tank. It was a weekend uniquely suited to the bride and groom.
Everyone took a turn in the dunk tank — even my mom! She didn’t play volleyball though. Sitting together Monday night, she told us why. It was a story no one in our family had heard before.
Growing up, my mom adored her three older brothers. The oldest, Richie, was the golden child. He excelled at everything from art and athletics to making his kid sister feel special.
Shortly before his 18th birthday, Richie was playing baseball with his high school team. The ball hit him hard in the chest. He picked it up, threw the runner out, and then fell over. He was rushed to the hospital.
Richie died in the emergency room.
Some time afterward, in gym class, my mom had to play volleyball. Whenever the ball was hit in her direction, she curled away. She was terrified by any ball coming at her, a fear that still exists today.
A classmate named Sandy noticed this. Her brother played on Richie’s baseball team. She knew about the tragic accident.
Without saying anything, whenever the volleyball would come near my mom, Sandy stepped in front of her and hit the ball back over the net. Sandy was protecting her. After doing this several times, Sandy was scolded by an unaware gym teacher.
She kept doing it anyway.
For nearly 60 years, Sandy and my mom never spoke of it.
And then their 50th high school reunion came. My mom stepped into the gym. Memories of Sandy saving her from the volleyball came flooding back. Was Sandy at the reunion? My mom went to the front table and asked.
“Yes, Sandy is right over there!”
My mom walked up to her. She said, “Sandy, I have to thank you for what you did for me in gym class.” Sandy smiled with gratitude.
At some point in our lives, we’ve all been that scared kid needing protection. We’ve all needed someone like Sandy.
If we carve out a little time to reflect, we realize that we have been blessed. We’ve all had people like Sandy show up unexpectedly and make things better.
Moments like these resonate. When we speak about them, they help our audiences to feel what we felt. To understand us.
They are stories from our lives worth capturing and sharing — be it in a keynote presentation, or while chatting with loved ones at a wedding.
We all have a story of someone stepping in unexpectedly to save us.
It takes effort to reflect and recall the stories of our lives. Which is why most people don’t do it. Block 15 minutes on your calendar this week to reflect on your own Sandy Story. Try completing sentences like these:
- As a kid, someone helped me once when I was scared by….
- On a fun adventure, I got in trouble and someone bailed me out by…
- One time at work, someone stepped in and saved me by…
Don’t worry about writing up a complete overview. A few sentences is all you need.
Your stories don’t have to be dramatic or profound. They just have to pull back the curtain and show people a moment from your life.
Here are three examples from mine:
KID: We had a paper route growing up. When I was around 11 years old, I saved up my money and put it all into my wallet. More than $100. And then I lost the wallet. I felt horrible. That night we got a phone call. A stranger found my wallet in a parking lot. We drove over to his house and picked it up. All the money was still there.
ADVENTURE: My brother Scott and I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back as teenagers. We did it in one day, though the park advised against it. I wore a black muscle shirt. The sun beat down on us and by late morning I was feeling sick. Scott took off his shirt and gave it to me. He wore mine. When we finished, it was evening and I felt better. Scott vomited from sun poisoning.
WORK: I was going through a tough period and did my best to hide it. My boss, Carrie, noticed. She came into my office one day and closed the door. She looked me in the eyes and said she knew something was weighing on me. She said she’d take everything off my plate if I’d like. No questions asked. And if I wanted to talk about anything, she’s always there for me. And then she left. Hearing her support was exactly what I needed.
I have a favor to ask you. Would you send me any examples that you come up with? I’d love to see them.
And if you find any stories like these from speeches, movies, or books — fiction or non-fiction — I’d love to see those too.
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