Personal Stories – Storytelling for Everyone

We are facing many challenges in our current crises today: personal, health, economic, and social. Due to the pandemic and the downturn in the economy, many of us are dealing with isolation and even privation. With the harsh spotlight on existing racism in our country, we can all protest that unacceptable reality and work against it.

One way to connect with one another is to tell our personal stories of challenge and invite others to share theirs—to listen with an open heart. We all can relate through stories.

Trials take the measure of us. No matter how experienced or prosperous we become, we continue to face challenges. Even if we’ve achieved most of our life’s goals, something will come up to sorely try us. We can be thrown back on ourselves, sometimes to the core.

Though trials make life difficult, they create the best stories. The appeal of any story is conflict: the more challenging, the better. We want to know how you survived, your way out, and what you learned.

One might even say that the entire purpose of the ancient, oral tradition is to show the way out of trouble, told with an overriding belief in a positive outcome: the “forever after” happy ending. The message in most folk and fairytales seems to be to cheer us on—urging us with wise advice for our journey. Kindness, compassion, honestly, humility, courage, industry, persistence, all win the day. These traditional tales see the heroic in daily life and enrich ours with meaning.

Life offers many challenges—not all are the same size or type. Whatever a particular challenge meant to you, you faced it down, and became the wiser. Whenever you tell that story, you hope to teach a life lesson, a moral, and empower others to avoid the same conflict and learn how to overcome it. Some trials are personal and ongoing, such as attacks against one’s identity. Others are born out of external crises, perhaps financial, physical, disaster-related, or a trauma.

Personal stories of challenge help us to understand that each one of us is a hero in our own, unique journey. We can identify, empathize, and applaud one another as we walk in the others’ shoes.

Challenge & Hardship

To find your story of challenge:

  • Recall a time when you had to work your way out of a crisis or hardship
  • During that critical time, select a few scenes that depict the problem and its challenging tasks
  • Allow us to experience the challenge with you, through sensory images and key details
  • Keep to the main action
  • How was the crisis resolved?
  • What did you learn?
  • How do you hope to change your listeners by telling this story?

Avoid “telling” listeners the meaning you made of the challenge. If you weigh down your hardship story with commentary, they will not be able to experience the lesson and learn it vicariously.


This is a personal story of mine, in my eighteenth summer, when I was told to earn my tuition back to my college in Chicago in time for the fall semester. Desperate and new to California from Texas, I went to the California State Department of Employment county office to apply for a summer job, something I later discovered most teenagers did not do. The unique experience I gained that summer was worth much more than the pay. What do you think?


Cupertino, CA -1960

“Starting up!” The guy on the high platform yelled loud enough for every worker in the barn-sized workhouse to hear. He turned on the conveyor belt with a clank and a lurch and dumped the first crate of apricots through an array of sprinklers—fresh off the orchard trees just outside the canning shed doors.

As a jumbled heap of apricots rolled towards me, the first station on the belt, I clenched my paring knife in one hand and used the other to sort through the fruit. Scanning the mess, I grabbed twigs, leaves, green ‘cots, and other debris that went into a bucket on my left side; looked for rotten fruit that went into a bucket on my right side, along with any brown or bruised spots I trimmed with my knife.

That first day on the job, there were about fifteen workers stationed along the catwalk on either side of the belt. Bent to the never-ending blur of ‘cots with a steady focus, I still noticed a tall, dark man with a pencil thin mustache, wearing well-pressed khakis, slink behind us on the narrow ledge.

The second day, there were only seven of us. Unknown to me, a rookie at seasonal canning jobs, the foreman and floor lady had watched for speed and accuracy and kept the fastest workers. At the morning break, I learned about that drill from my fellow Latinas. The only Anglo on the belt, and the only English speaker, I was proud I’d passed the test against more experienced help. I retied my splattered, plastic bib apron, ready to prove my worth again, and earn the much-needed tuition for my sophomore year in college.

The third day, I woke with every muscle aching and rashes on my arms from the acidic fruit.The thought of facing that endless stream of apricots was almost unbearable.

My mother stood in the bedroom door, knowing it was past time for me to rise. “It’ll be harder to get up tomorrow,” she said, in a flat tone.

Not needing another prompt, I raced to get ready; grabbed my cleaned, plastic apron, and began the mile-long walk to the canning shed. I crossed Stevens Creek Road, and soon I was running down the gravel lane through the orchards, breathless. When the corrugated aluminum shed appeared through the leafy groves, I saw the floor lady outside the barn doors, waiting for me.

“I wondered if you’d come today,” she said smiling, and handed me my timecard to clock in.

The fourth day, I was on the catwalk on time, ready to work. Just before the conveyor belt started up, I saw a Portuguese woman next to me make the sign of the cross. She told me that her work was a prayer. Humbled, I was never late to the canning shed again that summer. When the last apricot crate was picked and canned, the job was over.

The ladies on the line asked me, “¿Vas a Libby’s?

I would’ve liked to work the tomato crop at Libby’s Cannery in Sunnyvale, but it was too far from Cupertino. My heart swelled with pride because they’d asked me, included me as a comadre in the harsh cycle of seasonal canning. I’d made rank!  

But I never acquired a taste for apricots.


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