personal growth

Episode 90: How You Tell a Story May Limit Your Potential for Learning From It

Sharing Your Story with the Right Person Makes a Difference

My book, based on this podcast, is designed to help walk you through a similar process as my podcast guests experience, to help you identify specific points in your life that can become some of your best stories to share.

The stories you share matter. They color your memories and self-confidence, they help create your internal messages, and they impact the perception people have of you. This book will help you uncover those stories that continue to shape your internal perceptions and relationships.

The preorder campaign, similar to a Kickstarter campaign, but for books, was extended by a few days because I am so close to reaching my goal of 250 books sold! To order your copy and take advantage of the early investor bonuses included, click here:


Near the summit of Mt. Helena, Powerline Trail, Helena, Montana

Panting, stopping to breathe and get my heartrate back to a reasonable pace, I looked up ahead to more steep climbing up the mountain. Then I looked down at the path I had just hiked up and smiled. It was a rigorous hike and I hadn’t really planned to take such a hard trail to the summit this time.

The dog needed water, so I stopped in a shady spot just off the trail to fill his bowl and let him rehydrate. It’s nice to have the dog around as an excuse to stop and catch my breath again. With his heavy fur coat, he’s even less comfortable than I am on this nearly 80 degree day before noon. But he’s just as happy as I am to be outside on our mountain.

Taking one last look back, I started up another steep climb, knowing I wasn’t far from the summit.

As I listened to the randomly shuffled song that came through my headphones, I had to stop again to look up and down from the middle of the steep climb:

Glory glory, halleluiah,

The sun is shining, shining down

Glory glory, halleluiah,

I’m alive, and I’m feeling, feeling fine.

Hearing those words sung by JJ Grey, I started thinking about what compelled me to take this hard route to the top of the mountain. My top strengths, according to the Gallup assessment, didn’t include Achiever or Competition, two of the themes I could imagine would drive someone to do what I was doing. So what was it?

It was in that moment I realized character has little to do with any assessment results.

I use my strengths to develop my character, not the other way around.

It had been a tough morning, which is why I knew I needed to hike. Getting outside always helps me clear my head and make sense of things. The email I received was cruel and unprofessional, a response to what I considered very reasonable requests for information. Words clouded my vision as I walked up the mountain, feeling attacked, defensive, angry, and self-conscious.

Had I failed in this assignment? Was it my work that triggered this unprofessional, rude response? I felt my confidence start to slip back down the mountain behind me.

Pushing myself harder, pressing my feet solidly into the slippery, rocky trail, I ascended another steep 15 feet of the mountain.

Near the summit, Mt. Helena, Powerline Trail, Helena, Montana

I felt nothing but exhilaration and pride as I took a step onto the rocks at the summit. Looking down, I could imagine myself when I was partway up the mountain, panting, pushing, and clearing the frustration and anxiety out of my way.

Now that I was at the top and looking back down, the path still looked crazy hard, but the feelings of inadequacy at the mid-point were no longer with me.

It was the next day, as I was telling a friend about my inspiration on the mountain that I realized I had missed a big part of the lesson.

I told her the story with my optimistic nature showing in full force, using those words that popped into my head as I sweated and panted up the steepest part of the mountain: Persistence, resilience, grit.

“… shame, feelings of inadequacy, self-punishment…”

Damn. As she added those words, I realized she was right. I didn’t take that hard route simply because I was demonstrating resilience and grit. I was punishing myself for what I thought I had done wrong. I was pushing away the shame I felt as I remembered the words in the email. I was proving to myself that I WAS resilient, strong, and even if I failed at one thing, I would be DAMN SURE NOT TO FAIL at this.

Our conversation shifted from why we punish ourselves to why it mattered. After all, punishing myself by climbing up a mountain had to be one of the healthiest and constructive ways to do that, right?

Well, yes. Knowing WHY I was pushing myself so hard matters. If I’m working away these feelings, these frustrations, giving those feelings a name will help me address them, specifically, rather than blowing off arbitrary steam.

When we know the why behind our actions, we can be more intentional about not only processing our feelings behind those actions, we open our minds to learn the necessary lessons the experience can teach us.

I shared the story of my hike with my friend so I could talk through thoughts I knew could contribute to life lessons, to apply my thoughts to actual improvement in future similar situations. When we tell a story like this to a friend, we create arbitrary constraints around the experience, we create a box for the story to fit into based on prior experience. That means we look for what we want to see, set limits for understanding the context of our stories, and miss all kinds of potential for lessons and growth. But when we share the story with the right friend, they might just ask the questions we need to ask ourselves – the harder questions – and that conversation is likely to remove some of those constraints.

Summit, Mt. Helena, Helena, Montana

In the book The Art of Possibility, a gift I received from my friend Jeff Ikler, the very first chapter is about exactly that: Based on past experience, we make assumptions that create a box, or constraints, for ourselves. I made assumptions based on my optimistic nature, assumptions about the reason behind the negative email I had received, assumptions about the lessons I was meant to learn from the experience. Not all of those assumptions are bad things, necessarily, but without some opportunity to question them and work through the stories I was telling myself, I may have limited my potential for personal growth.

Who do you have in your life that helps you work through this kind of internal message? Which of your friends or acquaintances can you count on to help you ask yourself the tough questions, and get the most out of an experience? If you can’t think of anyone right away, be intentional about building relationships with the people who can help you process your thoughts and experiences. People you can trust, be vulnerable with, and who will add positive support and encouragement. Self-reflection is a great start, but if you’re not expanding that reflection by sharing it with people you trust, you’re limiting your opportunities to apply that self-reflection, deepen it, and improve your communication and relationships as a result.

Your Words Have Impact When You Least Expect It

And Your Actions Will Carry Even More Weight

Sarah & Mom, Mt. Helena City Park

Sarah & Mom, Mt. Helena City Park

I have moments in conversations with my children that I think: “That was good! Where did that wisdom come from?” And in my mind, I’ve said something so perceptive, so wise, that my boys are sure to remember it and apply it.

That’s rarely the way it works. They remember some of the most ridiculous things I’ve said, and most of the time when they tell me something deep that I shared with them, I have no memory of the conversation.

When my mother came to visit our family recently, I took the opportunity to have this conversation with her: Do you remember telling me these wise things that I’ve written about in my blog? At the time you shared these words with me, did you think they would have life-long impact?

I loved this conversation, partly because it confirmed this generational commonality, that our children remember things we don’t remember. And more importantly, that they remember our actions, the values we demonstrated to them, with even more clarity.

In our conversation we mentioned a few things related to childbirth and breast feeding, and I promised to include links to explain. Mom mentioned meconium aspiration, and her activity in the early 70s with La Leche League.

Also in the conversation, we talked about the Jewish holiday called Purim, the cookies we make to celebrate that holiday, and the act of delivering a basket of those cookies and other treats anonymously to people.

Sarah and Mom, Helena Regional Airport

Sarah and Mom, Helena Regional Airport

Knowing that we think differently, and process information differently is critical to the health of our relationships, and talking through how we remember our family history helps clarify those differences. When I remember hard times, specific incidents that had impact on me, I vividly remember the people involved, and my feelings and experiences with those people. It turns out that when my mother remembers specific incidents that had big impact on her, she remembers her feelings about it, the emotions she experienced, not the specific people involved.

Having this conversation allowed me some insights in terms of her emotional response to things I say or struggles she experiences in her life. She simply processes things differently from how I process them, and there’s so much beauty in that difference.

Your Turn

Have you told people the impact they had on you? Do you share your memories with people, so they understand how much their actions meant to you? When you share these stories with people in your life, you have an incredible opportunity not only to be grateful, which has positive impact on your brain, and to thank people, but to see those same experiences through their eyes.

Not All of the Most Important Lessons Come from Struggle

We learned so much about ourselves and our relationship on that adventure. Our resourcefulness, silly senses of humor, and resilience was on full display.

Stories of Outdoor Adventures Color Our Lives with Gratitude

Returning From an Adventure with No Toilet Paper Makes You Grateful for the Little Things

Stories of Outdoor Adventures Color Our Lives with Gratitude.png

Kevin Strauss wasn't born into a family that was outdoorsy. He didn't grow up in a place where it was common to hike for miles, or to go camping in the wilderness over the summer. But at some point in his life, he realized he wanted to reconnect with nature, to explore his adventurous nature and stretch out of his comfort zone. He did something he never thought he'd do, and that experience set him up for a future full of extreme outdoor adventures.

Your Comfort Zone-2.png

When we think about our lives and how we live each day, we have three concentric circles of our activities and behaviors. The innermost, smallest circle is our comfort zone, and most of us stay in there in the majority of our daily activities. The next circle is about double the size of the comfort zone, and that's our stretch zone. The majority of us spend about 5 percent of our time there on a daily basis. And then there's the huge, outermost circle - our "oh shit" zone. That's the place we avoid as much as possible, totally out of our control and beyond our imagination of our own capacity and drive.

When we take a leap like Kevin did, we stretch that comfort zone out a bit, but more importantly, we stretch our stretch zone out dramatically. What we thought we'd never do, suddenly becomes an option, a possibility.

Being in nature, really out there, beyond easy access to an escape route, we realize a) how little control we really have, and b) how little, in terms of "stuff" we need to survive. Being out there with no toilet, no toilet paper, and no access to prepared food leaves us with a complete understanding of exactly what is a necessity, and what is simply luxury.

Mount Helena City Park, Helena, Montana

Mount Helena City Park, Helena, Montana

That's when we can connect deeply with ourselves and the world around us. The best part of this kind of adventure is the return to "real" life, when we get to apply the lessons we learn on our adventures. We realize that gratitude changes our lives, improves our relationship with ourselves and others, and helps push us to try new things and set our priorities.

As promised in the podcast, here are a few resources for you, just in case you are inspired to step out of your comfort zone in an outdoor adventure:

  • Local REI and MeetUps often have trips for beginners, as well as classes

  • Backpacker.com is a great magazine to get you started and thinking about trips and gear

  • Backpackinglight.com has a plethora of articles, webinars, podcasts, etc.

  • Cottage shops for gear often have great articles and resources on their websites, as well as “real life” experiences. Gossamer Gear, Six Moon Designs, ULA, Mountain Laurel Designs, Zpacks. You won’t find this gear at REI or other major sporting goods stores, but you’ll learn about real gear that works.

And here's the other promised link to Kevin's blog post about toilet paper.

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Kevin Strauss is a 17-year, injury-free Ironman Triathlete and Coach. If you have any question or need help with your endurance events, including backpacking, or if you want to get started and run your first 5K and do it right, visit his website. Learn more about Kevin and his products, Family eJournal and Corporate eJournal, and connect with him on LinkedIn.

Your History is Your Story; It Doesn't Have to Be Your Future

Shelley Beth Brown is one of those creative people that, when we first meet her, we assume has always thrived in creative environments. Her writing is whimsical, raw, and full of childhood imagination.