3 Unique Suggestions for Connecting Deeply

One-on-one. A group of friends. An audience watching you on stage. Whatever the context–truly, deeply connecting is the key to making a difference, to getting your message across, to building trust, to leaving a lasting impression, to inspiring good.

And I don’t think the ingredients in genuine connection differ too much from context to context.

So how DO you truly connect?

These aren’t the “top 3 ways.” There are lots of top 3 ways. But here are 3 ways that I found EXTREMELY useful in crafting a recent speech for my Toastmasters club:

1. Don’t describe your history. Use stories that give them the chance to feel your history.

Stories are said to increase your audience’s memory by twenty-two times what they’ll retain from the rest of your words. Stories are powerful.

I think where we can go wrong with stories, though, is telling people everything we think about our stories–how we felt about them, how we understood them, how everything fit in. Those aren’t bad things, but they’re not what’s memorable. What’s memorable–what really connects–is taking your audience’s hand and walking them through the story for themselves. It’s okay if they fill the story in with a few different colors and shapes than you. Let their imagination do its thing. All you need to do is put the audience right there. To put them through the experience as bluntly as you can.

I will understand you far better by reliving a couple crazy moments from your childhood than by hearing all the philosophizing you want to do about it all.

2. Get weirdly specific.

I wish I could take credit for this idea. I have learned to use it a lot, but I learned its value from an interview with a comedian. I’m pretty sure it was John Mulaney. Might have been Mike Birbiglia. It may have been John Mulaney talking about what he learned from Mike Birbiglia–who knows. Either way, here’s the gist: It’s easy to assume that the more broadly shared your experiences, the more people will get you. Well actually, it turns out that people get realness, not generic-ness. Even if their real was a little different than yours–they can feel your realness. People’s own lives aren’t generic, they’re extremely specific. So get very, super, weirdly specific.

For example: “When I was 18 I used to covertly bypass our burglar alarm at night so that I could sneak out later to take walks . . . alone . . . in the dark . . . in my trench coat.”

I could have told you all about how sheltered I felt my childhood was, the lack of freedom I felt, my desperation to get away, my loneliness and what a lifesaver my loneliness actually was to me, my fear and my need to keep my deepest needs sacred, my imagination and its strangely confident sense of my cool self, and the future version of me I expected to be. But those are ideas–concepts–concepts you may have experienced in your own ways in your own life. And making you listen while I analyze all those ideas through my own lenses requires a lot of attention. It requires a lot of you accepting and translating my interpretations. I don’t need to do all that work with you. And you may not have the time or patience. Instead, I can just give you a few really weird details. Details that make you go, “Oh yeah, I also have a weird life,” and then leaves your imagination filling in the blanks in my story. “What kind of kid wears a trench coat?”

3. Make it a roller coaster.

Don’t stay funny. Don’t stay happy. Don’t stay sad. Don’t stay serious. Don’t stay positive. Don’t stay hopeful. Don’t stay negative. Don’t stay bitter.

Life is a roller coaster. A crazy, spicy, ridiculous roller coaster.

Emotional roller coasters get people right in the feels. And getting people right in the feels is what sticks with them.

So lift your audience up. Then dash their hopes. Then show them the beauty in the ashes.

I bet that is an experience they can relate to.

Good luck!

Let’s use our stories to inspire hope and love in each other every chance we get. We’re all in this together!

Jimmy Neil Smith - connection of storytelling

7 Words of Hope from a Nazi Death Camp

 

One of the hardest books to read, but one of the most rewarding. I just finished psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. During the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of an estimated 17 million humans like you and me, Frankl was moved from camp to camp, doing forced labor in brutal conditions, threatened constantly with death. Man’s Search for Meaning serves both as a memoir of sorts for his time in concentration and labor camps and as an explanation of how that experience shaped his understanding of psychology.

I want to share with you just a few of the words of hope that I found in Frankl’s book, and I hope you’ll be inspired to read the rest of the book yourself. I can’t state strongly enough the impact that this book has had. No matter how sad its stories, I found it to be one of the most hopeful books I’ve read.

 

1. You matter.

Some days you may question whether there’s any point to your being here. But even in the worst of times, Frankl found that if he and his fellow prisoners considered the impact they might still have on others through their love and their work in the future, they could see just how much each of them did matter.

“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.'” – Viktor Frankl

 

2. You get to choose your life’s meaning.

Life is a weird path of twists and turns for each of us, and in comparing ourselves to others or to the ideals we think we’ve learned, we sometimes can’t find how we matter. But Frankl learned that peace can be found in giving up the search for an ultimate meaning, and instead choosing what you will live for.

“Everyone has is own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it. . . . Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked.” – Viktor Frankl

 

3. You can always find joy and fulfillment in LOVE.

Love is a powerful and beautiful thing. For me, this was one of the most meaningful and helpful messages in the book. In a strongly individualistic society, it is hard to grasp the significance and fulfillment in just loving another person. It is okay to live for love.

“My mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise. . . . A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth–that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.” – Viktor Frankl

 

4. You can reduce your suffering by observing it objectively. 

It’s hard to imagine suffering worse than prisoners in a concentration camp, but even in such intense suffering, Frankl found relief. He discovered that a simple change in how you observe the present moment can make a bad situation much more bearable. He told a story about when, during a particularly awful day, he started imagining that he was actually retelling his situation in a future psychological lecture. Just this simple mental exercise helped immensely, reminding him that life was bigger than his current hurt, that the present was simply a circumstance that could be observed.

“By this method I succeeded somehow in rising above the situation, above the sufferings of the moment, and I observed them as if they were already of the past. Both I and my troubles became the object of an interesting psychoscientific study undertaken by myself. . . . What does Spinoza say . . . ‘Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.'” – Viktor Frankl

 

5. Feelings of joy and suffering are relative. You’re not stuck in your feelings.

This may be a blessing and a curse, depending on how you look at it and what focus you choose. Frankl observed that the feelings of despair, suffering, frustration, and sadness, weren’t necessarily worse or more overwhelming, in a situation as awful as a concentration camp, than in a less severe circumstance. Humans tend to feel suffering very completely, whether the stressor is big or little. On the one hand, that can mean a small disappointment can be overwhelming. On the other hand, that can mean that you may handle the very worst circumstances much better than you think–which is a hopeful thought. Studies have shown that people who go through awful events often end up much less devastated, at least after a while, than they think they will be. In the same token, feelings of happiness and joy can be extremely strong, even when found in very simple experiences.

“Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the ‘size’ of human suffering is absolutely relative. It also follows that a very trifling thing can cause the greatest of joys.” – Viktor Frankl

 

6. Growing old is going to be okay.

This one sucks. I always hate thinking of growing old, watching my remaining time in this life get shorter and shorter. This book honestly helped with that. Frankl has the most beautiful perspective on this that I’ve heard. It’s a peaceful and hopeful one. I’ll let him speak for himself. I hope it helps you as much as it helped me.

“At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence. . . . I should say having been is the surest kind of being. . . . The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a younger person? For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him? ‘No, thank you,’ he will think. ‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.'” – Viktor Frankl

 

7. You are always free to choose and change.

Another one that is near and dear to my heart, that inspires compassion and hope for myself and for others: His life in Nazi death camps persuaded Frankl that people are not stuck being, thinking, speaking, or acting as they have, or as they’re conditioned to. Sure, the deck may be stacked against you. And on average, people tend to stick with their patterns. But at the end of the day, each of us is free to choose. Free to choose how we will react to the circumstances life brings to us. Free to choose who we are.

“Man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather determines himself whether he gives in to conditions or stands up to them. In other words, man is ultimately self-determining. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant. . . . one of the main features of human existence is the capacity to rise above such conditions, to grow beyond them. Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.” – Viktor Frankl

 

Guys, it’s hard to communicate how much I loved this book. It wasn’t the most impressively written, it wasn’t the most exciting, it wasn’t the most pleasant. But it was full of the raw experiences of real life in all its nitty gritty weirdness. It was honest. And it was full of hope and inspiration. So full of hope. Real hope.

I hope you’ll read it. And I hope that every day for the rest of your life, you’ll find hope.

~

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl

Life’s little adventures

I’m heading home on an airplane tomorrow morning. Which is a little concerning because I still don’t believe that flying is science. Usually you’d only want to sit in a big metal tube if it were on the ground, because things tend to fall when they are in the air. But out of all the times I’ve flown before, we haven’t fallen out of the sky yet. Thank goodness.

My flight Monday was an adventure. Nothing really happened about it or anything, but as usual, I found myself holding my breath a little when we took off and landed. I actually do love flying, but it also makes me nervous.

What was different about this flight was that I randomly remembered as we were landing that I love flying so much! Even though I get a little nervous. If you don’t take it for granted, flying is an absolutely amazing and thrilling experience. It’s crazy, right?

And once upon a time, when you did something like fly, you’d be wide-eyed in-the-moment absolutely blown away. You’d be on the edge of your seat gazing out the window in awe.

On some flights you can look down in the sunshine at the bright white blanket of clouds below. You can see the weird shapes and patterns. They look so real, like you could reach out and touch them, or lay in them, and they’d be soft, comfortable.

On one flight we dipped below one thick bed of clouds only to find another directly below us. I don’t know the meteorological term for that, but it was so cool! You couldn’t have seen us from above or below, but we weren’t in the clouds, we were in this quiet little gap, miles wide in either direction. I don’t know, maybe that’s not that cool. But it also kind of was.

That brings up a great question. Are all these simple little beauties and adventures in life actually beautiful and adventure worthy? I think that the adult in us would argue that they’re not. That “we’ve seen this so many times.” That “there are more important things.”

Some of us tend in the opposite direction. “This is the most profoundly life-changing and moving thing in my life! I must take pictures and tell everyone that this is the most profoundly life-changing and moving thing in my life. I must explain to others why this is so meaningful and why they also must be moved by it.” #guilty #alsonotguiltybecausethisalsoisaworthwhileactivity

Sometimes the adult in us isn’t wrong. Sometimes circumstances can’t help but distract us from the fascinating world all around us. And sometimes the other kind of adult in us, the one that needs to prove and share why everything is beautiful and epic and work really hard on being happy and spreading happiness–sometimes that adult is also right and helpful and exactly what we all need.

But sometimes–sometimes… maybe even a lot… there are just lots of little adventures all around us that we can just live in. Live in without ignoring, but also live in without analyzing, live in without justifying, live in without documenting, live in without discussing, live in without trying about it. (I know that doesn’t make sense, but read it slowly.)

I honestly think a lot of the adventures all around us lose their enchantment when we try about them… try to analyze, justify, document, discuss. Kind of like my little experience in the clouds that was so much more fulfilling when it was just me with them in the moment, instead of me writing a blog post for you about my thoughts about them. Yeah.

So where is all this rambling going? I guess I hope you’re inspired to do 2 things:

First: Find the adventures all around you. Open your eyes. Look closely.

And second: Just BE in those adventures. Let them be what they are. Just bask.

What adventures have you found today? Don’t tell me. Just enjoy. :)

Blogging 101: 3 Do’s & Don’ts

“Ouch…”

The ominous title to one of my first ever blog posts.

“Tried to barehand a flyball today. Worst case scenario: Root canal.”

Another gem from 14-year-old-blogger-me:

“Does anybody want to buy me a package of two-hundred fifty-three thousand four-hundred and twenty-nine glow in the dark frisbee’s? I’d be much obliged. I can’t even begin to describe how much I would love that many glow-frisbees!”

You’re welcome, World, for sharing the dorky ambitions and random words of wisdom that only a 14-year-old could share. A few nights ago, I stumbled upon my oooold blog, hidden in the nether regions of the internet. I promise you, you will never find it. Thank God.

 

I’ve been blogging since I was a kid. Unfortunately.

On a more serious note, I’ve been writing on this blog for the last several years and have taken blogging seriously as a skill worth learning as well as I can. I write about anything and everything I’ve learned–at work, in my personal life, about communication, about motivation–anything that may be of a little help to someone else walking their own path in this journey we call life.

I’ve grown to really appreciate blogging and to wish that more people would try it. I see two big reasons for people to blog:

 

For other people.

Sure, there’s already a lot of noise out there. So many blogs, articles, opinions. Why would you want to add to it?

The truth is, you really don’t know who your unique way of seeing and saying things may help.

You have had a rich life full of all kinds of experiences, good and bad. You’ve learned from things you’ve seen, heard, and done. You have a lot more wisdom to share than you may think. And every day, others are muddling their way through the same complicated, confusing, challenging life things you have. Or maybe it’s not as deep as all that. Maybe somebody just needs help deciding which new pair of hiking shoes to buy. Can you help with that?

And even if these people find someone else who has learned the same lessons you have and has put it down in words for them, maybe those words weren’t spoken in the unique way that would resonate. Maybe that writer’s perspective isn’t quite what these people need. Maybe your unique experiences and emotions are what will make those lessons click for some.

And even if these people have already found an answer to their questions that resonated–even if they already know–they may still need to hear the lesson said again and again and again and again and again. We’re strange creatures. Sometimes we need to hear what we already know to remember it. Sometimes we just need a little inspiration.

“Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.” – Andre Gide

So don’t be afraid to increase the volume of kind, positive wisdom in this world. We’re all in this together.

 

For yourself.

I think the writer may get more out of the practice of blogging than any reader ever will.

Writing–especially what’s deep in your heart–is an incredibly freeing and therapeutic experience. Try it and see for yourself.

As you put down in words the things you feel deeply and believe deeply, what you care passionately about and what you desire, and the ideas you most want to help others find–as you put these down in words, your thoughts become clearer, your convictions become stronger, and your ideas become more concrete. The practice of thinking and talking through something analytically, searching for the right language to use, is incredibly educational and thought-provoking. Writing is one of the best ways to learn.

And then, after you’ve written for a few years–after you’ve written to help others, written to feel freedom and healing, written to gain clarity and understanding–you look back and realize that your blog is really a journal as much as it is anything. How rewarding to look back and see how your thoughts and cares have developed over time with the turns your life has taken! And best of all, every now and then you will stumble across some of your own words of wisdom: Words you had forgotten, but that you desperately needed to remember on this exact day.

Bonus benefit: If you’re ever in a situation where there’s a need or an opportunity for someone to give a last minute presentation of any nature–inspirational, instructional, etc–having tons of your own prepared presentations at your fingertips is a lifesaver!

 

So why don’t you try blogging?

If you were to give blogging a go, what would you write about? What lessons have you learned in the last year? What do you care most deeply about in life? What have you struggled with? What has made you ecstatically happy?

If you’re ready, there are plenty of places to get started easily and without paying a cent. I use wordpress.com. You can create a blog free and start writing. And if you’re feeling nervous, they’ll let you hide your blog so you can give it a shot without any prying eyes.

What if you don’t know what to write about? What your big message will be? What your topic of expertise will be? That’s okay. Just write what you’re thinking about today, what you learned this year, what you want next year, and what you believe most strongly. What do you wish you could help the world to know? Just start writing. Or maybe write about your hiking shoes.

 

When you’re ready to give blogging a try, here are 3 Do’s and 3 Don’ts that I’ve learned (the hard way) in my experience as a blogger. Let’s start with what not to do.

 

DON’T . . .

. . . try to blog perfectly.

You never will. If you wait till you can do it perfectly, you’ll never publish a single post. Besides, sometimes you’ll think you’ve written your best piece and it won’t resonate with anyone. And then you’ll write one you just think is weak and poorly written, and you’ll be surprised to discover it spoke deeply to lots of readers. Your “best” will sometimes be your worst, and your “worst” will often be your best. So don’t try to blog perfectly.

. . . try to keep everyone happy.

You can’t. You have so many strong, genuine, deeply caring messages inside of you to give. So many ideas and experiences that could help others. But every one of those messages is going to piss someone off. It’s okay. You have to be okay with it. If you try to keep everyone happy, you’ll water down everything you write until your words don’t help anybody. (And then someone will still be displeased with you for being a people-pleaser.)

. . . be embarrassed.

Eventually, you’ll look back at a post you wrote a long time ago and you won’t like it. Your face will go beet-red, like mine always does. You’ll cringe and shake your head and panic a little. “I can’t believe I shared this with the world! This is awful! What was I thinking?” And then you’ll realize that everything is okay and that life went on. That’s a good moment to experience.

 

DO . . .

. . . write from your heart.

I know this is so cliche. But I think it’s the strongest and best advice anyone can possibly give. Even if it’s not blogging–maybe you’re a writer, a speaker, a leader, or an influencer of any kind. Be genuine! People can tell. And when you truly speak your honest and passionate message from deep down inside of you, that will connect with people.

. . . promote yourself.

It’s as simple as this: If you want to talk to people, tell them. Let the world know you’re hear to say something. It just might listen. There’s no shame in asking to be heard.

. . . keep writing.

You’ll probably feel like a fraud. It’s a thing. Whether you’re an occasional writer, a hobby blogger, or you make a career of it–you’ll feel like you’re not good enough, not committed enough, and that people won’t take you seriously. Especially early on. You’ll feel self-conscious as you look at how little you’ve done. You’ll feel embarrassed that you only post once or twice a month, that it’s sporadic, or that you’ve lost touch with it for a time. That’s okay. Write another post. And then another. Just keep writing. Baby steps. It’s amazing how a few pieces written here and there add up over several years. Suddenly you’ll turn around and see behind you a hundred posts you’ve written. Words that may have helped countless people along the way and may still help others. Words that have helped you already and will help you again. Just keep writing.

 

Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite writers, said this. And it’s one of my favorite things ever said about being a creator. Whether you blog, write, speak, record a podcast, whatever you do…

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” – Neil Gaiman

I hope you share your message with the world. Blogging may be just the way to do it. What do you think? Will you give blogging a try?

If you already are, good luck and keep up the good work! :)

 

I recently presented this material as a Toastmasters speech entitled Blogging 101. At the end of it, I held a Q&A session to further the discussion about what blogging looks like–for me and for others. A few of the questions prompted some great conversation. I’m sharing them here in case it helps.

Q: Is there anything you WON’T write or post about publicly? Anything you wouldn’t want people from work to see? Anything that’s too personal?
A: Not much anymore. There used to be a lot. And then I learned the lesson that a very wise friend of mine once put into words: “People connect at the level of their struggles.” We’re all in this together. If anything, I’m happy to help everyone see that being real is okay.

Q: CAN you decide who gets to see what you write? Can you keep certain people from seeing it?
A: Yes. You can make a blog totally private, so that nobody but you can access it. You can share it with a few certain people so that only they can access it. You can change its search settings such that it’s easy to share but people won’t find it just by searching the internet. Some people who make money by writing valuable content will have their blog set up so that only people who have paid for subscriptions or who have used another related program can access the blog. All kinds of options!

Q: With so many opinions out there, how can you trust that the information you’re getting from a blog is accurate? Like someone’s review of a product?
A: Great question! First of all, there’s no guarantee. You use your best judgment. But a couple helpful ideas: First, if you’re looking for specific information, like feedback or tips on traveling to a certain destination or on which product to buy, does the review or blog you’re reading seem to match the feedback of others? If almost everyone agrees, that tells you something. Second, one of the advantages to blogs is that they’re typically independent. Sure, some bloggers are being paid by the company whose product or service they’re recommending. Generally, they’ll have to disclose this somewhere. But you’ll also find lots of independent third party bloggers who are just writing their own real experiences. If anything, these are more helpful than advertisements and biased info you’ll get on a company’s own website.

Q: Can you blog under a pen name?
A: Yes! Absolutely! You can do that forever, or you can do it to help you get started if you’re nervous.

I’d love to know your answers to these questions! And I’d love to hear if there are any other questions or thoughts you’d like to share.

 

If you are a writer, or are interested in writing, or just like reading about writing, check out My 100th Blog Post: A Few Thoughts About Writing.

Neil Gaiman - As Only You Can

Happy New Year!

Hi friends! This New Year I want to share one of the most helpful things I’ve learned this year–a piece of advice given to me by a very special person in my life:

Don’t solve all your anxious feelings. You can’t. Be okay with them.

There have been some really rough times for me this year. A lot of old hurts and fears that have come back to my attention with a vengeance. That person also told me: Humans are fearful and all it takes is one awful experience for us to “learn” something.

We’ve all shed enough tears to leave us with scars that will always feel a little sensitive to the touch. Life is full of ups and downs. During the downs the world around us is still beautiful. And sometimes it helps to just look at that beauty even when we have anxious feelings we can’t solve. It’s okay that we are also weak.

 

This new year I encourage you to be yourself, accept yourself, love yourself, and be true to yourself. Hold yourself gently and compassionately and with understanding. Let other people treasure you, too. And look at beauty.

 

Don’t grow all the way up. Be a kid.

“Children remind us to treasure the smallest of gifts, even in the most difficult of times.” – Allen Klein, author of Secrets Kids Know…That Adults Oughta Learn

If you need help finding some beauty and imagination and need some help feeling like a kid again, look up Neil Gaiman. He’s been my favorite author this year. His worlds full of simple inspiration and childlike imagination are a good place to work on not being too grown up.