Tell Me A Story

I love stories.

From character studies like Steinbeck’s East of Eden to the epic film that is The Shawshank Redemption, a good story invites the audience to look at life differently.

I remember being a child and listening to my dad’s favorite tracks on cassette tapes. He was notorious for playing his favorite track then flipping the cassette and listening to whatever happened to be on the other side for as long as his favorite song was before flipping back to the other side so that he could “repeat” the song. From a young age, he would quiz my sisters and me on what songs meant. It is a memory I look back on fondly even though at the moment, I hated listening to the same song over and over again just to try and figure out what the “right answer” to the question was.

$9.99 per month is what I have spent on Spotify Premium for the last four years. And even with the knowledge that I’ve spent $480 on this subscription in the last four years, I still find this $10 to be the most well-spent money of each month.

Years before I was able to go to therapy, I remember feeling alone and misunderstood. There was always something so therapeutic and so intimate about certain songs and artists. I remember the album Comatose by Skillet encompassing my feelings on friendships lost and the pain of moving and leaving people behind. I remember 2000’s alternative putting into words the conflicting emotions of growing up and the pains of heartbreak.

My music tastes evolved from Gospel and “Christian rap” to a little bit of everything. Nowadays there might be Stupid Deep by Jon Bellion, Modern Loneliness by Lauv, Dead Horse by Hayley Williams, Clarity by Andy Mineo, Delicate by Taylor Swift, Last Supper by D Smoke, Backpocket by Vulfpeck, Clueless by the Marias, and Best is Yet to Come by Red all on the same playlist.

I love how music transcends the physical experience. The best musicians are able to transport the listener to specific times in their lives while also causing the listener to feel something. Sometimes, musicians are able to make us feel things that we haven’t even experienced in real life yet! It never ceases to amaze me.

In a similar way, the most compelling films cause the audience to draw comparisons to themselves. I’m not an ice queen on a mission to discover the past sins of my family line, but when Elsa embarks on her journey with a mixture of trepidation and determination, I feel her anthem of traveling into the unknown.

When Colin Firth’s character in the King’s Speech struggles physically to find his voice, I resonate with that fear of failure and that daily struggle of wanting to be different than who I have been in the past.

When Alexander Hamilton spoke to the feeling of “running out of time,” I felt that. I’m racing a clock I can’t see, and I’m afraid of not being able to do what I need to do before time runs out.

When Woody wrestles with leaving his friends as his “life” approaches a new season, I felt that tension. As Buzz gave him permission and validation to move on to this next season of his life, it was as if I was being given permission to move on.

But what makes the best stories so compelling and relatable?

The struggle.

In real life, conflict, struggle, and hardship are such a nightmare to deal with in live time. How often I wish for the hard times to be over. Sometimes I want to pull out the remote from Click and just fast forward through the hard parts.

But what would a movie be without conflict and drama? What if the protagonist never faced a single challenge?

I’ve been realizing that the same reason that I love film and music for their ability to paint a picture of struggle and triumph are the same reasons that I oftentimes despise the difficult seasons of life.

Because in life, we aren’t just empathizing with the characters… we are the characters. That pain, trauma, and drama isn’t just a scene or a sequence of heroic couplets, it’s real life.

In these times, it can be so overwhelming to have so many diametrically opposed views shoved into our faces every day. It takes a certain level of courage, tenacity, and grittiness to make it through your social media unscathed and mentally intact.

I think this is why so many of us have turned to stories to distract and comfort us. I definitely watch the Office because I feel like my life is a joke sometimes and I just want to feel like I’m not the biggest idiot in the room.

And yet, besides being a coping mechanism, I really believe in the power of stories to change conversations and paradigms of thought.

We can vicariously experience hardships we’ve never personally encountered. We can learn to see things from a different point of view. We can learn to empathize with those who we see as the antithesis of who we are. We can become aware of blind spots in our own characters and behaviors.

Beyond the consumption of music and film, I really believe in the power of your individual story.

I think many of us have been told that our stories simply aren’t important. So we stand to the side and we listen eagerly to those whose stories are truly something “extraordinary.”

Yet as great as my favorite films and songs are, nothing inspires me more than the stories of my friends and family. A guy who had a dream to be a forensic accountant and beat the odds to work for the FBI as a forensic accountant? A gal who struggled to find a career that she felt was doing something for the world who applied to an internship with the UN and got picked a year later? A guy who ran several marathons and inspires others to run marathons too? A refugee who ran from two war-torn countries only to have to start over in the United States years later and somehow manage to buy a house, raise a family, and retire while beating multiple potentially fatal diseases?

These are the real stories.

In closing, I’d like to reflect on one of my favorite movies in recent times, La La Land.

The story centers around two individuals who have big dreams. One longs to be an actress and she moves from failed audition to failed audition. The second wants to open a jazz club but he struggles to pay the bills as it is. They meet each other at the bottom of their deepest valleys and a summer romance for the books ensues. Yet even amidst the joys of the relationship, a tension between the two characters begins to build as more sacrifices are required by both of them to pursue their individual dreams and passions. Some trials they face together, but the biggest ones they face alone.

I love the story because it highlights the importance of personal dreams and aspirations over the oft-prioritized romanticized relationship. The two characters are there for each other in a season, but as the seasons change, they decide to part ways in order to go after what they want. The film does a wonderful job of illustrating that doing what you feel like you were designed to do, does not make you selfish or callous. In fact, it illustrates that oftentimes people come into our lives for a season to call out skills, traits, or determination out of us and though our time may be limited, it is no less precious or special.

The film ends with the now successful actress continuing the pattern of encouraging the next generation of aspiring actress-baristas. And yet she would not have been able to understand that struggle if she had not herself gone through that.

So wherever you are in this crazy world right now, whether it is a majestic mountain peak or a dismal and depressing valley, just remember that your story is important and that it needs to be shared.

We all start somewhere and life is cyclical. We never quite “make it,” and we aren’t ever in the “happily ever after” but there is still something so amazing about the entire journey. Every event both good and bad has a specific purpose and the underdog generally turns out to be the hero.

Write your story but don’t forget to tell it too.



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