The power and strength in storytelling

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. --

Everyone loves a good story.

They are powerful and can capture the imagination. They have the ability to teach in a powerful way that a factual statement can’t begin to illustrate or unfold.

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending time with the Fairchild Airman Leadership School Class 17-B where we chatted about various topics to include professional development and the future of our Air Force. We shared how past experiences have helped to shape the people we have become today and I must admit they were very candid and concerned, but also displayed a drive to make a difference.

They genuinely cared that many Airmen feel burnt out and undervalued, but what was really exciting is they expressed ideas that could help turn things around. This left me feeling inspired and reminded me of the Maya Angelou quote, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” As I reflected on our conversation I got to thinking about the power of their stories and how they motivated me to do better. If you take anything from this article I hope it will be understanding that there is power in sharing of your story.

One of the questions we like to ask new Airmen is if they will share why they joined the Air Force and most often we get one of two responses: Either they get immediately energized because they’re excited to tell their story or they are more reserved and have to be coaxed to open up, but after getting started we see the twinkle in their eye as they recall the moment they decided to join the Air Force family.

Although each story is unique there is usually a servant leader undertone in each of them and I believe this is where we establish our common bond and lay a foundation for trust. In order to cement this foundation, we share reasons why we joined, but also why we continue to serve. This requires a level of transparency, which for me includes talking about the ugly things, you know those pains and failures that we like to omit, but in reality helps them understand that we are human just the same. We try to share lessons learned and hopefully help them build on the success of others which my grandfather use to simply call “wisdom.”

Additionally, it’s a time for them to ask questions and most often they inquire as to how we did it or specifically how we made it this far which leads to my final point – write it, rehearse it and release it.

Every assignment, job, TDY or deployment is an opportunity to write a new chapter in your story and you should ask yourself a couple of key questions: What do I want my story to be and what do I want others to say about me?  As you continue throughout your career, try to recall the many experiences, both good and bad, that shaped you and finally share it with someone else.

The importance of sharing your story was even highlighted by former Air Force Chief of Staff, General Mark A. Welsh III, when he noted “Every Airman, regardless of specialty, must understand and be able to explain how they contribute to producing unparalleled airpower for our nation. Each Airman has a compelling story that needs to be told. Tell your story. Let your fellow Americans know that their Air Force provides global vigilance, global reach and global power to defend our great nation. Airmen should be proud of who they are, what they do and how well they accomplish the mission.”

Your stories have the power to strengthen and inspire hope in the next generation of Airmen and change someone’s life, I know because someone’s changed mine.