I’ve been spending a lot of time recently with a young man who’s on a difficult journey. He wants everyone to learn from his experiences.
He’s doing his best to be vulnerable and transparent. He’s not looking for attention—I believe he genuinely wants to help.
I’ve been talking about “Stories Worth Telling,” advancing the idea that we all have worthwhile stories to share. My friend desperately wants to share the lessons he’s learned, but it’s not working. He’s alienating listeners and isolating himself from potential sources of encouragement.
So what’s the problem?
He’s missing an important element of sharing—he needs to …
In this context, permission means more than “Is it okay if I tell you my story?” It means investing the time and effort to create a relationship.
It’s one of Steven Covey’s Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. I’ve learned, often the hard way, that I can’t impose my story on others. In fact, I’ve pretty much adopted a personal policy that I don’t talk about my injury unless someone asks. And even then, I often respond with some sort of clarifying question to be sure I understand the request.
In my classroom, I didn’t begin the year by telling new students about my injury. I learned that the issue would eventually arise in the course of our interaction. When they asked, I figured they were ready to listen.
Teachers talk about something called a “teachable moment,” a circumstance in which the stage is set for an important lesson. Great teachers work hard to create such situations, and they also learn to recognize them when they appear without prior notice. Such moments are priceless and fleeting; they must be seized, but they can’t be rushed.
That’s how story-sharing works. You need to be ready when the opportunity arises, but you can’t force it before its natural time. And the very best, most helpful, stories are shared in relationship.
That’s how God designed us. Jesus didn’t grab random people off the street and demand that they listen. He gathered a group of friends, spent time with them, and let them know how much He loved them. He taught in the context of their everyday struggles and questions.
I want to work like Him. I want to listen, understand, and share when it’s appropriate. I want it to be about the audience and what they need.
It’s not MY story anyway. It’s not about me.
I wonder how many times I’ll remind myself of that lesson before I truly learn it.
Are you ever tempted to push your story into a setting that’s not quite ready to hear it?