Your story matters. Or more accurately, your stories.

I know because I’ve been working on a project this summer, helping dozens of nurses tell their stories by conducting story circles, holding private interviews, and editing written stories they gave to me. Probably none of their stories would be considered monumental by Hollywood standards, yet each in its own way is magical.

These aren’t stories by celebrities, CEO’s or peak athletes. They’re shared by people like you and me. As a result of working with them, I feel even more confident that good stories, stories worth sharing, are everywhere.

Listening to stories of ordinary people and their extraordinary commitments puts a human face on health care. With so much that’s broken about our health care system, stories like the ones I’ve heard are a way to remember what’s good.

  • How a nurse rescued a dog when its indigent owner went to the emergency room and the dog ended up in the pound.
  • How a cranky and controlling staff nurse surprised her staff when she overcame a thousand “not possible’s” to help an incarcerated AIDS patient see his wife (also incarcerated) and baby (in foster care)  one more time just hours before he died.
  • How a nurse manager at the family birthing center made sure her nurses reflected the colors and countries of her patients – many of them traumatized refugees.
  • How a black male nurse dealt with prejudice while keeping his heart open to a patient.
  • How one feisty nurse and her team in the ICU made everyone laugh on Christmas day by asking the on-call physician to inspect “Mr. Al Green,” a new patient who turned out to be a stuffed alligator.

These stories may not be world-changing. But they’re human, wonderful and real.

Stories beget stories and one good story inspires many more. Most of the nurses I interviewed didn’t call themselves storytellers. Yet when one nurse shared in a story circle, other nurses discovered their own treasure troves of stories about service, caring, innovation, and healing  – some heartfelt, some humorous.

I loved listening to them all!  The experience of doing so has made me a better listener – more curious and appreciative.

The stories I’ve been collecting are for a book – hopefully one that will allow future nurses who read it to visualize themselves in the book’s stories and then share their own.

Often I hear, “I want to tell my story, but I don’t know if I have a story.” My wisdom: just start.

  • Look at what has heart and meaning for you, a moment that sticks out to you, a favorite memory. It’s easier to elaborate on a story that moves you than to bring out the heart in an elaborate story that doesn’t. And that applies to business stories as well as personal ones.
  • Offer your story even if it feels a bit half-baked. Try it out with a friend. If you care about your story, the emotion behind it will usually be enough to captivate your listener and you can tune the story as you go. Watch what delights your friend. You’re looking for connection not perfection.
  • Tell it again (and again!), or try writing it. Your story will shift each time you share it. The more you offer it, the more you’ll learn what your story’s really about, it’s key points, and how you might develop it.
  • Don’t get stuck on structure. That can come later as you tune your story – start adding dialogue, sensory details, and/or a little tension to keep things interesting. Keep reaching back into your memory bank and remember what is was like to be in the moment that you’re sharing about – with all the sights, smells, sounds and tastes that can add dimension and authenticity.
  • If you work with a story coach or editor (the roles I am playing with the nurses), she or he can help you craft your words, structure and scenes. Just pick someone encouraging — not your strict Mrs. K. from grade school, who never really liked anything.
  • Host a story night and invite everyone to bring their stories to share. Give encouraging feedback to others.
  • Let your own story move you. Your story has a heart – and you never want to forget that.

Now I need to return to editing some stories while you, I hope, begin to develop yours!