Emotional Walls and Personal Stories; or, why Awkward Queues Might Spark your Eureka Moment

We live in a world of communicative hypocrisy: we strive to be connected, but have to keep certain walls up when we interact with most of society. In our world, it’s understandable: we all move so fast, and interact with more strangers than we care to admit on a daily basis. You want to make sure that you separate the wheat from the chaff.

I’ll argue today, that you might want to let your walls down. Just a bit, for the right occasions.

When? I’m not even sure.

For who? You have to keep your eyes open for that.

But why? You have so much to offer, and the world has more to offer than you’d expect.

Earlier this winter break, I caught myself rushing through security at Dulles airport recently, and by chance, I found out my flight home had been delayed, so much so that my connecting flight would be missed. I was already confused; I hadn’t flown out of Dulles for a couple of years, and it already got lost in the terminals. Needless to say, I wasn’t in the best of moods. To find out more information, I went to the gate, and found almost every passenger in line, looking to reschedule their flights.

Now, these lines are an interesting social experiment. An airplance requires complete strangers to share an equally awkward space together for hours at a time, but delays highten the experience for everyone. Such a waiting line gives us a collective enemy: the airline. We’re stuck in a type of limbo; we want to express contempt with our bad situation, but don’t want to let our walls down for these unfamiliar people.

I found a young brother next to me, who shows up as distraught as I was about the flight. His story is already worse: he told me he just flew from Abu Dhabi. He seemed even more interesting, when I heard him on the phone with relatives: he spoke Arabic with one set of relatives, and Japanese in another. But, I heard his accent, and it was decidedly American. I find out his family has moved around like an Army Brat, and he just started his first semester at Georgia Tech. He talked a bit about his high school in Abu Dhabi, and how it had a graduating class of eighty, two student of which were sons of billionaires. Racially diverse, but economically alike; an interesting dynamic. I passed my business card his way, and we eventually parted.

He noticed my blog, and I checked out his as well. Now, I noticed something amazing when I checked out his blog. It seemed like he was unsure about what to write, or if anyone wanted to listen to his viewpoint.

Mind you, I was more than a bit speechless at this finding. This young kid probably has more stamps in his passport than a novice UN Ambassador, and he was wondering what makes his opinions any more unique than the people around him.

I’ve noticed this trend with many of my friends. I hear of their backgrounds, their exploits, their fears, their struggles, and their victories; and they rarely understand how unique their stories are. Moreover, they fail to understand how they can use their individual stories to explain their passions, their goals, and their beliefs.

  • One of my younger Morehouse brothers told me about how he was basically economically self-sufficient for most of his existence before adulthood: he played dice and sold candy to make ends meet. He’s aiming to become an entrepreneur with an engineering background, and is currently working to find graduate programs which give him such an opportunity. He recently asked me if I thought he was ready for grad school; I realized he’s more ready for the grind than the average honors graduate.
  • Another great confidante wonders daily if she has what it takes to apply to, and make it through, medical school. I’ve never seen a larger anatomical geek in my life: and names organelles  with ease and guesses diagnoses when I’m ill to keep her busy. Passion incarnate.
  • One of my great friends travels the globe at a whim, to visit friends and to make new ones. Last year, she went on a world tour through Nepal, Tokyo, Haiti, her home country, and probably five other places I can’t remember. As a User Experience engineer at Google, she’s interested in understanding how culture informs design, and I told her she should do a TED Talk someday. She then wondered to me aloud, that she wouldn’t know where to start. Needless to say, I was more than a bit surprised.

It’s not that people understand how unique they are from everyone else; it’s that few people I know have critically looked at their own experiences, and worked out how those experiences turned them into the person they are today.  Make those connections, and you might find out some things about yourself you didn’t know before.

So, I’m here to say it now: your story is unique, it matters, and it has made you into the person you are today. Learning how to harness your experiences, into powerful storytelling is a masterful skill.

The first step, paradoxically, might be letting your walls down long enough to talk to a random stranger in a queue.  Start a conversation; who knows what might happen? Given time, a little light might even shine in.

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