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Pillar 4: Tell Stories

Day 1829:

Happiness is.. the writer’s mantra. One of my favorite quotes is by author Anne Lamott. It reads, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” The entire sentiment is beautiful, raw, and empowering, but let’s even just stick to the first seven words. You own everything that happened to you. You are not a statistic or a story. You are a living, breathing human being with the complexity of emotions and colors and the universe swirling within you. You can’t be packaged into a box of labels and criticisms. You are the keeper of your experience. You are the controller of your life. You own your story. You can let it define you, hurt you, or break you. Or you can recognize that it is only a larger part of a whole. And you can embrace every blunder, misfire, and heartache that led you to where you stand today. The sooner you allow yourself to make peace with your story, the sooner you allow yourself to create your own ending.

Pillar 4: Tell Stories

When creating the branches on which I wanted to build The Smile Project, “Tell Stories” was a natural fit. When I was seven or eight years old, I declared I wanted to be a writer. Now let’s take this with a grain of salt because when I was six or seven years old I also had a list of people I was going to marry that included every member of my family and my dog.

Needless to say, I’ve since learned that I can’t marry my grandmother but I can, in fact, write. And write I did. My mother would take me to the craft store and we would buy “blank books” that were essentially bound paperback sized notebooks with a hard cover and anywhere from 10 to 20 to 30 pages inside. I held onto those books with everything in me.

Because I was just as Type A as a child as I am now, I would write my stories on loose-leaf paper before transcribing them into the precious blank book. The best thing about blank books was the lack of lines. You had total creative freedom with illustrations. The possibilities were endless.

I grew up in dictionaries and built palaces out of poetry.

I had been working on The Smile Project for about 3 and a half years when someone very sincerely encouraged me to start a blog. And I had thought about it…but I was a self-conscious writer. I wrote for me and my blank books. Nobody would care what I had to say.

After more encouragement, I added a blog feature to the website. It would be months before I posted anything.

In 2015, determined to take Smile Project writing seriously, I challenged myself in what would turn into #WednesdayBlogDay. The Hump Day Challenge basically encouraged people to pursue their passion project for an hour or two each Wednesday. It made things attainable for me. Oh, and remember I did say that I’m pretty Type A.

Writing for The Smile Project became second nature. It was an easy habit. It was safe and comfortable and I began to love writing inspirationally. It just seemed to fit.

In June 2015, I gave my first public speaking presentation.

I had never felt joy like that.

You see, I liked public speaking. I love presenting and debating and speaking in truly any fashion. The closest thing I had done to a Smile Project talk was my final presentation in my freshman speech class. We had to give a persuasive talk and, from memory, I gave a fully researched and fully cited rhyming talk convincing people to be happy. Definitely against the rules of the final speech. Definitely a great college memory.

But I had never just gone up to a group of people and for 90 minutes talked to them about The Smile Project…until June 2015.

Standing in front of a group of a little over 100 upcoming high school seniors, I talked about The Smile Project. I talked about Happiness. I talked about Sadness. I told stories and read blog posts. I felt myself coming alive through words I had written only a few days before.

This was it.

I had always talked about wanting to be a motivational speaker but assumed it would be in some other time or place or after I had some street cred.

And that’s what I had never realized. I already had street cred. I didn’t need to have authored five books or have traveled the world. I didn’t need to be the world’s fastest jump roper or have any other crazy superlative to my name. I could just be Liz. I could just stand in front of a crowd of strangers, open my soul, and speak.

There’s incredible power in vulnerability...in opening yourself up. It turns you into your own Superhero. I feel very fortunate to have The Smile Project as a platform for not just joy, but also for hurt and anguish. Yes, it’s fun to share triumphs, but some of our best stories are born from defeat.

One of my guiding life principles came from a public presentation I heard years ago at the Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dan Allender, therapist, author, professor, and speaker, said something along the lines of: “Take that terrible thing that happened to you, and make something great out of it.”

Let’s make something great together.

Step 1: Tell me a story…

Love always,

Liz

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