What's your signature story?

Every life has a story; and every story can change a life.

This week I helped a client write her signature story, something I think is important for every leader, businessperson or organization to do.

Your “signature story” reveals WHY you do what you do. And as Simon Sinek succinctly puts it: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

People connect far more to the essence or reason behind your work – your mission, vision or raison d’être — than to your expertise.

A signature story may or may not be dramatic, but it tells the tale of what happened to change, define or alter the course of your life and/or work. These are the moments or experiences that helped shape who you are, tested your imagination, strength or will, or fueled your passion. (You can read my signature story at the end of this post.)

Signature stories serve as models of possibility, examples of inspired action or new beginnings. They help your audience, clients or ‘tribe’ connect with you, as they illuminate the purpose, cause or belief that moves you to do great work, which in turn can inspire others.

Common signature story themes:

Signature stories may include an event that became a catalyst for change, a tale of transformation, or a time of deep diving for the soul. However, the ‘defining moment’ that alters the course of a life may not be dramatic. It could be as simple as making a decision… and acting on it.

Here a few possible themes:

1) From corporate to conscious: For example, perhaps you left the frantic corporate world to pursue a calmer, more authentic life in work that feeds your spirit and soul.

2) From the fall to the call: Perhaps a life of drug and alcohol addiction led to a moment of ‘enlightenment’ when you decided to get sober and pursue a path of helping or counseling others.

3) From the test to the testimony: Maybe your “test in life” (a weight problem, eating disorder, or severe illness) has led to your “testimony” of recovery, healing and health.

4) From driven to deliberate: Maybe you were simply looking to change and re-focus your life from one of being driven to one of being deliberate – in your choices and actions.

5) From victim to victor: For example, a loss of a job, relationship or home caused you to stop depending on (or blaming) others for your situation, and then take personal responsibility for your life and success.

6) From the shadows to the light: This may be a period of despair, depression or a ‘dark night of the soul’ that ultimately led to an awakening or heightened self-awareness that revealed your own light. In other words, a time in your life when it was the darkest before the dawn.

Your signature story may or may not relate to one of these themes, but they might spark some ideas. Your signature story, like your written signature, is unique. So tell it your way.

Here’s my signature story (an edited version of a previous post), and why I believe the time to do what you love is always NOW.

Someday Is Not on the Calendar

You could say 1988 was the year that I lived like there was no tomorrow.

It had nothing to do reckless spending, learning to sky dive or being diagnosed with a rare, intractable disease; it had everything to do with making my self available… for life at full speed and spending time with those I loved, doing the things I loved.

We hear a lot about living in the present, embracing the moment and the power of now, yet often neglect to put the theory into practice; 1988 was my opportunity to change that …forever. The events of that year brought home the “power of now” with all the subtlety of a car accident—more accurately, two car accidents.

In February, a close encounter with a moving car brought life’s fragility to my attention. I was hit at a pedestrian crosswalk by a 16-year-old driver who passed a van, which had stopped to allow me to cross the wide boulevard of Portage Avenue. I bounced off the hood of her car like a bad dismount from a trampoline, was thrown about 15 feet from the point of impact and landed, smashing my right knee on the pavement. I was conscious throughout the entire “flight” and miraculously had no head injury or other fractures.

The ER doctor told me I could have been killed … I knew that. But a last minute action-hero-inspired-instinct to leap on the car’s hood probably saved my life, and certainly my legs.

Shaken but awakened by the incident, I didn’t let a battered knee and some crushed cartilage keep me from a winter escape to California with my 23 year-old sister and my sixty-something father.

That was my second winter escape with my sister, after a thrilling week in New York City where I took her (for the first time) as a belated Christmas gift.

Later in the fall, she and I rendezvoused with some of her friends in Montreal for an Amnesty International concert and a few days of old-world charm in Vieux Montreal. There’s a photo of all of us overlooking the city from Mount Royal, looking like college kids filled with optimism and standing at the top of the world. That scene is forever etched in my mind.

My adventures that year with my younger sister in New York City, California and Quebec marked 1988 as a year to remember – the months imbued with a feeling of endless celebration and joie de vivre. We were living large, living in the moment, and enjoying the languorous luxury of time without taking it for granted.

In November, we took a weekend road trip to visit our older sister Elaine for a quiet family celebration with a rural setting and home cooking.

On the highway home, in a pitch-black November night, my sporty Toyota Celica was hit head-on, and crushed, by a drunk driver. I survived; my younger sister did not. She died instantly, six inches from my side, in the passenger seat.

Looking back, I realized that I seized every opportunity that year to celebrate life, and all its opportunities. It was as if I had some advanced notice, if only subconsciously, that 1988 would be the best year available to live flat-out, laugh loudly, travel widely, and cherish each moment with loved ones… like they might be my last.

Nineteen eighty-eight was the year that my younger sister and I made ourselves available for the people, places and things that we loved.

We didn’t just read about being in the present, we lived it.

We said “Yes!” to everything the universe sent our way; we set dates, booked the time and, most importantly, showed up.

“Someday” was not on our calendar.

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Why do you do what you do?

I’d love to hear your signature story.