“Lost my phone!” I shrieked silently to myself, reaching for the “flight attendant” button overhead. The announcement that the doors were closing had just broadcast as I searched my belongings to find my phone. A friendly face appeared within a few minutes, asking me what I needed. I blurted out, “I left my iPhone at the gate. Can I dash out to get it?” She replied that it was too late—doors were closed. But she offered to let me use her phone and to have the captain message the Gate Agents, once we were airborne, to ask them to look for my phone.
I quickly dialed my husband to let him know of my predicament. (It was his birthday and he’d already spent the early evening driving me to the airport in rush hour traffic, so it was not a “happy” call.) I quickly relayed the essential details of my lost phone before I had to hang up—no time for gratitude and apologies. I felt terrible. When I landed in Buffalo, the Very Nice Flight Attendant told me that they’d been unable to obtain any details about my phone.
On my way to attend the Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI) conference, I decided that I needed to let go of my phone crisis and start experiencing the conference in a more mindful way. It was weird at first. I reverted to a phone bank in the airport to call for the shuttle. I reached for my phone to check email or texts, but had to let go of the urge to connect. I didn’t have access to games to fill my time while I waited for the shuttle. I began to morph back in time … how I used to travel before I owned an iPhone. Soon I realized that “it would be OK.”
At my hotel, I fired up my laptop to find a message from my husband about his heroic rescue of my iPhone in the Minneapolis airport. He had used the “Find My Phone” app to locate my phone and gotten help from airport staffers to retrieve it. Not happy to spend his birthday correcting my mistake, he made me install an app on my phone that now displays, “If found, please call [his number] or [my email].” He chided, “You should make it easy for people to be honest and helpful.”
At CPSI, I had an amazing growth experience without my phone. Sometimes, I missed how easy it is to handle simple logistics with a text or email. And I missed staying in touch with my family while I was away. But the upside is that I was more present and engaged in a rich learning and networking environment.
Mining Your Life for Stories
Everyone’s life contains a treasure trove of experiences that can be turned into stories. To help my clients find stories they can use in their professional and personal lives, I offer story prompts around four pathways: people, place, events, and objects. The prompts inspire “story gems”—raw ideas that can be polished and applied to business situations. Using my three-step approach, let’s explore how I found this story gem and how it might be turned it into meaningful messages for professional communications.
1. Find the Story Gems—A prompt about “something you lost or broke” triggered my memory about the fiasco of losing my iPhone in the airport. This episode evokes tension, characters, and emotional transformation—key elements of a compelling narrative. So I advanced it …
2. Find the Deeper Meaning—A quick brainstorm of possible lessons from my lost iPhone episode surfaced: coping with crisis, breakdown in communication, adapting to change, priorities, mindfulness, people who helped me, “it’s only a possession” … I could keep going.
3. Find Connection to Work—The deeper meanings in my lost iPhone example might be applied to several business situations, such as:
- Quality Customer Service—The Very Nice Flight Attendant soothed my stress and offered real-time assistance. A customer in crisis appreciates employees who go above and beyond.
- Make It Easy for People to Help—My husband’s advice to label my phone with contact information can be applied to business relationships and collaboration.
- Mindful Leadership—Letting go of distractions and living in the moment was serendipity that emerged from this little crisis.
- Giving up resources—Periodically living without dependence on our day-to-day technology may provide solutions and inspiration for coping in resource-constrained environments.
- Crises Pass—In the heat of the moment, a calamity can consume our energy, but usually it resolves and fades in significance.
If you’re seeking stories to spice up a presentation, coach an employee, or convey your leadership values, use the “Mining Your Life for Stories” process to turn story gems from your personal experience into meaningful stories for your work. Story gems often tumble out during campfires, happy hours, and casual conversations. Grab these gems and store them someplace where they can be retrieved and polished later. Dare I suggest storing them in a smart phone?