Let’s stop asking students what they want to be or do when they grow up. Ask them what problem they want to solve!
-Jaime Casap, Chief Education Evangelist, Google
What problem do you solve? More to the point of this blog, what problem can you help other people solve by telling your story?
In the spring of 2001, I was diagnosed for the first time with major clinical depression. In about 2008, I gave my first speech about that experience to my Toastmasters club in Billings, Montana. Shortly after that, a fellow club member, TM, confided in me about her personal struggle with bipolar disorder. She had tried speaking about it before but did not feel her message was well received. Encouraged by my example, she tried again. Since that time, TM has spoken to other groups about living with mental illness. Her listeners have thanked her and have told her she inspired them to get help. One listener told her, “Because of this speech, I know I’m not alone in this fight.” And so the ripples continue to spread.
What problem have I solved by speaking my truth about depression? While I haven’t made mental illness go away, there are people who now feel they have permission to talk about it when they didn’t before. Just being able to talk about it is part of their solution. And that has come about, in part, because I shared my story.
Jaime Casap has the interesting job title of Chief Education Evangelist at Google. He tells his story of growing up in Hell’s Kitchen in New York, the child of an immigrant mother. He tells of the obstacles he had to overcome just to complete high school and make it out of Hell’s Kitchen – but then he went on to complete college and graduate school as well. Of his children, he says, “Their outlook on life is fundamentally different. They see no obstacles in their way. They fear no barriers. In just one generation we’ve been able to change our family’s destiny. This is the real power of education.”
Don’t you think his story sends out ripples as well? Imagine the changed outlook on life’s possibilities that a young person of otherwise limited circumstances might have upon hearing Jaime’s story.
What about your story? What obstacles have you overcome? What unique perspective on life have you gained from the experiences you’ve lived through? If you keep those stories to yourself, you are doing the world a disservice.
It’s not always easy to share our stories. We like the world to think of us as finished products. We may think, “Surely the road I trod to get here is not as interesting as who I am now. This is who I want the world to see – not the person I was then.”
Do I want the world to see me as I was in 2001-2002, in the depths of depression? I can hardly stand to look back and see myself as I was then. But I know that that experience helped make me who I am today. So did growing up with a hearing impairment and living with the nearly constant fear of being left out of what was going on around me. Can I help others by talking about that experience as well? It’s a question I don’t know the answer to yet – I’m still working on it. I do know that the key is approaching my story with humility, integrity, and authenticity.
What problem do you want to help the world solve? How can your story be a part of that solution? You have permission to tell it.
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