Uncovering your Value, Finding your Story

Once, I went to a church event. The event was to honor the positive ways in which women had influenced our lives on a personal and historical level. I was asked to present a poem that highlighted the power of women coming together and forming positive bonds. My poem would be the opener for a highly anticipated guest speaker. I thought of all the great women in history whose stories many of us connected to. The women that came to mind were figures like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells. These women were extraordinary. No one could deny that their stories have great value. When asked to speak, I could not shake the feeling that something was missing, but I read my poem anyway. There was gracious applause and then the guest speaker rose.

She began reverently, “I’m so grateful to be here. So grateful for all the things that brought me here today.” She continued, “I know I could tell you about all the great women who ever did anything, speak to you all about leadership and success, but I’m not gonna do that. We’re gonna start with something more important, something that will never change no matter what happens. You have value. None of the things you get, or don’t get, no matter how big or small, define you. You have value because you are alive. You are valuable.”

That was when I understood what my poem was missing. I had not spoke to the heart of the matter. I did not recognize the value of the women in the room. More frighteningly, I did not recognize my own value. I was looking outside myself for success. There was nothing to prove. Our intrinsic value comes from within us. The speaker gave me a gift. Her wisdom allowed me to be self-reflective. I pondered the experiences that brought me to the gathering. Some of us were hollering in agreement or crying.

I have spent most of my life listening to stories. In my work as a researcher, teacher, and artist I meet many people. I often observe people telling their stories without pausing to note their significant moments. It can be transformative when a story articulates significant moments of understanding. The listener resonates with the storyteller’s experience and insight. In a gathering I facilitated on community health, a member’s story connected deeply to my experience. The participant used humor in describing an encounter at the doctor’s office. His description of fiddling while awaiting a life changing test result reminded me of my own fragility. I had certainly been that person afraid in a doctor’s office. The story allowed some of us to respond with laughter, while others began to cry.

In all these experiences, I observe a deep yearning that stirs the human spirit. People yearn to be acknowledged and heard. As History Concierge at The History Project, I am excited to help people tell their stories fully. To let them know that I hear their stories. That their stories are valued beyond measure. As the keeper of many stories, I hold space for the magic waiting to emerge.

So this is what I want to tell you about finding the value in your story. The ups and downs of life can make us believe we have no story worth telling. You figure that no one will care enough to listen. Even worse, you forget to listen to yourself. That’s why it is vital for us to uncover the gems inside ourselves, waiting and ready to share their wisdom. When you sit with yourself and listen intently, eventually, you hear the wisdom of your own voice. You find the resolve to speak what you know and share it with the world.

Embarking on the quest for fulfillment requires you to trust your story. Acknowledging your inherent value takes time. Tenderness with one’s self is always in order, especially when it requires vulnerability. Women in particular are expected to attend to everyone else before themselves. Entrenched in many of our personal narratives is that gnawing feeling of shame when we consider giving ourselves time. To say we are burnt out, exhausted, or even infuriated is seen as selfish. You must even battle a little voice ringing in our ears saying, “And who do you think you are?” There is much unlearning to do in our quest to honor our lives.

That day in church, the speaker taught me an important lesson. Her ability to be honest about her life made it easier for me to accept my voice. Finding our voice to tell our stories can be a way to show up for ourselves and become present in our lives. This was an invaluable lesson for me as a storyteller and as a story keeper, it’s a lesson I continue to share with everyone I work with.