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Sam Davidson's blog

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Posts tagged stories
Speaking Event: Connecting for Children's Justice Conference

I'm excited to be keynoting the Connecting for Children's Justice Conference in Nashville this November. Tennessee Children’s Advocacy Centers hosts this major conference each fall, drawing some 700 people from across the state of Tennessee for two days of training, collaborating, networking, and learning. Filling two full days with workshops, the event has a diverse audience, including nonprofit employees, case managers, law enforcement, and legal professionals. This is the largest and most important event of its kind for this audience each year.

I'll be keynoting the opening lunch event, discussing how all of those involved in helping children can better work together. I'll also be leading a brand new workshop on the power of story. How can organizations find their core story - something that supporters can share in order to further grow donors or volunteers?

See you in November!


The Garden Lady

There's a house on our usual walking route that has a lot of flowers out front. They're mostly simple pansies or marigolds, but my daughter is captivated by them. When we ask if she wants to go by the garden, she always answers with an enthusiastic "Yes!" Last night, as we made our way to the garden, we saw the woman who lives there outside working in her garden, either planting or weeding. She saw us approaching and said a gentle "Hello."

We paused, returned the nicety, and paused so our daughter could take in the purple, red, yellow, and orange flowers.

"Take one," the garden lady said.

"Are you sure?" we asked, a bit taken aback.

"Sure. That's what they're there for."

We asked our daughter which one she wanted. She selected a purple one and I knelt to break the stem and hand it to her. We wished the garden lady a good night and continued on our loop back home.

If you create something beautiful, don't be afraid to give it to others. No, you can't always control what they'll do with it, but beauty is too great and wonderful to keep to yourself.

My daughter may never remember this particular walk, but I hope she becomes the kind of person who's not afraid to make beautiful things for others to enjoy.

May you do the same this week, in your small plot in this world.

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The Beauty of Human Resiliency

There's a great, redemptive article in this month's Fortune. It tells the story of Leigh Steinberg, upon whom the movie "Jerry Maguire" was (sort of) based. Steinberg was once on top of the sports world and then it all came crashing down, largely due to alcohol addiction.

What I love about the piece is that it doesn't end with Steinberg back on top, counting his millions. He's not allowed (yet) to be an agent again in the NFL. He owes creditors a lot of money. He must submit regular urine tests. His office and apartment are small.

But he's trying.

And this is the beauty of human resiliency. He is trying again.

He is bruised, but not crushed. He is still trying to get up.

We can each do this. The crescendo of our story is that we can keep moving forward, not that we always end up on top. The point isn't to win, although it's nice when it happens. The point is that we can keep playing as long as we can. 

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They Held Hands and She Cried

I glanced up from my phone and noticed her. Walking back to a booth by the wall, her skinny jeans and spring toboggan were headed to where he was seated. Delicately holding a hot latte in her right hand, her arm crooked at a right angle so the foamy meniscus stayed in place as she moved, she walked in a straight line toward the table, set the drink down, and crumpled into the wooden bench as tears came. It was a silent cry, the kind borne of a deep, prolonged ache.

He seem uninterested in comforting her. His right thumb scrolled incessantly on his phone as he tried hard to distract himself from her emotion. Maybe he didn't know what to say. Fear of saying the wrong thing often leaves us mute. In a world where messages blare, silence can be foreign and unwelcome. So, we'd at least rather fill our mind with clutter and diversion when the time comes to say something and we can't, tongue tied by hesitancy. Doing so comforts us, a selfish act given that the moment calls for us to at least speak an awkward "I'm sorry" or to try to say so with our eyes. Directing them to a tiny screen gives us the illusion at we're doing something. What a terrible something it is to do in moments like these.

He finally offered her his left hand, even if it was propping up his phone while he scrolled. His long fingers engulfed hers. Still no eye contact. Wanting desperately to connect with something human, she glanced around the room, her eyes darting and looking for an anonymous match, someone who could offer a shared humanity for half of half of a second so that she didn't have to feel so alone in this instant in a place so crowded. What she needed she couldn't find in what was seated just 24 inches across from her. She needed more than a hand to hold; she needed a meaningful connection. Anything - a hand, a tissue, a shirt sleeve - could dry her tears. She needed something to comfort her heart.

Maybe someone died. Maybe she was yelled at by her mom or dad or teacher or boss. Maybe she didn't get the job or she missed the bus or she missed her dog. I would never know what made her sad to the point of public tears. But I did know that her sadness couldn't - and shouldn't - go unnoticed.

My daughter can now recognize facial expressions well. When watching a movie or looking in a book, she can determine if someone is happy, sad, mad, or scared. When she sees it, she names it. A simple "She's sad" lets me know my daughter can empathize because she has memories of times when she, too, was sad.

That's what happens when we see a downtrodden face in another. We're transplanted to a place and time where we were in their toboggan and we do know what made us cry or frown or despair. And, just as we wanted touch or eye contact or engulfing, we still work hard to not overcome the abyss between two sad strangers. Rather than offer a sympathetic glance or a soft touch or a kind word, we return to small screens and tap away, hoping that something else will come to comfort them, just as our own hands distract us.

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The Plot Thickens

When you woke up this morning, you did so as the character in a story that was halfway written. Everything up until now has been lead-in. Backstory. Setting the stage for what is happening next.

And you get to be the author of your own story. All that is in front of you are blank pages.

Despite what the critics may be whispering in your ear, how this story ends has not been determined.

The real question, then, is whether or not you're willing to pick up the pen and determine what happens to you and how the story plays out.

Will you write your own destiny, or will you sit by while others write it for you?

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How Bad Do You Want It?

I know you've heard this one before:

An energetic young business man meets a guru one day while walking along the beach. It's the same guru so many have told him about. Apparently, this guru is the wisest and most thoughtful person in the world, but usually inaccessible. Knowing how to interpret fate, the young man asks the guru a question:

"What must I do to be successful?"

The guru glances at him in that zen, guru-like way and says he'll share with him how to be successful tomorrow morning at 4 a.m. at this same beach.

The next day, the man shows up, nicely dressed and finds the guru near the shoreline. He asks the guru the same question. The guru responds by asking the young man to follow him out into the water. The man is confused at first, but figures the guru must know what he's doing, so the two wade into the ocean together.

The guru turns and says, "Let's keep going." So, they walk in until the water is up to their knees, then their waists, then their chests. The man, suit soaked, now asks, "Guru! What does this have to do with success?"

"Do you want to be successful?" the guru asks.

"Yes! Of course I do," the man replies.

Just then, the guru dunks him under the water. The young man fights to get back above water, but in addition to being wise, the guru is also strong. After about 15 seconds, the guru lets him back up. Confused and infuriated, the young man rails, "What was that?! What are you doing?!" Immediately, the guru pushes him under and holds him down again. After about 15 seconds, he lets him up.

The man is irate now. "What are you doing?! I asked you how to be successul and you're trying to drown me!"

The guru calmly replies, "Do you want to be successful?"

Frustrated, the man looks at him and says, "Yes, I want to -"

Before he can finish, the guru dunks him a third down, holding him down longer than before. He finally lets him up. The man is gasping for air now, trying to regain his bearings.

The guru states, "Until you want success as badly as you wanted air just now, you will never achieve it."

It's an old story, but still has a critical point: until we want our goals and dreams to come true more than we want any temporary distraction, we will never achieve them.

You will not lose 15 pounds if you want the late night candy bar more than you want to slim down.

You will not start your business if you want your current way of life more than the way your life could be in five years.

You will not get the chance to ask her out if your fear prevents you from going over to say hello.

Many times, we think we want something. In reality, we act very differently. You want to get out of debt? Stop shopping. You have to want a debt-free life way more than you want a new sofa, wardrobe, or TV. As long as you keep shopping, it's clear you want new stuff more than you want to save money. Say what you want; the way you live your life will always speak louder than the words you are saying.

Lip service to wants is the stuff of amateurs. You can make a wish list a mile long. Merely writing something down doesn't make your dreams any closer to coming true.

The real trick is to move from want to need. Just like the young man had to realize his success would come when he felt a visceral need for it, we, too, must realize that we need to have our dreams come true. We need to set a goal and reach it. We need things to be different than we are now.

When a want is unmet, we may feel uncomfortable. We might get sad or upset. Life can continue. But when a need is unmet - we suffer. We cringe, react, and are thrown off course. Something is amiss and we have to set everything else aside until we fix it.

Get rid of your wants. Start needing your dreams. Until you can't go another day without chasing a passion, you'll never lace up your shoes and get going. Once it becomes crucial to your happiness and wellbeing, then you're ready to run.

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Stop Asking "How Was Your Day?"

You've seen this scene play out a million times: you pick your kid up from school or the family is around the dinner table and you ask, "How was your day?" The unanimous answer: "Fine."

End of conversation.

Please stop asking people "How was your day?"

The questions is a terrible one not because it's repeated daily around the world to people who want to do anything but talk about their day. The question sucks because it doesn't give birth to a story.

Instead, ask a question that gets someone (a teenager, a spouse, a friend) to tell a story. Be specific and listen to what they say. You'll find communication will improve. Here are some ideas:

  • "What made you laugh today?"
  • "What happened today that was totally unexpected?"
  • "Who did you see that made you happy?"
  • "What did you enjoy doing the most today?"

Each of these questions gets someone to remember something specific, shifts their mind from the routine of saying "Fine" in order to recap an entire day, and gets them to talk about something positive.

We're all storytellers at heart. We just need something to prompt us to unleash the story within, the story we live so deeply.

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