For me, the hard part isn’t having a story. It’s discerning when to share it and when to save it.
It’s amazing how badly we want to be part of a conversation. Someone offers an insight or an anecdote or a point and we want to find a way to relate or chime in or make our mark. And that often involves bringing a story to the mix. But is the story really all that pertinent? That’s the sort of question which demands a split-second answer.
Consider my elk story. When would you tell this?
I have a friend who once brought enchiladas to a pot luck gathering and only he and I knew the meat inside them wasn’t chicken or beef but was elk. Not a meat you eat every day. And yet as people chowed down they couldn’t get enough. It didn’t take long for the pan to almost empty by the time someone asked my friend what was in them. He couldn’t resist.
“Well, I suppose I should finally tell you what’s in them.”
Silence. He looks around and smiles.
More silence. Someone cracks a smile.
“Elk, elk, elk, elk!”
That last one came out as a sort of belly laugh that became a shared joke for that group. In fact, that group has spread it to other people, too. And now you can give it a shot, too.
That’s my elk story.
If we can pretend for a moment that we all agree that’s a great story (it’s at least an okay story with the tiniest whiff of “I guess you had to be there…”), let’s ask this question: when should I share it and when should I save it? The temptation is to tell it when someone mentions key words from or near the story. Elk. Caribou. Moose. Enchiladas. Pot Luck. Looking for these prompts is the same as saying, “I’ve been waiting for my turn to talk” or perhaps, “I’ve been waiting for my chance to talk about this story AND HERE IT IS!”
The better time to share the story is when the story’s theme arises in conversation. To me, this story is about a small community’s shared experience regarding the unexpected. It serves as an illustration of the strange things we bond over as human beings and how unique ideas are the ideas that spread. In fact, it begs to be ended with that: “Isn’t it strange the things we bond over?” This gives the next person permission to agree and offer a brief illustration, too, if they have one. The story is pertinent because the theme is pertinent. Notice, too, it’s tone is light. Your friend’s relative was injured in a car crash and now the family is experiencing the unexpected? Save your elk story; the tone means it’s not the same.
Saving your story until it’s thematically (and tonally) appropriate for the conversation lets you end with a nugget of wisdom like the one above. You sound pretty smart. A lot smarter than sharing your story without much obvious relevance. That story ends with, “That’s my elk story.” That doesn’t sound nearly as wise.
It is not coincidence, by the way, that I’m inspired to write this because I recently told my elk story. Thing is, I told it because I heard someone say the word “ecstatic.” Isn’t it strange the things we write for others when really, we’re writing for ourselves?
Maybe that reminds you of a story.
P.S. The above elk story is as short of a version as I told it. There are other details, too, like how my friend came across a steady supply of elk enchiladas and the church that has them for a monthly fundraiser and more elk-centric puns and so on. If the hardest part of your story is deciding when to share it and when to save it, a close second is when to shave it.