Tell Your Story
More than two years ago, my wife and I made the decision to pursue international adoption. The process was emotional, demanding, and long. One of the smartest things I did (and I don’t do many) when we started this process was set up a blog through which my wife and I could chronicle our adoption and share updates with our friends and family. Looking back on our 21-month process, I’m so glad we started the blog and committed to updating it at least a few times a month.
For us, there were several benefits.
First, we got to articulate where we were in our adoption process in terms of both the paperwork/to-do items and the emotions of it all. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re feeling until you try to put it into words, which we did. Now, we have a record of the process as we experienced it. Also, we were able to be more open and honest in our blog posts than we might’ve felt comfortable being in face to face interactions.
Second, our friends and family didn’t have to call, email, text, send Facebook messages, or ask us in person for updates. When new information was available, we put it on our blog, and they knew that. They also knew that it was tough for us to explain, either in person or via technology, that we had no new news to share. (And in the adoption process, there are a lot of extended periods in which you have no new news. Frankly, it’s frustrating and depressing.) Instead of asking if we had any updates, our friends and family could check our blog. If there was nothing new, they knew that they could pray for us because we were likely stressed out and discouraged. This saved us from many (but not all) difficult conversations, and helped our family and friends know how to best approach us at a given time just by checking the blog first. If there was something new, they could get in touch with us to congratulate us or ask more questions about our latest update.
Finally, after dozens and dozens of updates—some excited and some filled with sadness—over the better part of two years, we found that our friends and family had completely bought into our adoption journey to a degree that we’d only dreamed of. When we finally got matched to our daughter, our supporters were overjoyed. And why wouldn’t they be? They followed us through this entire odyssey, through all its highs and lows, so that when my wife and I had something to celebrate, an entire community celebrated with us. There’s no doubt in my mind that this community wouldn’t have been as large or as passionate if we hadn’t been sharing our story all along the way, and thus I became convinced of the awesome power of story.
In November 2008, my wife and I launched a little fundraiser to help defray some of the cost of our upcoming trip to Vietnam. (Apparently, extended international travel is expensive. Who knew?) We designed a custom T-shirt featuring a family of three stick figure birds (see the image above) and offered them to our friends and family in exchange for $20 donations toward our trip. We were overwhelmed by the response but, in retrospect, maybe we shouldn’t have been. After all, these people know us and love us and had been with us every step of the way—weeping when we wept, laughing when we laughed, and rejoicing when we rejoiced. They were excited when we offered them a tangible way to participate in our adoption story by helping us fly halfway around the world to meet our daughter for the first time. We knew that when we returned home, we’d be returning to a community of support who had been there for us and would continue to be there. They’ll be there for us because they know our story and because, as Pee Wee Herman would say, they lived it.
When people know who you are, what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it, they can buy in—at least to the degree that they find you and your mission compelling. Below the stick figure bird family on our T-shirt is the word “family” in both Vietnamese in English. In a sense, a family is exactly what we created by sharing our story through our blog and inviting others into our journey (Seth Godin might call it a tribe).
Wherever you are in the foster or adoptive process (pre-, mid-, or post-), be sure to tell a story. By telling the right story well—with authenticity, humility, and credibility—you foster a connection with your audience. The strength of that connection depends on a number of factors, and you might even doubt its existence at first. But as people follow and even participate in the story you’re telling, the connection is inevitable. Some day, your audience will have the opportunity to demonstrate the strength of the connection you’ve built—for us it came in the form of prayers, encouragement, and donations both solicited and unsolicited. For you, it might come in a different form but the principle remains the same:
Invest in your friends and family, tell them your story, and invite them to connect. You won’t regret it.