Anytime someone asks me “What have you learned?” I immediately begin to rattle off a long list of lessons and skills and the likes…partially because I truly learn a lot from every experience I have, partially because I can’t decide what lesson I want to tell them about, and partially because I like to talk and this is an excuse to talk a lot! So, of course, that was my first instinct when I began to brainstorm my response to the above prompt. And I came up with a pretty awesome list, if I do say so myself. But, when I thought about it a little more, I realized that I didn’t want to just write a bullet-point list. I wanted to explore in depth the impact one of the lessons I learned has had on me: learning to share my story.
People who can get up in front of a crowd and share their story have always inspired me. I am inspired by their story, their message; I am inspired by their courage and vulnerability. Since I was young, I have dreamed of having a story I can share with others, and the courage to share it. So of course I was eager to share my story as I shared my reflections on the simple-yet-powerful questions “Who am I, ” “Where Is God,” and “Where am I going.”
I just had no clue how much I would grow and develop from this experience.
I grew as I developed my presentation style. The time I have spent performing on stage since kindergarten prepared me more than I initially realized. As I watched others present, I began to mimic things they did and then to adapt those practices or trash them, depending on if they worked for me or not. I became aware of my audience and how to adapt my story accordingly. I developed a habit of preparing and practicing, and grew to appreciate opportunities to receive feedback and to continually improve my presentation style and the talk itself.
I grew and developed as I wrote my witness talk. I had to explore my past and analyze the events so I could find the common thread that runs through them. I grew in an understanding of how to pick the events that drive a story; all of my past is important and valuable and impactful, but I cannot fit 20+ years into a 30 minute talk and therefore must choose wisely. Through trial and error, I learned how to discern what details are necessary to share for my story to make sense, what to simplify, and what to leave out…and then how to fill in the gaps in what I share with further simplifications and summaries.
I grew and developed in my ability to welcome constructive criticism and ignore the personal digs. I had to learn to let go of the comments that “bash” my story or the message I shared, because often the comment stems from a lack of understanding or an inability to separate presentation style preferences from the story itself.
And I grew and developed my own self-knowledge. There are many lenses through which we look back on our past. We can look into our past while in the context of hearing someone else talk about theirs, and we desire to connect our story with theirs. We look into our past when we are on a retreat, and the retreat theme provides us with certain ways to reflect on it, as well as different moments to explore and questions to answer. I’ve used both of those types of lenses before. Looking into my past with the intention of writing a witness talk was a totally new lens. Seeing things in a new light showed me connections I hadn’t made before, illuminated themes I hadn’t been aware of before, clued me in to the significance of certain details that I didn’t understand before. I learned a lot about myself as a result. This increase in self-knowledge helped me continue to grow in my relationship with God, and even played an important role in much of the healing He has been doing in my life. I reached a whole new level of self-confidence as a result.
Simply learning to share my story led to further growth and development that I never could have dreamed of.