Risk: Stories Worth Telling (Part 4)

“Nobody could possibly understand how it feels.”

“If people knew what I really think, they wouldn’t want to be near me.”

“I’m sure I’m the only person who feels like this.”

“I can’t let anyone know what I’ve done. They’d despise me.”

Have you ever said, or thought, any of these? I have.

My guess is that most of us have feelings, thoughts, or behaviors we’re embarrassed about. We hide them because we’re sure others would reject us if they knew the horrible evil that lurks just beneath the surface.

We’ve been talking about “Stories Worth Telling.” So far we’ve looked at three principles:

Today I want to explore an unpleasant reality:


I wish story-telling was safer. I wish it was as easy as, “Just get it out there and people will understand.”

That’s not how it works.

Telling the real story means admitting your flaws and secrets. It means letting down the mask of heroism and propriety, admitting the fears, and confessing the failures. It’s just about the scariest thing we can ever do. And it’s a fact that some people won’t accept you once they learn about the warts.

I love listing my hand cycling successes. It’s great to tell others about writing a book, overcoming a devastating injury, and finding joy and meaning in difficult circumstances.

It’s not so much fun to admit that for a long time I wanted to give up and die. I’m ashamed of the hurt I caused so many people. I’d like to leave out the terrible decisions and shameful behaviors. I fear that listeners will be repulsed by my failures, judge me for my mistakes, and turn off the entire message.

I’m tempted to edit the story, remove the unpleasant realities, and re-cast myself in a more favorable role. I’d rather appear just a bit less–uhhh—despicable.

We’ve all heard those kinds of stories, the ones where tragedy just magically disappears and the victim of evil overcomes through heroic perfection. Stories like that make great movies, but they’re lies.

A story worth telling has to be real. Encouragement, the kind that helps people keep going when there’s nothing left, can’t be faked. There’s no hope in a happily-ever-after fairy tale.

Edit out the bad stuff and make the main character into a storybook hero and you get a schmaltzy made-for-TV special. Everyone knows it’s not real, but we smile because we get to keep the masks in place.

The people who desperately need to hear an authentic story of hope and love and possibility will appreciate the risk you take to tell it. The rest will either condemn you or turn you into a hero.

That’s the risk of a story worth telling.

Have you ever hesitated to tell your story because of how “they” would react?

See: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3