Everyone Has a Story: What’s Yours?



Getting To the Heart of What Matters: People


There’s always a story to be told, a lesson to learned, and wisdom to be shared. However, not all people are comfortable divulging details or boasting about their life or their accomplishments.


Often people don’t realize they have a story that others really do want to hear. If we want to absorb the lessons we can learn from others, the responsibility falls to us.

We need to engage others in conversation.

If we don’t, we miss the opportunity to broaden our horizons by expanding our perspective. I learned this lesson several years ago. My educational mentor was one of the most brilliant intellectuals that I have ever known. It would be a stretch to say that I always understood his abstract notions and concepts or even agreed with the ideals he espoused, but he did have one very powerful and simple message.

Everyone has a story.

Dangerous Assumptions

I am an avid people watcher. They fascinate me. I wonder who they are, where they live, what they do, and just generally what makes them tick. But when I do this, I sometimes start to do something dangerous. Make assumptions. Assumptions are perilous because they only allow for a personal, often very narrow, view of the world.

They don’t allow for unlimited possibilities. We take things for face value and never venture to what lies beneath.

Dare I say it? We judge.

We sometimes judge others based on the clothes worn, the car that is driven, or even where they hang out. We often take things for what we see on the surface without going deeper.

Breaking Free From My Comfort Zone

Several months ago when I was on a short road trip, taking the road less travelled. I was in a small, remote and rural area and pulled over to grab dinner for the evening. The place could only be described, at best, as a dive bar, scary looking on the outside but quaint inside. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the colloquial use of the word dive is used to describe a “drinking den” or “other disreputable” place.

I’d say that was spot on.

There was still a coziness about the place and you knew it was the local entertainment hot spot. The food wasn’t horrible and the entertainment du jour was karaoke. Yes, karaoke. Hey, who am I to pass up a chance to belt out a show tune of “All That Jazz”. Because, you know, show tunes and dive bars go so well together. (And, I sincerely apologize to all of the people that had to listen to me!)

I’m naturally friendly and in my career, I have to be outgoing. After all, it wouldn’t really be such a great organizational asset if you had a recruiting professional who didn’t enjoy people.

My downtime is different. I’m much more reflective and observant. I normally sit and watch as oppose to engaging.

But for some reason, I could hear my mentor’s voice with his South African accent say:

“Jan, Break free from your comfort zone and engage the world in conversation.”

With that in mind, I did just that and spoke with “Smiling Bobby” and “Billy” and I think I walked away a better person because of it. I’ll leave “Smiling Bobby’s” story to another time. It was Billy’s story that grounded me in reality.


Billy’s story is sad. He was there with his adult daughter and was all about having a good time. Just trying to live life to the fullest. You see, as it turns out, Billy was given less than six months to live. He had a myriad of health issues but also had a form of lung cancer from his days of working with chemicals, he believes. His daughter, supportive, smiled gently as he told his story. Her eyes dipped downward as he relayed his words. You could see her strength but you could also see the frailty in her eyes.

Billy’s song choice was a fast-paced song They Call Me the Breeze and he sang it with all of the vigor he could muster. People danced, clapped, and swayed to the music. He was giving life all he had while he still could.

So, I sat, heavy hearted, as I listened to him sing. We are not promised any day and each day is a gift but Billy knew his days were numbered. Yet, he was doing what he loved: singing. It gave him great joy to be able to do this and share those memories with his daughter.

Billy’s advice: “Live each day as it’s your last because, someday, it really will be.”

A very humbling and sobering thought.

Every Path Journeyed Tells a Unique Story

It’s been nearly a year since I met Billy and I’m sorry to think of what may have happened. I’m honored that they both took the time to speak with me – some stranger – who was just passing by.

The world is vast and the sheer path that individuals take in their life journey can teach us much – but we have to ask and we have to listen. Sometimes the shy, introverted person you meet has the most amazing life story.

Some paths are filled with privilege and some paths are filled with struggles but each path tells a unique story.

Even though my natural inclination is to observe, I’m working to move from my comfort zone and take the lead on conversations.

I love a great story. I love to write great stories.

I’ve been collecting the stories that have been told to me and I’m definitely a better person (and wiser) for asking. I appreciate all of the golden nuggets that have been passed to me.


I know this isn’t a typical LinkedIn Business article. I hope you’ll forgive me but sometimes I like to break away and get to the heart of what matters – people.

I’d love to hear from you. What’s your story?

Photo Credit: Brenda Clark Levathes

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