TGIF: Reclaiming my Story


On Donald Miller, roadtrips and the lost art of storytelling

I’m still basking in the afterglow of yet another family dinner. Food + Family + Stories = My happy place.

Dessert: Mango cheesecake, garnished with fresh raspberries and a special concoction of condensed milk, pineapple chunks and coconut jelly on the side. *insert Händel’s Messiah, Hallelujah chorus here*

The Story on Tap: Last night my soft spoken, mild-mannered uncle told us the story of how he was kicked out of a Christian university for quoting Karl Marx when answering the question: What is religion? Turns out, “Religion is the opiate of the masses” was acceptable grounds for getting expelled back in the day! Demure altar-boy turned zealous communist! Best.story.ever.

It’s the way of my people.

Indians are master storytellers. It’s what makes us charming and aggravating all at once. Charming because we’re transparent and give you a glimpse into our soul. Aggravating because we take forever to get-to-the-point. I’ll admit it, I’m guilty as charged!

Here is a peek into what most Indian family get-togethers look like:

T’was the night before my sister’s wedding. It is customary for an Indian bride to have intricate henna patterns applied to her hands and feet before the wedding.

This girl can work a room even when she is confined to sitting in a chair. The fact that her limbs were rendered useless just encouraged her to talk louder.

She was probably relaying another self-deprecating story about potential honeymoon mishaps here. Look at how animated her face is. She makes me smile.

Meanwhile, my gfs and I were huddled on the stairs having a little party of our own. Just give us some solid eye contact and a creative license to embellish our stories and we are good to go!

The Story

As a photographer, the first question I ask couples that want to book me is, “How did you fall in love?” I love hearing the story of how their love unfolded. For many people, the pursuit of love may be the single bravest story they have ever lived out. To find a mate, you have to act upon a desire in your heart. Keyword being act. The desire resonates so deeply that you are willing to look fear dead-in-the-eyes and say, “I cannot rest until I give this a shot.”

What if we lived out all of our dreams this way? Writing a novel, starting a business or traveling the world? What if we were to act?

Earlier this year, I read Donald Miller’s book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.” I can’t remember the last time a book had such a profound impact on me. It was powerful, unsettling and wrecked me.

“I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story.”Donald Miller

Somewhere along the way I chose an easier story and gave up on my grand story. I couldn’t see the shore anymore. I couldn’t tell if I was paddling forward.

Giving up on my story

When I was in elementary school my teachers said things like, “You’re going to be like Oprah someday!” I’m not bragging, I’m just referring to a brief period in my life where I actually believed in a bigger story for myself.

By the time I got to high school I was fed a completely different set of mantras “You need to get your priorities straight,” “At the end of a day you need a stable job” and “Music_____(fill in the blank)  is a hobby. Not a career.” The language morphed overnight from, “Reach for the stars & pursue your dreams” to a dreary “Buckle-down, work hard and be responsible.” *groan*

A lot of my strengths are creative right-brained soft skills. So being “responsible” meant suppressing my natural gifts and striving to get better at things that were difficult for me like math, accounting, economics, C++, etc. Before I knew it I’d started a pattern of failure because I was operating outside of my natural aptitude. Soon I got tired of failing and being average and eventually started believing that I had nothing special to offer.

I had a pretty intense quarter–life crisis. I was working at a dead-end job, making minimum wage and knew that I would never be “Oprah” like my teachers had predicted. I felt like a colossal failure. Social conditioning had trained me to believe that everything I was good at was meant to remain a hobby.

I had lost myself. I began to live a small life. I gave into fear.

“Fear isn’t only a guide to keep us safe; it’s also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.”Donald Miller

I found myself pacing up and down my bedroom after I finished the book. I didn’t want to live a boring life. I started making a mental list of all the areas I had allowed fear to bully me into living a safe aka boring life.

“Good stories don’t happen by accident, I learned. They are planned.”Donald Miller


Rewriting my Story

Tomorrow morning Idelette and I will start our roadtrip to Portland to participate in Donald Miller’s Storyline Conference. Bonus: We’ll be spending Saturday in Seattle to catch U2 in concert! Go big or go home, right?

My heart is ripe. I’m ready to rewrite my story. Are you?

“We have to get up off the couch and turn the television off, we have to blow up the inner-tubes and head to the river.  We have to write the poem and deliver it in person.  We have to pull the car off the road and hike to the top of the hill.  We have to put on our suits, we have to dance at weddings.” –Donald Miller


So … my delicious SheLoves ladies:
– Are you telling your story?
– Are you currently living an “easier” story?
– If you could write your ultimate story, what would it look like?

If thinking about this makes you nauseous, don’t worry you’re not alone: Fight fear! 🙂

Love you more than Ratatouille Pizza,(<- Recipe)

To read more TGIFs from Tina: Click here.

(Henna images via James Moes)