Q: How much of my story matters?
A: All of it to you, but maybe not to your readers.
Everyone has a story. One of the most wonderful facets of life is getting to discover the unique or quirky or just plain different stories of our fellow human beings.
But unless you’re writing a memoir, you don’t need to tell your entire story.
Have you ever been at a networking event and had a simple question like “And what you do?” explode into a half-hour disquisition about every single facet of the other person’s job.
You hate those conversations, right? You’d welcome anything that would interrupt them—a colleague rushing over to say hello, a tray of hors d’oeuvres overturning, a small, nonlethal earthquake nearby.
When you’re leveraging your story to introduce yourself to an audience or to make a point about your subject, you don’t need to tell the whole story. Find the part of it that connects specifically to the readers’ interest. And tell that.
When Danica Roem campaigned for the Virginia House of Delegates, she based her campaign on transportation issues. She and her future constituents spent way too much of their time stuck in traffic; she thought the House of Delegates should address the issue.
Oh—and Danica Roem isn’t just a commuter. She’s also a transgender woman.
In another context—say, if she were writing a memoir—I’m sure Roem could tell a fascinating story about how she discovered her gender identity and what challenges and triumphs she’s encountered along the way. But telling that story in the context of a campaign would siphon attention away from her key campaign issue. Instead, she focused on what her constituents could expect her to do rather than on who she is.
As she said in a recent article in InStyle magazine:
“Even through the Democratic primary, when talking about red-meat issues, I said, ‘Well, Democrats get stuck in traffic too. Transgender people get caught in traffic too.’ LGBT people don’t just get to jump on the back of a unicorn and fly over traffic. We get stuck in it like anybody else.”
After she won the primary, her Republican challenger—whose seat she was trying to win—introduced a “bathroom bill” aimed at transgender people. Roem used that as an opportunity to remind voters about the issue she was campaigning on:
“I came up with the phrase ‘Delegate Marshall’s legislative priorities are more focused on where I go to the bathroom than on how you get to work.'”
Brilliant. She didn’t shy away from her transgender status—I would never advise you to try to bury an essential part of your story. But she reminded voters that she cares about the thing they care about. She focused on the concerns they have in common and her gender identity became just one piece of who she is, not the whole story.
By the way, she won the election.