Have you ever asked yourself, “What if [fill in the blank]?
I did, a lot. These were the the kinds of “What ifs” I asked myself.
“What if” I had only called Alistair earlier on that day?
“What if” I hadn’t been so naive about him hiding money from me?
“What if” I had only accepted the help offered and let Ciara cancel my wedding to an abusive man four days before the actual day?
“What if” I had only quit my job sooner?
When other people people asked,
“What if” you changed this in your writing?
“What if” you just listened to me?
“What if” we did this instead?
“What if” we started
In my head, or sometimes, in unfortunate moments, I would answer out loud, defensively or meekly, “you clearly think my viewpoint is invalid. Therefore I am invalid.” Or, “you are wrong (about me . . . I rarely said those last two words because if I did, it wasn’t about them being wrong. . . It was about the fact that I was actually just wrong in myself).”
I thought this question, “What if?” was about regret or my invalidity as a human. These were pieces of armor I wrapped myself in, thinking they would protect me from future disaster and understand how to be better. I was wrong.
For a pre- Story 2017 conference workshop, I walked into a room at the Nashville Symphony building and met, Matthew Luhn. He is part of the team responsible for movies like, Rattatouille, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Up and Monsters Inc.
He asked “What if” a rat wanted to be an elite French Chef? And “What if” there was a monster that didn’t want to scare people?
A chink in my armor appeared. These kinds of questions were not part of how I built my armor.
The next day, in an auditorium full of people, the Story 2017 Conference began and I saw Brad Montague ask, “what if your life was a musical?” If you know ANYTHING about me. . . You know I wish my life was a musical. When he asked that question, I actually put down songs I knew that would BE the soundtrack to my musical life. It’s an idea I hadn’t entertained. But . . . Seriously, what if? It might be fun. . .
There was another chink. “What if?” wasn’t supposed to be fun.
MacKenzie Huyhn, a creative lead at Pinterest, got on stage and shared her company’s newest campaign, “What if?”
It gave me goosebumps.
But more than the campaign, we learned, after last year’s STORY conference, she asked herself, “What if” I DO have something to say? Getting up in front of us was the most terrifying thing she had ever done. We were experiencing her “What if?” live and in person. At the end, she gave us all post cards and asked us to ask ourself, “What if” we did our most scary things? She told us, if we wrote it down and gave it to her, she would send us this post card back in 6 months to remind us that “What if” doesn’t have to be scary.
Man, my armor was getting to be ridiculously ineffective. And someone was going to hold me accountable for actually doing something scary. Someone I didn’t even know, but knew what was in my heart. I asked, in a very small whisper, “What if” I was wrapping myself in the wrong armor?
At a breakout session, I met Jason Romano, a former ESPN producer who admitted to the four or five of us there at the beginning he was relieved we were there because he didn’t think anyone would show up. BUT, 17 years prior, had asked himself, “What if” I got hired at ESPN? He actually said, “I didn’t think I would ever get it, I mean, my dreams weren’t ever even that big.” He proceeded to live his dream job for 17 years which gave him the courage to live his next big dream.
I started to ask in something louder than a whisper, “What if” asking “What if” isn’t about regret or being wrong?
And then I met John Bucher who allowed himself to ask, a speaker who had already spoken at this big conference, “What if” I let Sally give me pointers on something these people ALREADY SAW ME DO? It was bravery and courage at it’s height. He allowed himself to say, “What if” I could be better? In front of an audience.
His message shot through my heart because I had forgotten to put my armor on. I didn’t die.
Then there is Harris. Harris said, “What if” a million times for this conference. One of these million “What if?” questions were asked of Steve Spiegel and Jim Krueger. Harris asked, “What if” we saw you do a writers room right here, live? It was an amazing live session of learning where both Jim and Steve kept saying, “What if”? It taught me a much bigger understanding of the “Yes and” theory of Improv. . . Something I had learned years ago when I took an Improv class. I had the mechanics then, but I didn’t actually internalize it until nearly 8 years later, when I saw two amazing creators do it right in front of me.
It was only ONE of the “What if?” questions he asked for this conference. What really amazed me is Harris actually asked “What if” fear isn’t something to run away from, what if it’s something to dance with? He had the courage and the bravery to be curious and to ask, “What if” we could pull off this unbelievably beautiful and inspiring conference? It’s the biggest “What if” I learned this whole trip to Tennessee.
“What if” I just believed?
Harris, at the end of the conference, came out to have Brad Montague close out with the Balloon, a story of “What if” I don’t hide? But before Brad started, Harris was overcome with emotion. It was over. It was done. But more importantly, it had been more amazing than he could have hoped for. He was curious and vulnerable and trusting of this community to ask, “What if” I just asked and then turned around and did a trust fall?
And we all caught him and his team. It was the ultimate example of believing, no, knowing “What if?” isn’t regretful or scary or judgmental. His live and in person example of asking “what if” at every turn, taught us how to believe in ourselves. It wasn’t the ridiculously amazing and inspiring speakers (because let’s face it, it was ridiculous and amazing)that taught us to trust “What if?”
It was Harris.
Harris and his Story Gathering team taught me to ask myself:
“What if” I just made writing a priority?
“What if” I believed I could be more than I was yesterday?
“What if” I am good enough?
“What if” I just believe?
I am forever changed. I have shed my armor and am free to breath, to fly, to fall, to trust.
I invite you to ask yourself, “What if” I just believe I can __________?”
It changed my life. I know it can change yours. Go ahead, ask your self the scariest, craziest or most exciting “What if?” – and tell me what happens. I could use a friend or two on this journey.