Photo: Alexandra Croussette

Want to Change the World? Stop Hiding From It (The #1 Secret)

“This moment will just be another story someday.” — Stephen Chbosky

There was once a little girl who wrote a vampire novel. It was only 26 Microsoft Word pages long, but at the time it felt monumental. The story consumed me, I can still picture the scenes in my head. My vampire novel lived on a floppy disk, and I carried that thing everywhere.
 
I filled notebooks with clipped poetry. I remember one about a king and bashfully reading it to my parents, hiding behind my small voice, fearful they wouldn’t love it like I did.
 
They loved it more. They always do.

I distinctly remember the moment I lost myself. I was in 8th grade. I decided I wasn’t going to love the things I did anymore because people wouldn’t like me if I did.
 
I knew I was the weird kid, with the black lipstick and all those books.
 
I knew I didn’t belong.

I knew freshman year of high school would be harder if I kept on being myself. I already knew the cruelty of not fitting in, I didn’t want that baggage anymore.
 
I decided right then that I would do things that other people thought were cool. I would be a cheerleader. I would do gymnastics. I would drink too much beer and laugh about it. I would be someone else.

I became someone else entirely, I turned my back on myself. I was all PacSun and flat-ironed hair, crispy and burnt-brown.

I lost the floppy disk; I imagine its some place with the black lipstick.
 
For many years, I lost that little girl, who loved to write and wander around in the woods and daydream. The same one who looked at herself in the mirror and hated what she saw.

So I buried her behind the mascara and a façade of casual uncaring.
 
At 16 I started to remember.
 
I dreamed about morning light sliced like cheese through RV blinds. Steam whirling off a fresh mug of coffee and the sound of keyboard keys tapping into the silence as the sun came up. When I graduated high school I was going to live in 400 square feet in the Alaskan bush. I was going to wait tables and write. 
 
I was going to make something of myself.
 
But then life happened, as life does and I took the safe route. I went to college instead.
 
I let the dream keep dying. I let it keep falling away, trading safety, fear and other people’s fear (arguably the worst kind) for my own dreams. Ultimately, I was trading myself for this idea that other people’s version of the real world was safer and more valuable than mine.
 
I lost her again, that little girl and her black lipstick and love for a good notebook.

The years ticked by, college ended, careers filled in void, and I was caught in the whirlwind of money and fear. 
 
At 27 I started to remember again. It took a few years, a lot of personal growth, more than one identity crisis but I think I found myself.

Stories are the Only True Currency

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” –Anne Frank
 
I’m doing this now because creativity is important. Art is important. The stories we tell through art are the life line.
 
When we tell our stories we extend the olive branch, the rope, the life raft and a million possibilities to other people.

We show each other our scars so that they feel safe to show us theirs. 
 
I believe empathy can save the world. But empathy only happens when we tell our stories honestly, when we can make our art and offer it to someone else.

We can love and connect with other people only as deeply as we love and connect with ourselves. It’s through reconnecting with our stories and owning them, that we are free to be vulnerable, to connect with others.

Or, as the real OG of vulnerability, Brene Brown, says:

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy — the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

That infinite power of our light is our story, our place in the world.

I want to help all the other kids out there that got left behind. That decided their art, their story, wasn’t worthy of being told.
 
This is why I’m writing now, why I want to extend my hand to you, so you can get up and start walking through your story again.

Because your story matters, and if you share it, you give others the strength to share theirs. That is empathy, that is love.
 
It can save the world.

Well-told stories can move whole civilizations.

Just look at the Bible.

Well-told stories can spark change.

Just look at Martin Luther King Jr, the #MeToo movement, the polar bears and the ice caps.

But stories don’t have to be big. The small ones sometimes make the biggest ripple. This is the power of the compounding story.

That’s why Humans of New York is so popular. We see ourselves in other people; we give ourselves permission to be ourselves when we see other people doing it.

Stories shed light on other perspectives. Like Megan Phelps-Roper’s powerful story of growing up in the Westboro Baptist Church and what it taught her about empathy and the power of curiosity.
 
It’s the reason I shared my story of why I decided to stop drinking, and how it’s changed my life. The stories you shared with me about your experience with alcoholism fueled me. This exchange allowed thousands of people to read my story and get inspired to change their lives too.

For every person that has the bravery to tell their story, there’s so many more that are hiding on the sidelines.

It’s those people I’m talking to, the ones leaning against the back wall, biting their tongue.

  • The ones wondering if their story is enough
  • The ones that think they’re nothing special
  • The ones that think they’re too much for the world
  • The ones that think their story is shameful, unwanted

This is for you.

Because every creative person is just a weird kid that survived.

I want to help you find the person you left behind when your story got too heavy to carry.

This is my rally call to wake up the creative kid inside, the one with the story to tell.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” — Brene Brown

I might not ever find the floppy disk with my vampire novel on it, but I found the girl who wrote it, and that’s enough.

So I hope you’ll tell your story. It’s too important to keep locked up. Come along with me, we have things to say.

Take Action!

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