Once upon a time, I had a dream of starting an NGO to empower little girls in countries where they did not have the opportunities I did.
This dream is what propelled me through university and out the other side, whereupon I hopped on a one-way flight to India to figure out how my ivory-tower education would apply "on the ground."
12 immersive weeks later, on the eighth day of a silent meditation retreat where I sat perched on a cushion trying NOT to think, the thought suddenly occurred to me:
Organizations are made out of people.
And immediately following:
A person who does not understand their own biases and blind spots will build those into their organization.
And on the heels of that:
I need to build my own foundation before I have any hope of building something bigger than me.
This one moment changed everything for me.
When I returned from India, it was not armed with an action plan for building the nonprofit I'd dreamt of building for years.
Instead, I returned completely humbled and thoroughly disenchanted with my formal education, certain only that I needed to do the things that called to me and invest some time and effort into figuring myself out.
Now, I know that starting a nonprofit in the field of International Development is the furthest thing from how I am meant to help people.
The best thing I can do, at least for now, is help the people who ARE doing that kind of work tell better stories about it so they get more funding and visibility.
This is just one example of what I call a "coconut moment;" so named for the time a client confessed: "it felt like a coconut fell on my head."
Coconut moment: (n.) a specific moment in your life when a lightbulb went on, the universe demanded that you pay attention, and you suddenly saw things differently than before.
The coconut moment above is one I might share if anyone EVER asked why I'm not working in a field related to my degree (which, by the way, they never do).
Or, I might tell it in commiseration with someone who is struggling to reconcile their OWN role in the field of development, to show them that I get it.
Here's the thing: Identifying your coconut moments is THE secret to telling great stories.
Why? Because they help you reduce the scope of the story.
Questions like "what's your story?" or "how did you get into that?" have a scope that's so broad it's practically infinite!
In the face of this vastness, we default to relaying the entire chronology of all the events that brought us to where we are today, in the misguided hope that the other person will somehow make some meaning of it.
But because time is short and attention spans even shorter, you may end up trying to tell the whole damn story in less than 60 seconds, and finish feeling deflated.
Because you know that this glossed-over summary didn't really express anything true or meaningful about WHO you are, and WHY you chose the path you did.
Trust me: No one needs to know the whole damn story.
Instead, get clear on the specific, defining moments when something critical changed for you, and tell THAT story.
Know that even though people ask "how?" what they really want to know is WHY.
Anytime someone asks me "how" I got into storytelling, I don't revisit all the circuitous twists and turns my path took to bring me here today.
Instead, I tell them about the first time I told a story that sparked a visible transformation in the person listening...
... And how it dawned on me in that moment just how powerful a well-told story can be.
And do you know what they say, nearly every time?
"Wow -- that's so interesting!"
Then they ask another question, which allows me to tell another story -- resulting in a virtuous cycle that invites them ever-deeper into fascination and engagement with my world.
Here's what they DON'T say:
"Hey, wait a minute -- you didn't account for each of the twists and turns your career undoubtedly took to lead you here! Nice try, now give me the whole damn story."
The impulse to tell the whole damn story can often be traced to an insecurity around (not) knowing what's relevant.
The liberating thing is that YOU get to decide what's relevant, and tell a story that invites your listener to use their imagination.
So here is your challenge: Identify three coconut moments that helped get you to where (and who) you are today.
Moments when you learned something valuable about yourself or the world or what you're meant to do in it.
Moments that challenged your assumptions, revealed a new truth, or catalyzed a shift in perspective, and -- therefore -- action.
This week, practice telling those stories -- and notice how this simple change transforms your conversations.