By Jesse French, Chief of Next Steps, Restoration Project

I was a basketball addict when I was younger. I spent my free time in our driveway dribbling, shooting, and imagining all sorts of last second scenarios that resulted in me making some improbable game winning shot. Each summer I counted down the days to the Shooter’s Touch Basketball Camp where we’d receive instruction from awesome coaches and spend five days doing drills and competitions.

I went to the camp for four years, but the camp in July of 1996 is the one I remember most. On the last day, the camp staff would give out a windbreaker (complete with the Shooter’s Touch logo) to the most valuable camper. That year I received the MVP and took home a horrendously colored green, maroon, and white jacket. I wore that jacket nonstop and kept it until I turned 30. No, that last sentence was not a typo.

What does this have to do with story?  

For most of my life I missed the most important part of this story. I’d look at my MVP jacket in the back of my closet and remember the story…

...the swelling anticipation of the campers as the camp staff pulled the jacket from a cardboard box and got ready to announce the winner. 

...the wave of excitement, pride, and relief that I felt when they called my name.  

I’d look at the jacket and relive the events and emotions of the story, but fail to ask the most important question. How was I shaped by that experience? 

Your story is not simply the aggregate of where you’ve lived, what you’ve done, and who you’ve done.  Your story is how you have been shaped by those experiences and relationships. Your story is not the itinerary of your life, it is the landscape of your heart. John O’Donoue said it well when he said, “biography is not the same as identity.” The facts of your life make up your biography, your identity is how those facts have molded your understanding of who you are. 

Why, then, is it important to press past the familiar ground of biography and into the deeper realms of story and identity? Because identity informs action. What I do now comes out of who I understand myself to be. Something shifted in that gangly ten-year old boy when he received a cheap windbreaker that was two sizes two big for him. I put that tri-colored coat on and believed that I was someone who works hard and is successful. 

My decisions for the next 20 years have been primarily motivated by this understanding and interpretation. Only in the last three years have I begun to understand this part of my story and wonder if there might be a deeper and truer understanding of who I am. It required looking beyond the itinerary of my life and into it’s story. 

This life-giving and freeing engagement of my story has not happened through hours of solo reflection and navel gazing. It’s been the result of opening my story alongside kind and curious people who have dared to wonder what lay beneath the facts of my life. They’ve had eyes to see what I could not, and hope to believe what I dared not. 

Want to open your story for the first time? Join me in the  Men’s Pre-Story virtual group this fall.