Whether we realize it or not, each decision we make is an entry into our individual life story. Each decision we make either pushes the plot forward, challenges the protagonist, changes the direction of the story, or allows the protagonist to create a new one. Eventually, each of our stories will reach an end, and it will all be resolved. What matters most then, is living the best possible story we can, and to share it with others in hopes of making their stories better in the process. A good story is addicting, and so is a good life.
I started a new chapter in my story just over a year ago when I began working for Invisible Children. First I was a Roadie, then an intern, and now a Writing Assistant. But it’s not about the titles, it’s about the reasons behind pursuing them – the genuine, down-to-the-core longings, the challenges, and the successes. Most things in life that are worth it are difficult, but that’s what makes a good story. Author Donald Miller says it best:
“Here’s the truth about telling stories with your life. It’s going to sound like a great idea, and you’re going to get excited about it, and then when it comes time to do the work, you’re not going to want to do it. It’s like that with writing books, and it’s like that with life. People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. But joy costs pain.”
During the opening session of Fourth Estate Leadership Summit, I was sitting backstage listening as Jason shared a chapter of his story – one that started and ended with pain and embarrassment – from food being thrown at him from across a high school lunchroom to slurs being hurled at him across the internet. Joy costs pain.
In between the pain Jason spoke about the origin of Invisible Children, and the decision to go to Africa in 2003. As I sat there 10 years after his trip, I looked around and couldn’t help but realize how important one decision can be, not only to your individual story, but to the stories of others. Jason’s decision to go to Africa and the countless decisions after it have shaped Invisible Children into an internationally recognized organization that isn’t just transforming stories in central and East Africa but all around the world – including my own and those of the 1,500 people who gathered in Royce Hall this past weekend.
Jason’s story wasn’t the only one I heard over the weekend. There was the story Dan Eldon, a personal hero to many at Invisible Children, including myself. He knew at an early age that he wanted to live a life that jumped off the pages, and so he did. He became the youngest photo journalist at Reuters in the early 1990’s and covered the Somalian conflict until his life was cut short at the age of 22. His death was tragic, but his life was stunning. Because he dared to tell his story, thousands around the world are inspired to live a life like his, one of extraordinary adventure and incredible compassion.
After Dan’s mother and sister spoke about his incredible story, To Write Love on Her Arms founder, Jamie Tworkowski came on stage and spoke about a different kind of story. It was the story of a friend who was struggling with addiction, one that he wrote and posted on Myspace. It was a simple act, but because he shared his friend’s story, countless others were inspired to share theirs and get help for the vices that were holding them down. You never know when your story or your decision to help someone else tell theirs will liberate another to do the same.
As I write this, there are 250 men, 140 women, and 72 children who have individual stories, and who are waiting to be liberated by those who choose to share them. It’s easy to see these 462 people as mere statistics, but when you look at them as 462 individual stories, you can’t help but elevate them and see each of them for the true beauty that they are: heartbeats, people, mothers, father, sons, and daughters. They are us and we are them, and whether we realize it or not, our stories are connected, and our liberty is bound together. This weekend renewed my passion for story, and in the book that is my life, this chapter will stand out above the rest. To quote Donald Miller once more:
“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”
Live a life that is focused on involving yourself in the stories of others. You left Royce Hall different than you entered it, and it’s up to you to share that chapter of your life with others. Your story is powerful, it is encouraging, it is inspiring, and it is yours to share. And when you share it, you allow your light to shine on others. So shine bright and shine often.
We are Fourth Estate.