What’s your story?

I’ve been struggling with this post for a few days. I started off wanting to talk about the power of a personal story, but like I said, it’s been a struggle! So, I’ll tell you about the power of personal stories with an experience I had in high school.

When I was 16/17, I was invited to attend a Black Student Leadership Convention at William and Mary College with other kids from my county school system. It was…possibly one of the most eye-opening, positive experiences I’ve ever had, especially since the convention was geared toward college students. One of the biggest draws of the event was the Keynote Speaker. The previous year, we’d heard Lani Guenier speak and the banquet hall had been PACKED. She was the Harvard-educated lawyer who Clinton had tried to appoint to a USDOJ position in 1993 but later backed down under critics accusations.

This year would be different. This year’s speaker was one I’d only ever heard singing on my parents favorite radio station after dark. I was amused and very curious to hear what she had to say. The banquet hall filled up fairly quickly and the MC gave a short introduction.

Then, *she* walked up on the stage. With a wide, garishly colored hat, a beautifully decorated coat and gold lame’ pants, she looked out of place among a room full of suited up black youth. I could hear a pin drop.

Phyllis Hyman had taken to the podium.

She chewed the gum in her mouth as she started to speak.

I don’t remember every word she said, but I can recall hearing about her life growing up, the famous names she worked with and, most heart-wrenching of all, how lonely her life had been as an entertainer. She carried her loneliness like a matching designer handbag to her life. Looking back, it struck me: here was a woman who had it all – beautiful face, beautiful voice, elegant attire and a jet set lifestyle. However, none of that could hide the truth of her aching “aloneness”.

As she popped the gum in her mouth and kicked the toe of her designer shoes into the carpet, I began to see the truth of her story: She was a little girl who loved to sing…playing dress up and fulfilling everyone’s expectations but not fulfilling her own needs.

Most of you who know Phyllis’ music and life know the end of that story. I only share this experience to show the power of personal story. What stories do we tell ourselves everyday? Are those stories any good or would we be better off getting a new one?

Take the time to tell your story out loud (you know, the script of things that you tell people about yourself?). Record it. Play it back. Is that the story you want heard?


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