“Everyone has a story.”
I had a professor in college who tried to teach me that.
He constantly told our class of young wanna-be news reporters that everyone we met had a story. It was our job to find the story within them.
He claimed that’s what the best reporters do.
Tonight I ate dinner at a small restaurant tucked deep in the rolling hills outside of Austin.
One of those at my table was an executive who shared something he did in a meeting with his mid-level managers last week. During an offsite with these supervisors he asked them to share one of the greatest struggles they’ve had in their lives.
What a question.
Great leaders ask questions like those. We need more leaders in business who care. About their people.
His employees each took their turn revealing challenges they’ve endured.
When it got to a fairly new hire she began by saying she was going to tell something few people knew about her.
She spoke of being an only child raised by parents who were only children. There was no such thing as extended family.
When she got married she was thrilled to have found someone to journey with through life. They had a child. She was so excited to be a mom.
But then her husband became addicted to drugs. She tried to convince him to stop. He wouldn’t. Instead he turned into a violent monster that started to destroy her life.
As the months wore on it finally got so bad one night that he tried to kill her.
He was armed and standing on the other side of the door desperately trying to get to her as she held their child against her chest.
She debated doing it but the fear was so intense she decided she had to dial 911 on the phone in her hand. As the cops came he fled.
She decided she had to leave. Quick. And, for good.
She rushed to pick up each of her son’s toys. And a few of her clothes. She threw them into bags and headed to her car. As she left she thought of all the things in their home she was leaving behind.
She had worked hard to earn the money to buy each item in that home. And now she was giving them up.
She not only left that home. She left that city. And state.
She put the items she was able to grab into her car, loaded her son into his car seat, and drove to a new city far away.
She needed a new start. A new life.
When she and her son got to her destination she immediately began looking for a job. And was ultimately hired by this company.
As she finished telling her story this young mom looked around the room into the wet eyes of her coworkers and said, “This is more than a job to me. Now you know why I must succeed here.”
And in an instant everyone saw someone in the room who wasn’t there minutes before. This woman was suddenly no longer just another coworker.
I’m grateful for the reminder at dinner tonight that I need to talk less and more frequently ask others to tell me their story.
People look different when we know who they really are.
I realize now that professor wasn’t just teaching me how to be a good news reporter. He was teaching me compassion. We show it when we simply ask, “What’s your story?”