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Share my storyShould I share my story? It’s a question I get asked often. It’s a question I used to ask myself. I was asked the question again a couple of weeks ago. I was on a Zoom coffee call when the question came, almost out of leftfield. Should I share my story? This time the question caught me a bit off guard. I’m afraid my momentary confusion caused me to hesitate, it might have even caused me to stammer a bit. I’m afraid it might have caused my answer to seem less confident, less emphatic than I intended. 

I can assure you that was not the case. I just was not expecting the conversation to turn in the direction it did. You see, this was the first time I had met this person. Typically, I get asked that question by people whose story I already know (at least somewhat). This being the first time we had met, it threw me off…at least momentarily. Let me answer now, with all the confidence and as emphatically as possible…”YES, YOU SHOULD SHARE YOUR STORY”. Your story is who you are, you should own your story! This was one of the most impactful recommendations I have ever received, and I think it can have as great an impact on you and your career as it did for me. 

This person’s story was of a battle with alcoholism. They are recovering, but they are an alcoholic. You may be asking why on earth would someone share that with someone they had just met. Well, because it is a story of strength and courage. It is a story of vulnerability. Something in our conversation must have let them know it was a “safe zone” to tell the story and then ask the question. Little did they know the impact they would have on me because they shared. I was honored they felt they could share. They had no way of knowing the number of people in my life who battle the same affliction. 

Why should you tell your story? Because sharing our stories creates an immediate connection. There is something about being vulnerable. There is something in creating trust between people. It’s funny how in sharing our stories and being vulnerable what we are really sharing is our strength. The connection created is real. The connection created is deep. 

When I asked permission to share this story, they responded with “I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to feel vulnerable and safe enough to pose the question and be affirmed by someone else in a leadership role. My strength comes from my vulnerability and ability to connect with others on a deeper level. My alcoholism no longer defines me because I am no longer ashamed.” Powerful. The connection works both ways. 

It was not more than a week later when I was confronted with the power of sharing one’s story again. This time it was with at a meeting of the Indy CIO Network. We had a guest facilitator, Paul Ashley of FirstPerson Advisors, we were to discuss mental wellbeing during a pandemic. Before the meeting, Paul shared his story with the group. Paul’s story is one of battling depression. His vulnerability connected with the group which led to a great discussion. Powerful. Several members shared their own stories. Based on the follow-up conversations, I know it has led to deeper connections between our members. 

My point isn’t that your story has to include battling alcoholism, or depression, or cancer. It doesn’t have to include anything that dramatic. My point is your story is important. It is what makes you who are. Sharing it can create connection. Sharing it can show you care about other’s stories.  Sharing it can help you to lead. 

Post a comment, send an email, give me a call! I want to hear your stories! 

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colours anymore, I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

I first met Brandon Tidwell in 2009. My son Brad was launching his Hip Hop career with his first gig at a local dive. Honestly, I didn’t know much about hip hop music or performances. As Brad took the stage, he was joined by his college roommate as his DJ and another guy. I would learn later his name was Brandon Tidwell. His role was that of “Hype Man”. A Hype Man is somewhat of a backup singer. He interjects throughout the song with the intention to hype the crowd and highlight some of the lyrics. (I have to admit, I learned that later, as well).

What I did know was that, in contrast to Brad whose energy exploded on the stage, Brandon barely moved. When he did interject, it was very tentative and hard to hear. This first performance did not bode well for a long career as a Hype Man.

I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black
With flowers and my love, both never to come back
I see people turn their heads and quickly look away
Like a newborn baby, it just happens everyday

Over the course of the next five years, Brandon grew as a performer. His confidence increased, his stage Paint It Blackpresence blossomed. He was truly living up to his role of Hype Man and friend, even serving as a groomsman in Brad’s wedding to Holly.

Another thing happened over that time. Carmen and I got to know Brandon and his family: wife, Bobbi Jo, son Timmy, and daughter Avari. Brandon was not only Brad’s Hype Man, but he was also one of his best friends. What we saw in Brandon was an incredibly loyal and supportive friend,  a man who loves his family and puts them above all, a man with a huge heart.

I look inside myself and see my heart is black
I see my red door and must have it painted black
Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts
It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black

No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue
I could not foresee this thing happening to you
If I look hard enough into the setting sun
My love will laugh with me before the morning comes

That huge heart belongs to a man who wears his emotions on his sleeve. Brandon loves deeply and he hurts deeply as some of his Facebook posts will show.  He is a man that feels emotional pain for himself and for others in his life.

Given the time we all spent together, we knew nothing of his extended family. We were stunned to learn of the death of his mother, Vicky Hensley on September 5,  2015. After being a heavy smoker, her cause of death was listed as COPD. Brandon’s huge heart was broken. His posts revealed his pain to his Facebook world. Her funeral was a simple service and his mother was laid to rest.

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colours anymore, I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

Barely seven weeks later, Brandon’s father, Mark Hensley, died on October 29, 2015 from his long battle with ALS.

I wanna see it painted, painted black
Black as night, black as coal
I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky
I wanna see it painted, painted, painted, painted black

Thus began Brandon’s journey through the “year of firsts” without both his parents. The pain in his heart was almost unbearable. He tried to hide his tears. For the most part he was successful. He threw himself into coaching Timmy’s baseball team and doting on Avari. Through it he tried to be the best husband he could for Bobbi Jo.

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, their birthdays…those were tough days. The visits to the cemetery…the pain broke through. Christmas 2016…

…..

In the days that followed Christmas, Bobbi Jo’s father, Tim Marcon came to visit. Never one to sit still, he spent the time helping Brandon by fixing some things around their house while Brandon was at work. He came across an old stereo. It had belonged to Brandon’s dad. It hadn’t worked in years. In fact, it probably hadn’t been played in ten years. Yet, Brandon could not bear to get rid of it.

Tim opened the cover, cleaned it, reconnected some wires and soon had it playing music for the first time in a decade. When Brandon got home from work, his father-in-law encouraged him to give it a try. With a lump in his throat, he pushed the power button. The stereo came to life. He noticed there was a CD in the player. Long forgotten, stuck in the player the it had died. Reaching down, he pushed “Play”…

I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black
With flowers and my love, both never to come back

The words and music hit him, hit him hard. Now, I don’t know if you believe in such things, but, it may have been dumb luck…a coincidence, or maybe, just maybe, it was his father’s way of telling Brandon he and his mom miss him too. Their hearts are broken that they had to leave so soon.

When Brad relayed the story to me, I knew Brandon had been “painting it black” for over a year. When Mick and Keith were writing of pain, depression and loss five decades ago they were describing exactly the pain, depression and loss Brandon was feeling.

Perhaps what his father’s stereo was trying to tell him was the pain of loss never really goes away. You will always miss those who have left. Don’t let that pain colour your world, don’t let the loss turn your world to black, don’t miss the moments with your beautiful family and your friends. Remember those who have left, share the stories of your memories, make sure Tim and Avari know your mom and dad.

I can hear Brandon now…”I know, I know, but I don’t know HOW”. To answer that, I will turn again to the sages of my generation, Mick and Keith.

From “Waiting on a Friend”

A smile relieves a heart that grieves, remember what I said
I’m not waiting on a lady, I’m just waiting on a friend
I’m just waiting on a friend, just waiting on a friend
I’m just waiting on a friend, I’m just waiting on a friend

And…”Let It Bleed”

Well, we all need someone we can lean on
And if you want it, you can lean on me
Yeah, we all need someone we can lean on
And if you want it, you can lean on me

Brandon, we are are here for you. Together let’s make 2017 a year your parents would be proud of!

Jeff, Carmen, Brad, Holly, Jeremy, Donny, Charity, Braxton & Jordan

Paint It Black
Written by: Keith Richards / Mick Jagger
© Abkco Music, Inc
Waiting on a Friend
Written by: Keith Richards / Mick Jagger
© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, BMG Rights Management US, LLC
Let It Bleed
Written by: Keith Richards / Mick Jagger
© Abkco Music, Inc

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