Life In The Ranch

A lot changes when you move from a 2,600 square foot house to an RV (The Ranch) full time. For one thing, you have to decide what you absolutely need for immediate use and what stays in storage. But your routines also change.

The Dog

One big example is letting the dog (Zuzu) out. That’s something you may not think is a big deal, and it’s not really. But it’s way different now. I used to just open the sliding door onto the patio and out she would go to take care of her business in our fenced back yard. Now she wears a harness and I have to put her on a leash and go out with her until she does her business. And now, instead of one of the kids collecting doggy prizes once a week, I take a little plastic bone attached to her leash filled with a roll of doggy prize bags. When she leaves a prize on the grass, I now gather it immediately, picking it up with my hand inside the bag, pull the prize into the bag by turning it inside out and goose neck tie it off and throw it out.

Of course, I have to be dressed appropriately for going outdoors in December (granted it’s California where a cold morning is 37 degrees, not zero or below) and it now makes a difference to me whether or not it’s raining. which it has been for the last two days.

The Cat

We also have a cat (Bandit). He’s a great cat, very easy going, but he’s an indoor cat which raises the question, where do we put the litter box? Well, it depends on the time of day. During the day it goes in our closet at the front of the Ranch, out of sight. He knows to go through our bedroom and into the closet to do his business. But, when it’s time for bed things change. We don’t want the door open and the cat coming into or through our room during the night, so I take the litter box down to the kitchen when we go to bed and close the bedroom door.

Now my weekday morning routine is get up, make coffee, feed Bandit and Zuzu, take Zuzu outside, read, sometimes take Zuzu outside again, write, clean the litter box, shower and get dressed, move the litter box to the closet, gather up the trash from the kitchen where I’ve put the soiled litter and any Zuzu prizes, say good-bye to Suzi, gather my work things, head out the door, leave the trash at the end of our space, head to work.

The Son

I neglected to mention that our youngest son, Jordan, is staying with us for awhile. He sleeps on the hide-a-bed in the living room which, in an RV, is part of everything that is not the bedroom. So, my morning routine is accomplished while being as quiet and stealthy as I possibly can. When I sit to read and write my knees are no more than 12 inches from the corner of Jordan’s bed. Fortunately, he is not a light sleeper. If he were, he’d be a much earlier riser than he would like.

The Point

In the grand scheme of things, these changes in routine are minor. And they are certainly first-world “problems.” But they illustrate a comment I made to a friend the other evening. We had our first guests over for dessert this past weekend. They are long-time friends with whom we get together often, but they hadn’t seen the Ranch yet. So we invited them over for “a tour.”  During the evening we heard a thumping sound coming from the next door RV. We’re not sure what’s going on over there but we hear thumping all evening long. There are four kids and one adult living there long term. It sounds like the Romanian gymnastics team is practicing most evenings. Our friend said, “I could never do this.” She was referring to the whole living in an RV experience and the thumping neighbors just solidified her position. My comment was, “You’d be surprised what you can learn to do.”

Whether it’s transitioning from full time ministry to business, moving to a foreign country to work in a new kind of job, going into healthcare, then going into manufacturing, then going back into healthcare, or moving into an RV full time, one thing I’ve learned is that you can learn to do anything you need to do. It’s not always about how prepared you are. It’s usually more about taking the step.

The Ranch

So, where does a family go who just moves out? The first answer is, to a hotel. We were supposed to close on our house on Monday, November 16th. A hiccup with our Buyer’s Buyer’s lender caused a delay that set everyone involved into Plan B mode.  Our buyer had set up a cleaning company and a moving company based on the anticipated close date. Our plans were also based on that close date. We knew we would have to spend a night or two in a hotel. Our plan had been to close on the house, take the proceeds from the sale and buy an RV for the short term. We want to see what happens in the country and I’m still working so that was our plan.


All that was well and good except for a couple realities we didn’t expect. RVs are selling like hotcakes. When we first started looking, we would find one we liked and call about going to see it only to hear it had been sold. We realized there was no point in even looking until we had money in hand. We also discovered that space at RV parks was at a premium. Lots of people in California seem to be going long term in RV parks. More than once we heard, “We don’t have even two week spots at the moment. Call back at the beginning of the month when people pay rent. That’s when things usually open up.” It was good we started the search for RV spots weeks before the originally scheduled closing date. I was able to make a reservation for two weeks at a park that is only one exit away from my work. As that original closing date came and went, I had to change the reservation two or three times. Thankfully, they were able to accommodate the changes without charging an additional deposit.

We finally closed on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. That evening, Suzi and I spent quite awhile online looking at RVs. When we had confirmation the proceeds had been deposited into our account the next day, we took off to look. We checked out two at a local dealer and then drove to a dealer a little over an hour away to look at the one we both liked best from what we could see online. That turned out to be the one. We met with the salesman who toured us through the unit and explained some things to us. He offered to let us go get coffee to discuss it and promised not to sell it to anyone else until we returned. When we got back from coffee, we met the owner of the dealership who told us more about the unit’s history and how they do business. We made a deal.

Early Friday morning, the day after Thanksgiving, Suzi and I left the hotel and drove back up to the dealership for our walk through with a technician. It was all coming together. We had checked out of the hotel, gotten our reservation reset for this day at the RV park and completed our walk-through. We don’t have a truck to pull the RV yet so we had it delivered. Finally, almost two weeks after we were originally supposed to close on our house, we moved into our 2014 Heartland Big Horn 3875 FB 5th Wheel.

The Ranch

This is the 4th RV we’ve owned over the last several years. In the past we’ve always referred to them as the “rig” or just “the trailer.” We’re tired of that and decided we wanted to call this one something more “homey.” This one is manufactured by a company called Heartland. That happens to be the name of a Canadian TV show Suzi and I like about a family and their ranch. With that connection, we decided to call it “The Ranch.” It sounds much better to say, “We’re heading back to The Ranch” or “Oh, I left that back at The Ranch” than “… he rig” or “… the trailer,” don’t you think?

This series of posts is about stories. It’s about the power of stories to convey truth. Trying to relay a story like this in around 700 words in an interesting exercise. So much has to be left out. What you include in your stories will depend on what message you want people to retain. This one could be about adventure, craziness, boldness, faith, how things work out, or a number of other ideas. I’d be interested in hearing what you took from it.

1,380 Pounds

Suzi and I recently sold our house. It’s something we’ve been talking about for awhile and the time seemed right. Strangely, the market is good in spite of (or because of) the pandemic. Interest rates are way down and Suzi had what I call an unction. A handful of times in our life Suzi has come out with an “I think we should …” statement. Once it was “I think we should buy a trailer.” That one was way out of left field, but we bought the trailer and I later learned why that was a good idea (maybe a topic for another post). This time it was, “I think we should sell the house.” Not, “I think we should sell the house, someday” like the conversation had been. It was, “I think we should put the house on the market now.” I’ve learned to listen to Suzi’s unctions so we sold the house.

Our recent 12-Day Journey took place after we had accepted an offer on the house. We knew the time between accepting the offer and moving was our only opportunity to enjoy some relaxation so we took vacation and off we went.


We bought this house in July of 2014. We lived there for 6 years and 4 months making it the longest I’ve lived in any one place in my entire life. We saw our two youngest go from 8th grade to High School graduation and beyond in that house. It holds a lot of memories. Turns out, it holds a lot of other stuff as well.

When you move, you are usually moving to somewhere. We weren’t. We were just moving out. That means we had to pack and move everything to storage. Everything including the chair we had just bought in Tennessee and carried 2,000 miles back with us. Well, not everything. Our buyer had purchased our two largest pieces of furniture as well as our fridge, washer, and dryer. That was a relief. We didn’t have to store those.

The weeks after our vacation were filled with packing and moving loads of the stuff of our life to storage units. There was a great paring down taking place as well. We had a moving sale one weekend and I became close friends with Facebook Marketplace. Online I sold an extra TV, our basketball goal, our baby grand digital piano (that one was hard to let go), and several other large items we didn’t want to store. We also put so many things out on the curb for people to pick up free I can’t recount them all. Every thing we put out was taken by someone. There were also several trips to the thrift store donation center.

I rented 4 U-Haul trucks over the course of the next few weeks (that’s another whole story). Twice we decided to use the truck to take a load of trash to the transfer station. That was eye-opening. When you take items to this transfer station in a truck, they have you weigh in and weigh out and charge you by the portion of a ton. The first time we went the load was 860 pounds! Even the guy taking my money said, “That’s a big load.” The second time we went the load was 520 pounds. That’s a total of 1,380 pounds … of trash! That’s one skinny teenager away from 3/4 of a ton of trash. I was blown away. How do you accumulate and hang on to that much trash? That doesn’t even account for all the stuff we sold, gave away, and the couple trips we made to the transfer station with an SUV full that didn’t get weighed. When I say we got rid of a ton of stuff, I’m probably understating it.


How does a family have a ton of trash? I’m not talking about old cereal boxes and milk cartons or the daily scoops from the litter box. I’m not talking about the stuff you put into the trash bin out on the curb once a week. I’m talking about stuff that we once considered important enough to keep and, in some cases, move with us more than once. It wasn’t trash when we got it. It was memorabilia or things we kept “in case we might need it someday.” But, during this move, we decided we didn’t “need” or want it anymore. So, what was once some of the “stuff of our life” became trash.

It was a ruthless exercise and sometimes we said, “Yes, we’re finally getting rid of that!” but in some cases we said, “Aw, you’re getting rid of that?!” I’m not sure we had a rule about how we made the decision to discard. In some cases it was simply, I have been carrying this around for years and haven’t thought about it once except when packing it for the next move, so out it goes. Other times it was a harder decision, but we had to pare down.

I’m still sorting out the lessons for me from this story. What principles do you think you could illustrate with a story about 1,380 pounds of trash?

A Thrift Store Chair and Another Book

The final eastbound destination on our recent 12-Day journey was Nashville, TN. Here we were to revisit a tradition from the year or two we lived in Indianapolis where every several weeks we would drive to Nashville and our friends John and Julia (then all our children came with us) would drive up from Atlanta and we’d spend the weekend together.  Those were great times and we were excited to see our friends.

John and Julia are another couple we’ve known for over 40 years. John and I were security guards (with Keith) in Chicago in college and we’ve stayed in close contact through the years. Julia and Suzi love so many of the same things and John and I have worked for the same company in the past. I also worked for a company that provided service to John’s company once. Let it suffice to say, we never lack for conversation.


One of the traditions of our time together with John and Julia is a trip (or two) to a thrift store.  Suzi and Julia especially like to see what people donate in different parts of the country. So off we went to a Goodwill store in Franklin, TN outside Nashville.

Suzi and Julia went off on their treasure hunts inside the store as soon as we hit the door.  They have keen eyes and a sense for the kinds of things they’re looking for so they don’t take hours to complete their searches. Suzi usually fills a shopping cart with possible purchases or things she wants to show me that are unique or might be special in some way. But, often she walks out of the store with nothing or one or two small things. Occasionally, however, there is a piece of furniture that catches her eye. This was one of those times.

I noticed the two of them standing at the front register admiring something so I went to see what it was. It was a wooden chair. It sat lower than most chairs, had a rattan bottom, and was unusually wide. One elderly lady in line said it was a “story time chair” where you and a child could sit side-by-side and read a story together. Another lady in the line suggested, “you could but a big cushion on it and make it a dog bed chair.” The look in Suzi’s eye suggested, “I really like this chair.” So we paid the $15 and loaded it into the back of our vehicle to make the 2,200 mile trip home with us.

Another Book

When Suzi and I hit the thrift store together, she heads off on her systematic search and I head to the book section.  Admittedly I rarely find anything. It’s like panning for gold. You sift through a lot of dirt and usually come up empty. When I say “dirt” I just mean things I’m not interested in. But, once in awhile, I find a nugget. This was one of those times.

Several years ago I ran across a video by Daniel H. Pink called “Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” I saved a link to it in my Evernote file and have referred to it, been informed by it, and shared it with others often. The video outlines the research showing that the “carrot and stick” motivational tactics used by so many can actually be counterproductive. He shows that we are much more highly motivated by three intrinsic factors, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

Well, there, on the shelf at the Goodwill in Franklin TN was a copy of the book he wrote by the same title. I started to leaf through it, then I started to read a particularly interesting chapter. I was about mid-way through that chapter when I noticed Suzi and Julia at the front of the store. When I went up to see what they were looking at the book was under my arm.

I bought that book even though it had been thoroughly highlighted by the previous owner. I actually think that’s kind of cool. I get to see what they thought was important when they read it. It goes into much more detail about the research and shares great implementation ideas at the end. I enjoyed reading it so much I bought a clean copy to share with my colleagues.

A Dark Night In The Woods

After our delicious brunch with Juliana in Kansas City, we headed out to visit with dear friends, Keith and Terry, in the St. Louis area. To be more accurate, we headed out to visit with Terry. Keith’s work often takes him out of the country and, unfortunately, this was one of those times.

Keith and Terry are friends we’ve know for over 40 years. We met in college where Keith and I were security guards together in downtown Chicago. Keith and Terry were married a month before us and Suzi stood up in their wedding. Life circumstances have prevented us from spending as much time together with them as Suzi and I would love, so we cherish every moment we can get.

The Fun

We met Terry at their daughter’s house where she was finishing up a day of (grand)child care and headed out to dinner. Terry drove us to a favorite restaurant, and, after we were seated, she got Keith on a video call. He was at the airport overseas waiting to come home. So, Suzi and Terry visited across the table while I got to visit with Keith for awhile through the wonders of modern technology.

After dinner (the best pastrami sandwich I’ve ever had) we picked up our car and followed Terry to their house. Keith had built them a house in the woods on land his family had owned for a long time. Though we’ve known Keith and Terry for a long time and I remember conversations about how the project was coming along, we’d never seen their beautiful home in person. We were looking forward to it.

I knew the house was in the woods. I just didn’t know how deep in the woods it was. The fact that it was already dark when we drove back to the house probably contributed to the feeling that we were way off the beaten path. All we could see on the one-lane drive was Terry’s car in front of us and what was immediately within reach of our headlights. That included a deer, a opossum and trees, lots of trees.

We eventually wound around the last bend into the spot Keith had cleared for their home and onto the driveway. What a beautiful place!  Terry took us on a tour. We even got to see Terry’s sister who was visiting and her parents who live in the downstairs apartment Keith built for them. It is a beautiful home and we were so glad to finally see it in person.

Despite Terry’s urging to stay the night, Suzi and I needed to get more highway behind us before settling in for the night. Terry offered to lead us back out to the main road but we declined. I had GPS and the we didn’t remember the route being that complicated. That was a mistake.

The Dark Night in the Woods

We headed back out into the dark night in the woods chatting about how great it was to  spend time with Terry and video chat with Keith. Then we came to an intersection. Left, right, or straight? We couldn’t remember. Straight looked like someone’s long driveway. We couldn’t see anything to the left or to the right. How did we get lost that fast? It had only been a couple minutes since we left Terry.

My GPS was pointing us down what looked like the long driveway so we immediately lost confidence it that and looked for a sign we’d seen on the way in. We didn’t see it so we made a decision. I don’t even remember which way we turned. But it wasn’t the same way we’d come in. I was actually impressed by how calm we both were for two people who had confidently told our friend we could find our way back and, only moments later, were completely lost in the dark in the woods.

We made another turn and stopped short when we realized this was someone else’s driveway. I put it in reverse, just when I realized I couldn’t see well enough to back around that turn headlights came on in front of me.

“Oh, No!” I thought, “this guy is wondering what someone is doing way out here pulling into his driveway.”

Up drove a stern looking man on an ATV. I rolled down my window and said, “I’m sorry, sir. We were just visiting our friends, and are trying to get back to the main road. We turned here but this looks like a driveway so we were trying to back out.”

“Who are your friends?” he asked in a tone that sounded more like an accusation than a question, though I could understand why he’d be wary.

“Keith and Terry,” I answered.

His face softened and he said, “That’s my nephew. This is a driveway. It’s my driveway. But you can pull along in front of the house, keep driving past and it will take you down to the main road.”

“Thank you,” I replied in relief imagining what an idiot he must think I am. At that point I was inclined to agree.

We drove on following his directions and found the main road in short order. We made the rest of the drive to our overnight stop without incident. Whew!

The Power of Stories

How many different lessons could be learned from that story? Aside from what you may have learned about me that I didn’t want you to know, I’d be interested to know what points you think you could illustrate with that story.

The Dancer and The Book

One of the stops on our recent vacation was Olathe, Kansas (Kansas City area) to see our oldest daughter, Juliana, who moved there three months ago.  She’s the one I mentioned in my post “How Does A Klutz Become A Dancer?” This is the same girl who, right after graduating from High School, was given no choice but to move to China with her parents and two younger siblings. “What am I going to do in China,” she asked? I’ll tell you what she did. She started a dance school.

I was working at an international JK – 12 school and Juliana saw an opportunity. She started classes in the cafeteria after school. She had classes by age group and by dance style (Hip-hop, Jazz, Lyrical, Ballet, etc.). The junior Kindergarten kids were adorable and she even had some of the staff in classes. She learned how to get costumes made and had several full recitals over the two years we were there. She charged for the classes but also held bake sales to raise money for a scholarship fund so no one who wanted to dance was unable to.

Fast forward to three months ago. Juliana has become a Dental Assistant. She was working and living in an apartment with two other girls in the same town as us . The three of them lived in a two bedroom, two bath apartment that cost them over $1,700 a month for rent. Their transportation was a minivan Juliana’s roommate had borrowed from her dad. When their lease was up, the roommate decided to move home to save money so she could buy a car. Juliana and her two dogs moved in with us temporarily.

Time to Get Out of Dodge

After several months of living with her parents again, Juliana wanted to get back out on her own. She decided to leave California because of the cost of living and she does not like the hot summers. So, where do you go? She had three criteria for choosing another place to live and work. One, it had to be a state where her Dental Assistant credentials would be accepted with no additional work. Two, there had to be a family member or friend living there so she wouldn’t be completely on her own (that one may have been influenced by mom). Three she had to be able to afford an apartment on her own.

After a couple weeks of research Juliana zeroed in on Olathe, Kansas. She has a cousin there who agreed to let her stay until she got a place. She had put her name out in the area and had several phone interviews which led to invitations to in-person interviews, so she packed her stuff and her dogs into a rented minivan, got a friend to drive along with her and hit the road.

Within two weeks of arriving in Olathe, Juliana, after having several working interviews with different Dental offices, had multiple job offers. She loves the office where she’s working and the pay and benefits are far better than she had in California. Better pay and benefits with the lower cost of living, I’d say she landed pretty well. She found a two bedroom, one bath apartment that she can afford on her own (with her two dogs). That’s the girl we went to visit.

Dancers Gotta Dance

We arrived on a Monday night. Juliana got the next day off so we had an evening, all day on Tuesday, and the morning of Wednesday together. She took us to the Kansas City Market downtown, to Union Station and to a cool “Made In Kansas City” shop with some amazing ice cream. The day we left, we had brunch at a local breakfast-and-lunch-only place that was delicious.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time with Juliana. One thing that tickled me happened the night we arrived. We planned to have dinner together which we did, but before we had dinner, Juliana wanted to keep her appointment. It was her class at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio where she’s moved on from Hip-hop, Jazz, Lyrical and Ballet to Ballroom and Swing. Hey, dancers gotta dance. I love that she’s doing that.

O Yeah, The Book

Suzi and I needed something to do while Juliana was at her dance class. I took Suzi to a nearby store where she wanted to look for a few things and, at her suggestion, I want across the street to a Barnes and Noble Bookstore.

On the way to the bookstore I remembered a book I’d been wanting to get so I went in, bought it, and started reading it in the car while I waited for Suzi and Juliana. The book is called The Go-Giver: A Little Story About A Powerful Business Idea. It’s by Bob Burg and John David Mann. I absolutely loved it. I’ve read it twice already. The title is a link to the book so you can check it out.


Stories can have purpose. I could have shared this story (actually there are several stories here) to a number of ends. I could want to talk about entrepreneurship (dance school in China) or to introduce you to the character of my daughter. I may want to highlight some of the spots in Kansas City or talk about the comparative cost of living in different parts of the country. I definitely wanted to introduce you to a great book. What other purposes could you see for these stories? What are some of your stories that can have a purpose?

Our 12-day Journey

Suzi and I just returned from a two-week vacation. It was a driving vacation that touched 14 states over 4,900 miles. We love driving across country. We did a similar trip last year, too.  It’s relaxing and fun to drive through the changes in topography and to see the countryside and the cities.

Our first night was in Salt Lake City. After that we stopped in Denver to have dinner with Suzi’s sister and her husband and Suzi’s sister-in-law. The next day it was on to Kansas City where we spent two nights and a day with our oldest daughter (the Klutz who became a dancer). After that we stopped in St. Louis to have dinner with a friend on our way to a layover in Mt. Vernon, IL. The next day we reached our eastbound destination, Nashville. There we spend three nights with dear friends who had driven up from Atlanta.

We decided to return home by a different route. That trip involved no visits with friends or family but took us to stops in Oklahoma City, Gallup New Mexico, and Bakersfield California. Bakersfield is only 3.5 hours from home but we decided it was better to rest, leave at a leisurely pace the final morning and arrive refreshed rather than arrive home at midnight wrung out from the road.

I just described a 12-day journey in three paragraphs that take less than a minute to read. That’s a story in itself. What did you learn about me and my family from those paragraphs? What did you think about yourself as you read? “I would never do that.” or, “That sounds like fun.” What did you think about the length of the trip or the speed or the distance?

This series of posts is about the power of stories (starting the first week of October with my Black Swan story) . Over the next couple of weeks I will share few stories from the trip in more detail.

Has Anyone Else Experienced Failure?

Below is the text of a short speech I gave in August of last year in Orlando, FL. There was no assigned topic but I chose personal failure as the back door to success. I hope this is encouraging to you if you, like me, have ever experienced failure.

Has anyone else here experienced failure at any time in your life? Can we talk about that for a minute? Can we talk about “Failure: The back door to success.” That’s the title of a book by author, pastor/theologian, Erwin Lutzer. When I first encountered that title it caught my eye. Partly because the title is intriguing and made me want to read the book. But the truth of that title is also a great life lesson. Failure is not the end of the world. In fact, it is often a necessary step forward into a better future.

I said it’s a life lesson. Well, I don’t know if its because I’m a slow learner, or what. But it seems I’ve had more than a few opportunities to review that lesson in my life. One of those opportunities involved relocation. Have you have ever relocated your family? Ah, ok, then you’ll be able to feel me on this. We packed up all our stuff, our family of 7, plus the dog, plus two cats, and moved 2,851 miles (oh, I counted) across the country from Cary North Carolina, BACK to Manteca California.

I say “back” to Manteca because 13 months prior to that, we had packed up all our stuff, our family of 7, plus the dog, plus two cats, left our idyllic cul de sac neighborhood, our church home, and our friends, and moved to NC for a new job. The night we left, all the neighbors and some friends from outside the neighborhood were on the front lawn of the house we were leaving and we were all crying our eyes out. In the swell of all that emotion I made a pretty melodramatic pronouncement. I said, “California will not defeat me, I will return!” Pretty dramatic, huh?

My new company bought a company in California giving us the opportunity to go back. It felt like a triumph that day in September, 2005 when we rolled back into Manteca. Promise kept! We made an offer on a house in a neighborhood where our kids could attend the school they wanted. The appraisal came back for $25,000 more that we bought it for! Instant equity. We were pretty excited. Things were good.

Fast forward 3 years to Friday November 7, 2008, 3 days after the presidential election. I walked into work that morning and got a pink slip. I was laid off. If you remember, things were difficult for business during those days and nobody was hiring. I couldn’t find a job. Unemployment wouldn’t cover the mortgage payment on the house so I wasn’t able to make another payment after that day and by July of 2009 we lost the house. That was a dark time.

Open the back door. By August 3, the next month, we were loading up as much of our stuff as we could (the rest was in storage), five members of our family (no dog or cats this time) and relocating again. This time we moved 7,244 miles to Kunming, China (how that came about is a story for another time). I had a two-year contract to serve as the director of an international school there. Those were the two most personally enriching, professionally expanding, and family transforming years of our life … so far. The bonds of friendship that we forged there with local Chinese and other expats, remain strong to this day. And I would NEVER have had that opportunity, it would never have been on my radar screen, if I hadn’t lost that job and the house.

I said I’ve had several opportunities to review that lesson. One benefit of frequent review is that it helps reduce the fear of failure, which is liberating. I’m learning to view things in the spirit of the 1998 hit song “Closing time,” – “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” I hope my story encourages you.

Thank you,

The Cover Letter

A Friend of mine is a highly successful salesmen. We’ve worked together on some big projects in the past so I know firsthand how good he is. He is especially good at writing. Whatever he writes is concise, precise, clear, engaging, sometimes entertaining (when appropriate), always on point. So you can imagine my surprise when he called and asked me to review something he’d written as a cover letter for a potentially huge deal. I was humbled and honored by the request.

What he sent me was typical of his work and required none of the editorial comments you see in the picture I chose for this post (it is one of the pictures that came up in my search for “cover letters”). In fact, he not only told a story, he told two. They were both hypothetical stories that came from his understanding of the needs of this potential client and how the service he was selling would specifically connect to meet those needs.

The Power of Stories

Last week I wrote about how I used a personal story to connect with an audience. I mentioned that stories are powerful to connect, to teach, and to persuade. We often make a big mistake when we set out to connect, teach, or persuade. That mistake is that we aim for the head. We think that we need to engage a person’s thinking to achieve those goals. We eventually do want the person to think but the heart is the gateway to the head. I must know, like, and trust you before I would be willing to connect with you, learn from you, or be persuaded by you.

One of the most powerful things about stories is that they engage the heart. Whenever I speak to an audience, I hear comments afterward like, “I love that story you told about …” or “It’s cool how you talk about your family.” I don’t often hear, “Now I understand the definition of …” or, “Your second point was very informative.” But guess what, the story that person loved actually defined the term and what I said about my family drove home the second point of my speech.

Stories are about ROI (return on investment). People remember stories more easily than they remember facts. If you want someone to remember a point you’re making, make the point with a story. If you are trying, for example, to advocate for children in the foster care system, it’s overwhelming to hear there are over 400,000 of them. It’s so overwhelming that we can’t take it in. If, however, you tell me the story of Alicia (made up name), who had a particular experience in the foster care system, I can grasp that. The story elicits far more from me than the numbers.

  • Stories connect
  • Stories illuminate
  • Stories illustrate
  • Stories explain
  • Stories inspire
  • Stories are powerful

Your Stories

After hearing Suzi and me share one of our stories, someone said, “You should write a book.” We’ve had a few people say that, actually, so one day we thought it would be fun to sit down and list episodes in our life that were memorable for us. I think at that point we ended up with a list of around 65 stories. Some more significant, others less but still memorable. Some of them were sad, some hilarious. It was a fun exercise, like going through a verbal photo album.

I’d like to suggest that you do the same. Take some time to jot down as many significant events in your life as you can remember in one sitting. Then pick a handful of them and write out each full story. That’s an exercise great communicators do to sharpen their communication skills. When you’re communicating, use one of your stories to connect, inform, or persuade.

My Black Swan

Several years ago I took my young family on vacation to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was just Suzi, our oldest son, Joshua, and me at the time. The resort had a tall hotel on the beach and a condominium style set of single story units arranged around a beautiful pond behind it which is where we stayed. When we first arrived and were checking the place out, I noticed three beautiful black swans gliding across the water on the pond. I grabbed Joshua and the camera and said, “Let’s go see the swans, buddy.” As we approached the water’s edge, the swans gently turned and started to swim in our direction. “Cool,” I thought, “if they get close enough, we’ll be able to get a great picture.”

I got to the edge and crouched down holding Joshua between my knees to keep him steady by the water. By this time the swans were moving in our direction. “Look at that, Josh,” I said, “they’re coming to get their picture taken.” While I watched the swans through the viewfinder of my kodak instamatic camera three things suddenly began to occur to me all at once. 1. Items seen through the viewfinder of this camera appear farther away than they actually are, 2. I had a vague recollection that someone once told me swans are mean, 3. The two outside henchmen swans had stopped swimming and the bigger boss swan was coming up out of the water right at us.

I dropped the camera, quickly picked Joshua up and started backpedaling as fast as I could. I slipped on the wet ground, got up, lifted Joshua into the air and turned away from the attacking swan in one movement. Just then the monster swan reached out and bit me on the butt. I screamed like a little girl (no offense to little girls intended) and ran to the deck where my lovely wife was laughing hysterically. The black swan literally did a victory dance around the deck with it’s wings flapping and then went back to join it’s henchmen in the pond.

To make matters worse, there was a group of construction workers across the pond on top of some scaffolding who had seen the whole thing, too. The roar of their laughter from across the pond completed my humiliation.

So, my Black Swan Event was literally a black swan.

So Why The Story?

I began with that story a few years ago at a high school graduation where I’d been asked to give the commencement speech. I felt less humiliated when they roared with laughter, probably because I hammed it up and acted out some of the story. They especially liked when I grabbed my butt while describing where the swan bit me.

As I explained to that audience, my black swan story had nothing and everything to do with the topic of the speech. They agreed when I suggested that my story had connected us in an unexpected way. Many of them didn’t know me and I only knew a few of them. But, because of my story, they now knew they liked me and believed they could trust someone who would be that funny and vulnerable in public.

The topic of my speech was the power of stories. This was a Christian School so I went on to show how God uses stories throughout the Bible to connect with us, to inform us and to persuade us.

Then I turned to the graduates. “Most of your story is yet to be written,” I said. I played the Natasha Bedingfield song, “Unwritten” for them and then challenged them to think about what kind of story they were going to write and how their story might impact the world. Stories are powerful.

Regardless of where you are in life, whether you’re retired, you’re approaching “retirement age,” are in college, or you’re in the middle of life, family, and career, the same thing that was true of those high school graduates is true of you. The rest of your story is yet unwritten.

I’d like to encourage you to do two things. First, use your story up to this point to connect with people. Don’t be afraid to let people get to know you a little bit by sharing some of your story. Second, think about how the next few chapters of your story will go. Will they be about consistency, surprise, struggle, achievement, overcoming? How will your story impact others? I’d love to hear some of your story in the comments below this post.