The moment I decided to walk onstage to tell a story, a great rolling earthquake started in my ribcage and shook me down to the kidneys. My knees were full of marbles. I could feel all of my blood flowing in powerful spurts from my heart into my veins and into my ears as I tried to remember my opening line.
I remember feeling embarrassed at the audacity of telling a true, personal story to an audience of strangers. Then the triumph and relief in their applause.
“Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.”
― Ben Okri
I learned that I might benefit a little bit from being brave enough to share a story with other people. More importantly, I learned that an entire community can benefit from the bravery of one person raising their voice.
Stories animate the nuances of civic life. They transmit ideas about what’s important to a community. They unite people when those values are shared. They break down preconceived notions. Stories, especially in multitudes from diverse perspectives and voices, change the world for the better every day. They’re also entertaining and fantastic and funny and poignant.
But telling stories, or ensuring that deeply personal and important stories are heard takes bravery.
So if telling a story is little more than being brave, how does one become brave?
Listen to your heroes.
Those people that inspire you, whether it be Jack Kerouac, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mariah Carey or your third grade teacher, they inspire you for a reason. Listen to those reasons, read their books and biographies, watch their videos on YouTube, take their advice. You’ll be able to make a decision about the things important enough to get brave about.
I listen to Ira Glass.
If you’re used to your own voice, or the sight of the words you’ve written, or the way you look on camera, you’ll stop thinking so much about what other people will think about you and focus on the things you want and need to do. Whether it’s telling stories, building a house, starting your business, or learning to dance.
Practice until it feels comfortable. Practice until you’re triumphant.
Listen to your moral compass.
Sometimes I feel as though I have no right to tell a story. Who do I think I am to get up in front of all these people and waste their time, especially if they won’t agree with my perspective?
Don’t let that stop you.
And don’t let that stop other people. As important as it is for us to tell our own stories, I think we have a moral responsibility to ensure everyone has the ability to have their voices heard as well. I think communities thrive when there’s room for everyone’s opinion to be heard without fear of repercussions.
What do you do to muster courage?