Seven Ways to Share

Finding New Year’s Joy by Sharing Your Story

By Jennifer Owens

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

For many, this quote by Maya Angelou provides inspiration to share personal stories. When I read it, though, it sounds overwhelming — and discourages me from putting pen to paper or fingertips to keypad. I prefer a more positive spin on this quote: there is no greater joy than sharing the stories inside you. With the new year upon us, now might be just the time to get started writing your own untold story.

Storytelling, especially about your own life, gives the freedom to bring values and experiences alive. It can leave a record of your journey to be shared with friends and family, now and after you are gone. And let’s be honest – if someone is going to tell your story, wouldn’t you rather that someone be you?

I’ve spent years in my role at the Central New York Community Foundation helping people document their personal stories and preserve their legacies. Inherent in this job is the most fundamental and difficult hurdle to clear: getting people to appreciate the value of their life experiences. But once we agree the story matters, it’s time to get around to telling it!

Here are seven tips for sharing your story:

There is no time like the present.
Time waits for no one, so start writing today. While it’s helpful to have some distance between events and your reflections on them, putting the first words down on paper is the most important step.

Write like you speak.
The words you use and the tone with which you write can be as important as what you say. Let your true personality shine through.

Don’t worry about what others will think.
Stories without conflict or adversity are a major snooze. Life is full of complexity and difficulty, and describing how you worked through trying times is what makes life stories captivating. Give someone the chance to learn from your mistakes and see the real you.

Be truthful.
It might seem like truth is going out of style, but I suggest you help bring it back. Of course, every story you tell about your life is from the only perspective you know – yours. Giving readers a look into your version of events can give them a glimpse through your eyes.

Consider working with a partner.
It’s often said accountability is the key to any New Year’s resolution. Finding someone else who wants to document their own story can provide motivation, and give you a chance to get feedback in the process.

Start with great questions.
Don’t let inability to figure out what to write stop you from doing it at all. There are several helpful resources available to prompt your work. One of my favorites is StoryCorps’ Great Questions: Spend a few minutes with this list of questions and you’ll be inspired to write in no time.

If you go digital, be diligent.
Realizing you’ve lost something meaningful can be terrible. If you’re working on the computer, save and backup your files. Handwritten work should be copied and stored somewhere safe.

Remember, this writing can be done just for you – like journaling – or to eventually share with others. Many people even find this process helpful prior to deciding on the focus of their charitable giving or legacies. Often, the recording process uncovers passions for causes they hadn’t yet considered. And we know capturing stories makes our community stronger, builds pride in our region and keeps the memories of generous people alive forever. SWM

Jennifer Owens is senior vice president and chief development officer at the Central New York Community Foundation. To learn about options for sharing your story and preserving your charitable legacy, contact Jennifer at or visit

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