We all have stories, stories from our family of origin, stories of growing up and coming of age, and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. Every one of you has these stories.
Let me start my story in the first days of my junior year in college, I had just moved to a better dorm where I had a single. Next door was another women, also a junior. I was trying to do my math homework and she was pounding nails into the wall. I walked over to ask her to stop and she said, “Oh great, someone to help, can you hand me the nails?” As I stared at how she had transformed her room, I was too awed to be annoyed. It was beautiful.
Jenny, my neighbor, and I became fast friends, and in the two years we had left in college we were inseparable. Despite our different backgrounds – I from Manhattan and she from Newport Beach, she an English major and I math and philosophy, we found so many ways in which we saw the world the same way. And we learned from each other. I learned the beauty of the well written novel and she learned the benefit of math as a life tool.
And then we graduated and she moved to Manhattan and I went off to law school. But here we are, 30 plus years later, still best friends – despite living in the same time zone for only three of those years.
Our mutual stories kept us close at first, but it is the stories we shared over the next three decades that has kept us deeply connected. For much of the time, she lived in London and I in California making talking hard. So we wrote letters.
The letters told stories of ups and downs, wins and loses, complaints and compliments. And both being busy moms of three with other responsibilities as well, the letters were short, but they had big impact. And I discovered something interesting. Writing my stories in those letters helped me build a coherent narrative of who I was and who I wanted to be.
There are so many reasons to write and to share our story, but we often stop because sharing takes vulnerability. But being vulnerable allows you to connect, to deepen your bonds with others and form true friendships. In her book Frientimacy, Shasta Nelson spells out that vulnerability is one of the key pieces of strengthening existing friendships into strong and intimate ones.
How do you share your stories? There are multiple ways and I am sure you already are sharing your stories in personal conversations, but I want to suggest that you write letters. Remember my story about Jenny, how we lived far apart but we shared our stories through letters building on the foundation of our friendship. Sharing vulnerably through letters strengthened our friendship.
And honestly, sometimes it is easier to say things in writing than in person. It gives your reader the chance to really absorb what you are saying and also allows you to say things that might be awkward in person.
You don’t have to live far away to share your stories in writing. Writing your stories can help you find meaning and connection to yourself. A few years ago, the New York Times published a piece called “Writing Your Way to Happiness,” centered on the idea that writing down your narrative can lead to behavioral and emotional shifts. Many studies show that by writing and rewriting our stories, we can change our outlooks, and our lives. And when we share those stories, we deepen our relationships.
Emily Esfahani Smith, the author of The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, spent five years looking into the scientific research and social sciences to see what they had to say about the building blocks of a meaningful life, but she also looked at ancient wisdom as found in religion and philosophy. She found that there was a lot of overlap between what the science said and what these ancient sources of wisdom said – one of the key components of meaning is storytelling.
Capture your stories and leave them as a legacy for your friends, family, and the world. Here’s how you can get started.