It was 2009. The booking agent agreed to meet me as a favor to a friend. I was excited because he booked big name motivational speakers and I had just left a 20-year career to pursue that very line of work, convinced I was the next Tony Robbins… or maybe Matt Foley. (Though my van is parked out at the end of the Wal-Mart parking lot, not down by the river.)
He had promised me five minutes, and we were 30 seconds in when he asked, “What’s your story?”
“Well…” For some inexplicable reason, I hadn’t anticipated the question. As I hesitated, he stepped up to help.
“Didn’t happen to immigrate here with five dollars, two pants and one shirt, did you?”
“English is your first language, I suppose.” He peered over the glasses perched on the end of his nose. “Ever quarterback a Super Bowl winning team or survive a plane crash? Anything good like that?”
“That’s a shame.”
“Well, in the speaking business, I’m afraid you’re a white dress shirt.”
“I don’t follow.”
“When people call me, they’re not buying a white shirt. They have white shirts all over the organization. They could get one in the next cubicle over for free. For their annual sales meeting they want a striped shirt, or a herringbone, maybe; something they don’t see everyday; something special. If only you were a former Alabama football star and Vietnam hero who played championship ping pong, ran across the country and eventually became a millionaire shrimp fisherman…”
“That was Forrest Gump.”
“And everybody LOVES him! I could book that guy three hundred dates a year…Good luck, son. Call me if you get a story like that.”
I was devastated. I had been in Nashville for a month, and saw this appointment as a sign that God was indeed looking after my family as we began our new journey. Now I felt like Moses as he heard for the hundredth time, “Are we there yet?”
A white shirt, really?
Dude, I spent twenty years with a Fortune 200 company. I’ve got sales and training awards with my name and “#1” on them. I’ve traveled the world as a trainer. I’ve spoken in countries where I needed a translator.
A white shirt?
Heck, I’m in The Smithsonian! Actually, it’s the research archives, which means my stuff is in a box next to the Ark of The Covenant in that really big warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark… but who else do you know who’s IN THE SMITHSONIAN?
A white shirt?
Look, Buddy, God made me special. I know that because Bob and Larry told my kids, and I paid attention, too.
He didn’t make me a white shirt.
To snap me out of my pity party, my wife took a Cary Grant biography from the shelf – I’ve been a fan all my life – and opened it to this picture of the gentleman himself. I can’t explain why, but it’s always been one of my favorite photos. There he is; seated on the floor with his legs crossed, in a tuxedo…and a white shirt.
A white shirt is classic. It’s not flashy, but the occasion doesn’t call for flashy. Sometimes a white shirt is the only thing that will do. No shame in that. In fact, there’s a certain healthy pride in that.
So I wrote my book about a white shirt kind of guy & got an agent & fired the agent & finally self-published. And just a couple of weeks ago, I finally released my first inspirational novel The Tinderbox Tapes.
I got an email the other day from a reader in California. He said he’d nearly finished the book in one sitting. Told me I was the next Nicholas Sparks; something I’d never remotely considered, but have since decided I kinda like. Said he was buying more copies to give to friends and family.
Got another one from a reader in South Carolina. He said, “Absolutely astounding! Could not put it down!
I read books in 3 categories: mystery/entertainment, spiritual and business/self help. I would have to classify your book in all three categories. This makes the 14th book I have read in 2012 and I can honestly say, this is the best book I have read all year!”
These were special because they were my first “real” reader experiences. Someone I don’t know reached out to tell me how my inspirational novel had affected him. Have you experienced that yet?
If not, I bet it’s because you see yourself as a plain white shirt. Don’t buy into the hype about all those “special” stories. As a writer, you have a unique story to tell. Whether it’s herringbone or solid, pastel or primary, it’s the story God gave you, and He intended for you to share it.
Sure, it’s scary putting yourself out there. What if people don’t like it? Here’s the thing. We can never know what will happen when we share our story, but we know exactly what will happen if we don’t. There’s a reason we talk about Peter walking on water instead of the 11 guys who didn’t move.
I teach insurance salespeople about “telling your story” to prospects. Can you imagine the power of a compelling story that prompts you to buy insurance that later saves your family from financial ruin?
Your story is the most important thing you can share with the rest of us because we gain encouragement, inspiration and instruction from it. See, we need your story even when we don’t realize it.
And you’re the only one who can tell it, so we’re depending on you to do it.
So, whether it’s a novel, a memoir, a speech, a lesson plan or a sales presentation, what’s your story? You better start typing because we can’t wait to hear it.
(If you’d like, you can start in the comments below.)