What kept you up at night with excitement this year?
I asked this question to a good friend from high school over winter break. We hadn’t caught up in a while and dove straight into the juicy questions as soon as we could in our conversation. His answer went something like this:
“During first few month of school, my small friend group would stay up in a small common room and just talk, ask random life questions. All four of us have pretty different backgrounds. Different stories of how they got to where they are. We didn’t know each other that well [at first], but it was nice hearing other peoples opinions. It became a game asking people questions called, ‘you don’t really know me.'”
Likewise, I’ve become close friends with people in college through their stories, not parties or sporting events. The most striking similarity we share is our love to hear about each other’s differences.
Telling stories, then, is a superpower. Not only does it connect us to others, it puts us in touch with ourselves. As Matthew Dicks writes in Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life through the Power of Storytelling:
The reason is simple: We are the sum of our experiences, the culmination of everything that has come before. The more we know about our past, the better we know ourselves. The greater our storehouse of memory, the more complete our personal narrative becomes. Our life begins to feel full and complete and important.
Here are a few stories I’ve told in the last few days:
- I never learned to use chopsticks correctly until high school, when I forced myself to use them while eating all meals at home.
- On a Friday night, a couple friends and I took a Zipcar up to Rockville, Maryland. We all delighted when the friendly Chinese restaurant owners were shocked at my half-Asian friend’s fluent Mandarin.
- My first conception of religion began in elementary school when missionaries (I think?) would come to my house on the weekends. I fell in love with Old Testament stories like “Noah’s Ark” and “Jonah and the Whale.”
If we don’t regularly practice telling and recounting stories, these memories may fade, never making it out as anecdotes. But telling a story out of the blue can be daunting if you aren’t used to opening up about yourself. Thus, it’s necessary to create the conditions for openness first. This requires courage as well, of course. The courage to ask questions.
To begin, here are two of my favorite ice breaker questions:
- What is your favorite berry? (Simple, controversial, but not too vulnerable)
- If you started a podcast, what would it be about? (Gets people to nerd out)
I know a good conversation is about to ensue when my roommate or I says, “this is weird of me but…” “oh my gosh, I just remembered how…” “was it just my family or…?” Somehow, recounting childhood memories becomes singing along together to “听妈妈的话” (Listen to Mama) by Jay Chou, and I have to force myself to shut up. Otherwise, we’d be up all night, sinking in our combined nostalgia.
✨ Monthly Favorites
- Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah — The memoir of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.
- Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer — Part science book, part love letter to mother nature. A salient reminder of the gifts that mother nature provides, and how in indigenous culture, this gift comes with the expectation of reciprocity.
- TV Show: Reply 1988 — I finally got to watch this Korean drama classic and loved it so much. I love family-style dramas :’)
- Content Creator: Doobydobap — Tina Choi (aka Doobydobap) makes short-form and long-form videos about cooking and living alone as a 20-something in Korea. Her content is so relatable and she feels like a best friend.