The Story Economy Blog

What I Was Thinking When I Went Splat

Two Sundays ago, I fell while running. I was two-and-a-half-miles into a five-mile loop, and I skidded on the pavement so hard, I ripped through the wonder-fiber of my super-expensive ASICS tights and right into my flesh. My right knee and thigh took the brunt, and when I stood up again, I knew there was no way I could keep running. Luckily, the moment I had this thought, I turned around to see that a woman had stopped to help me. She had two smiley little girls in the car, and she drove me home, where I RICE’d the rest of the day (that’s fancy first aid lingo).

Your brain does a weird thing when you fall: you can’t remember the moment of falling. I remember my hands hitting the pavement. But I don’t remember what caused me to fall, or the moment I realized that I was falling. It’s not that interesting of a detail, except for this: I do remember precisely what I was thinking about right before the splat happened.

I was thinking that my business is about creating connections, mostly because I can’t stand disconnection. Specifically, I hate to feel disconnected, and to see other people disconnected. I was thinking that it wasn’t fair that Betty White was about to turn 90 and my dad—whose 81st birthday was yesterday—has a brain full of Alzheimer’s worms and doesn’t really know my name anymore. I was wondering how long my brother held that last pain pill in his hand before he took it and if he had a final result in mind, or if he just lost count. I was thinking that no one who felt connected to something good could ever fly a plane into a building. Mostly, I was thinking about how I was going to say all of this about disconnection in a presentation I was giving in three days to a group of fellow business owners at a business-building retreat.

And then I went splat.

The intrusion of the physical world in such a painful way was . . . you know, annoying. Maybe I was supposed to get the message that yes, disconnection reallydoes suck: it sucks so much, you have to fall down. But that just seemed like a downer. So when the ache really started to set in around 8:00 that night, I decided that I was going to create a purpose. I was going to create a story.

The story is this: falling hard doing something I love reminded me of three things: (1) sometimes you just fall, and you can’t be prepared, (2) I was strong enough to catch myself and not get seriously hurt, and (3) most importantly, I got the exact thing I needed, right when I needed it: I got someone to take me home. The moment I realized what I needed, I found it.

So I brought that purpose and thought to my talk, and the retreat as a whole: I’m going to get exactly what I need, exactly when I need it, I told myself. It’s a sort of weird thing for me to think, because it’s very metaphysical and woo-woo and doesn’t involve getting A’s on papers or solving clients’ problems. But you know what? I got exactly what I needed from that presentation—and that retreat—exactly when I needed it (I’ll tell you more about it later). I got it because I was looking, and I was looking because I told myself to look. And I told myself to look because I had the power of a story behind it.

Stories Are Scary Powerful

I didn’t fall to get a great story or a great lead in for my presentation (although I admit, it was handy). I fell because I just fell (hence, lesson #1). But I took a thing that happened in the world and made the story that I needed about it. I could have created many different stories from it, and none of them would have been wrong. But I just reached in and plucked out the one that felt the ripest at the time. I created the story, and then I listened to the story.

But there’s one final step: I believed it (that’s the really hard step). For a story to impact how anyone thinks (including yourself), you have to believe it. If you don’t believe it, trying to sell it to other people will be more painful than skidding on pavement.

Your next great story might happen 30 seconds from now, or it might have happened five years ago, and you’re only now getting around to realizing it. But the intersection of the things in the world and the thoughts in our head and the shape that forms around them? That’s insanely powerful stuff. Let it all connect. Let your message bubble from it.

(But watch out for uneven pavement. It will get you when you least expect it.)

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