RLL 51: What's Your Story?

Real Life Leading #51: What’s Your Story?

A gift I received after coaching my younger daughter’s soccer team this fall.

A gift I received after coaching my younger daughter’s soccer team this fall.

When I was in 8th grade, I played varsity soccer for a man named Ken McIntosh, and at the end of the season Coach Mac said to me, "You really should think about pursuing soccer as a career." I thought he meant as a professional player, so I really focused on soccer in high school and even played in college. But when I stopped playing midway through college, Coach Mac's words came back to me. I realized he was right: I should pursue soccer as a career, but not as a player; as a coach. I began as a student assistant at Covenant College while I was still a student there, and I've been coaching ever since (a total of 15 + years now).

Coaching soccer has opened up doors I never imagined, from jobs at high schools to getting to coach at camps at Duke University. It's allowed me to work with athletes and players from all areas of the country and of all different ages. And it's also continued to bring me a specific type of joy that I don't find anywhere else. Most importantly, coaching soccer has allowed me to spend many extra hours with my children, coaching them at different levels.


Why do I share this? Because that one comment changed my life, and the stories and comments that you remember and focus on have the power to change yours too. Stories can serve many purposes: transmit information (‘how to’ stories), stir the emotions (every Nicholas Sparks and John Green novel ever written), rally support to a cause (Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle was written with this in mind), create an identity (think family histories told around the dinner table), and to reinforce beliefs (every religion in the world has sacred texts full of stories and history). But for our purposes, the power of a story is in its power to change your life.

Here’s the key today: the stories we tell ourselves shape who we become.

Many books have been written on this topic, from the Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s classic The Power of Positive Thinking to the more recent Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan. Going back even further, the Bible is very clear about this in many different places. Philippians 4:8 reminds us, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, knew that how we think, the stories we tell, what we focus on, has an incredible impact on who we are and what we do.

So the question is, what stories are we telling? Do you tell yourself you’re not smart enough? Not good enough? Don’t have the right skills? Or do you tell yourself that you can, you’re capable, and you will succeed? As Henry Ford said many years ago, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” This has been true throughout all of history, and it remains true today. If you want to change your world, you first need to start by changing your thinking.


To help people think better and change their lives is the major goal of the BeliefHacker project, recently created by a friend of mine named Dr. Bill Findley (this is not an advertisement, and I don’t get compensated, but I would recommend you check out his work at The premise is simple: “Think better. Live better.” Again, the Bible is also very clear on this when Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2)

My favorite story of all time is The Lord of the Rings. I never tire of reading it or of reading other books about it; I even listen to podcasts and belong to discussion groups devoted to LOTR. The reason is because that story is so powerful to me, with themes of good vs. evil, the possibility of redemption, the necessity of perseverance even against overwhelming odds. I even quoted LOTR in my own book. This story has helped shape who I am, just as the stories you involve yourself in help shape who you are.

One last word, this from the excellent and generous Dondi Scumaci (international business speaker and consultant, and author of Career Moves, and Ready, Set…Grow). She says, “It’s how we tell the story (to ourselves and others) that will ultimately determine how we move forward. How we frame those events—what we pull from those experiences—will shape who we become in the future.”

Action Step: Take a few minutes today to write down the stories that you consistently tell yourself and determine if they are helping you move forward or just holding you back.

RLL 47: Mel's Mustang

Real Life Leading #47: Mel’s Mustang

This past week my wife made a surprise trip to Pensacola, Florida, to go see a couple of friends of our who were there. Because it was a short-notice thing, our friends paid for Mel to rent a car, and the only car available at this particular rental place (after the first place had no cars available) was a beautiful, almost brand-new 2018 Ford Mustang convertible…and MAN, was I jealous! Time for a little backstory…

Twenty years ago, my first car was a 1968 Ford Mustang. I’m not a ‘car guy’, familiar with all different makes and models and engine types; but I love Mustangs, and I always have. I also haven’t driven one since I sold mine right after my older daughter was born fourteen years ago. So when Mel got the opportunity to drive one to Florida, I will fully admit I was mostly just jealous.

Mel wasn’t at all sorry about getting to drive this car! Unfortunately, it looked like the weather might not cooperate with the convertible.

Mel wasn’t at all sorry about getting to drive this car! Unfortunately, it looked like the weather might not cooperate with the convertible.

Thankfully, that only lasted for a few minutes, because of something that happened in my brain and something Mel said: first, God reminded me that because I love Mustangs, I should be happy that my wife also gets to experience the awesomeness of driving one. And second, almost as if on cue, my wife smiled and me and said, “Would you like to drive it to the interstate to see me off before I go?” Would I?!? So I got to drive the Mustang. And it.was.glorious!

What’s the point of all of this? The point is twofold: first, that our mindset makes a tremendous difference in our reaction to things in life; and second, that the stories we tell ourselves shape what we believe about our circumstances.

If we constantly choose to focus on the negatives, we will quickly become overwhelmingly negative people. The truth is, if you’re reading this blog on a phone or computer or other device, you live in a place that has better technology than most of earth, and you have access to that technology, as do I. We have more access to food, healthcare, and shelter than most people who have ever existed. And, unfortunately, we too often forget that and need to be reminded of it.

I’m glad she even got to put the top down after the weather cleared up!

I’m glad she even got to put the top down after the weather cleared up!

During the summer of 2001, I spent three weeks on a mission trip to Honduras, most of it in a village with no electricity or running water. The people I met there were the most generous people I’ve ever met in my life, even though they were also the poorest in terms of material goods and ease-of-life. As a result of that trip, when I came home, I was more aware of the tremendous blessings we have. For example, after three weeks of using barrel-caught rainwater and a hollow gourd for bathing, I was thankful for hot, running water and access to a variety of food. These sound like simple things, but they shouldn’t be taken for granted.

By the way, the friends that Mel went to Florida to see? The reason they were there is because they had twins born twelve weeks early, and those babies had been in the NICU since the summer. Mel was meeting our friends in Florida so that the parents could both ride home together in the van with their kids (they also have a toddler), while Mel drove their other car back to Birmingham. After over three months in the NICU, the babies were on their first trip home. Their parents were filled with joy, and we’re glad Mel was able to help them out. As for me, you better believe that whenever I think of what they’ve been through, I hug my daughters a little tighter. I hope you all will do the same today.

Action Step: Today, make a brief list, mental or on paper, of things that you have to be thankful for. Then encourage someone around you to do the same, and see how it lifts your spirits and your hearts.