Just one true story.
I am officially licensed to mix, serve, and sell alcohol in the state of Oregon.
This has absolutely nothing to do with my career as a writer.
How did this come to be? It’s a long story. I’ll give you the short version:
Girl meets boy. Boy wants to open a brunch restaurant. Girl says “I can help!” Boy says “Great! Let’s do this.” Girl finds out that she needs to take a class — and pass an exam — in order to legally serve alcohol at the restaurant.
So that’s what I did.
I spent an entire day — somewhere between eight and twelve hours, I lost count — watching an online video program that taught me how to spot a fake ID, how to portion the correct amount of liquor per drink, the legal consequences for serving a minor, and so on.
I’m a pretty smart cookie, but by the end of the twelve-ish hour class my brain felt compacted and overwhelmed.
So many numbers. So many laws. So many details to remember (blood alcohol percentages, ounces, full liquor licenses versus limited on-premise sale licenses…)
It was a lot to absorb. My brain went into memorization-mode. I was taking in all the details, filing them away in my cortex, but I didn’t feel particularly excited, interested, or engaged with the material. Just doing the class because I had to. Just getting it done. A chore. A tickbox on my to-do list. Nothing more.
Then came the final section of the class:
An interview with a mother who lost her son in a drunk-driving collision.
Her face appeared on the screen. She told the story. Teenage son. Partying with friends. Underage friends bought alcohol at a bar because the server didn’t bother to card them. Kids got drunks. Horrific car crash. Multiple lives: ruined. The negligent bartender goes to court. The driver lives in shame. The mother buried her child in the ground.
“I miss my son every day,” the mom said tearfully into the camera. “Not a day goes by where I don’t miss him, and wonder if things might be different if someone had checked his ID, if someone had refused to serve them alcohol…”
I wept along with her.
And I vowed, in that moment:
“I won’t let anyone drink who isn’t supposed to. I won’t let anybody overindulge it if I can possibly prevent it. Not on my watch.”
That is the power of telling a true story.
One true story can take a boring class and elevate the material into something unforgettable.
One true story can make audiences sit up, pay attention, and actually give a damn.
One true story can open someone’s eyes, or change someone’s mind.
One true story changes everything.
Because of that mother’s story, I am vigilant about serving alcohol the right way. I cared before, sure, but now I CARE SO GODDAMN MUCH. I am obsessive about it. I take zero chances. The other day, I carded a woman who was 60 years old (she was thrilled, by the way). I feel a sense of duty to protect everyone I possibly can — to make a difference.
That’s the power of one story.
If you’re a coach, teacher, writer, artist, parent — anyone who is trying to inspire and influence others — and you’re wondering, “How can I make her listen? How can I make him care?” the answer is simple:
Tell a true story.
Facts, stats, numbers, and dates are important, of course. But whenever possible, include a real-life story to give your student a reason to actually care about all of those details.
Just one is all it takes.
It doesn’t have to be a “perfect” story. You don’t have to be Shakespeare or a Pulitzer Prize-level communicator. Just say what is true — what actually happened to you — and speak from the heart.
You’d be amazed by how powerful one story can be.