Linda Olson has quite a story. An author, speaker, and coach, she has shared her story and what she’s come to understand about the power of stories in her impactful TED Talk and in her book “Your Story Matters: Own Your Story and Tell It With Clarity, Confidence & Impact.”
Experiencing a sudden and unimaginable tragedy as a child led Ms. Olson along a journey of healing, introspection, and forgiveness. She has since come to understand the power of stories and their ability to connect with and help others. Today, Olson works to help companies and individuals formulate and tell their own stories for better connection and impact.
As we collectively face the impact of a pandemic, many of us are turning inward and becoming more introspective. Reflecting on our own lives, finding the courage to look at the pivotal moments, and sharing our stories with others can foster deeper connections and greater insights for all. Might we gain wisdom from attempting to articulate our own stories?
I asked Olson how one might begin to unwrap one’s story, gaining greater wisdom and meaning from our life experiences. Here’s what she said.
The Epoch Times: In the face of a terrible tragedy, you pulled yourself out of despair and overcame it. Can you tell our readers a bit about your story?
Linda Olson: My story began as a terrible tragedy but fortunately didn’t remain there.
At 14 years of age, through a tractor accident, my precious 2-year-old brother was killed. I was the one driving the tractor. How do you go on when you’ve just faced your darkest moment?
The first step is always the hardest. For me, it was simply getting out of bed and putting one foot in front of the other.
Getting out of bed meant facing fear behind every corner: the fear of facing my family whose lives I had also crushed, the fear of facing our small community of 500 people where news spread quickly, the fear of facing reactions of friends going back to high school.
However, there was something deep within that gave me the courage to go forward; it didn’t matter how small the step was. My parents had modeled for me the need to persevere through hard times, and this was the biggest test of all, for me and my family. Somehow, we each took baby steps and refused to get stuck in our story.
The Epoch Times: What benefits are there to sharing our story?
Ms. Olson: There are many benefits to sharing our story, but it often comes down to three main benefits.
First, story is the number one way we connect with people. When told well, a story will grab our attention and draw us in to what the speaker or person is saying.
Second, story is the number one way to influence or impact someone. We can share many facts and figures but nothing will make the impact like a great story or testimonial.
Third, story is the number one way someone experiences you. The more vulnerable we are, the more someone will experience us, especially when our story impacts them. Our vulnerability often gives our listener permission to be vulnerable as well. When that level of connection happens we are experiencing one another with a deep level of trust. Sometimes that happens with someone we have just met.
During this time of world crisis, we don’t have to look far to see or know of someone in need. As we reach out in kindness, we not only brighten up someone else’s story, but that experience of giving often brightens our story as well.
The Epoch Times: How can identifying and formulating one’s story improve one’s life?
Ms. Olson: Identifying our story is the first step in making any kind of change. If we are not happy with our life right now and find ourselves negative and reactionary to the things around us, we can choose to change the attitudes and behavior. It all comes down to taking ownership or full responsibility for ourselves and know we have a choice. We can either stay stuck in our story or we can choose to learn from our situation, change our attitude and actions, and focus on improving our life.
The Epoch Times: What is the very first step you’d recommend someone take in trying to assemble their story?
Ms. Olson: I suggest reflecting on your life and writing down the turning points, in other words, the significant things that happened in life that created a shift in your direction, in your thoughts, in your life.
The Epoch Times: In the midst of a crisis like the one we’re currently facing, do you think it’s an opportune time to try to develop one’s story?
Ms. Olson: It’s certainly an opportune time to first take a look at our story. What we do with one thing, we do with all things. Are we reacting or responding to things around us? If we are reacting to the many changes we need to make during this time, filling our mind with the negative news, it is likely we react to smaller crises in our life as well. If we are responding to the changes and doing our best to stay safe, make the necessary adjustments, and offer a helping hand wherever we can, it is likely what we do when we encounter other crises in our life.
It is also an opportune time to strengthen or develop our story. We can do that through several simple ways that will make all the difference. One way is to focus on an attitude of gratitude. I woke up this morning grateful that I am alive, I am healthy, and I am safe.
Secondly, we can strengthen our story through courage. We are all being affected by this crisis one way or another. When we remember who we are, we can function from a place of strength rather than weakness and reach out to those who are deeply hurting.
Thirdly, we can strengthen our story through clarity. Clarity comes out of crises, as it is through the crises that we often stop to evaluate our life and changes we need to make. Clarity will position us to give from a generous heart, show us the next step, and allow us to step forward in confidence, connecting with those that need our help.