Your epic life story deserves an epic lead: Lessons from Lou Gehrig

Epic Leads.001.jpeg“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet, today, I consider myself to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

Those who were there when these words were uttered said you could’ve heard a pin drop at Yankee Stadium.  The fans in attendance were focusing their attention on the player known as the “Iron Horse.”

It was July 4, 1939, and Lou Gehrig was beginning one of the most memorable sports speeches in history.

Gehrig had earned his nickname after playing 2,130 consecutive games at first base for the Yankees. The streak started in 1925 and lasted until May 2, 1939, when Gehrig removed himself from the lineup. 

After testing at the Mayo Clinic, Gehrig received a diagnosis of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) on June 13, his 39th birthday.  Within two years of his diagnosis, Gehrig would die from complications of the disease. We now know ALS as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

It is against that backdrop of his diagnosis that makes the opening to his speech so memorable.  That “lead” in, and, in particular, that last sentence have lived on far beyond July 4, 1939.  

It stood out, and stands the test of time, because Gehrig, now battling for his life, had the confidence to declare that, even with his bad breaks, he was the luckiest man alive.  What Gehrig gave us is an epic “lead” for his epic life story.

In journalism, the “lead” is the opening of a story and it is usually the first paragraph.  The lead is considered to be the most important paragraph in the article and, when you read it (or hear it), you should immediately know why this story is so important.

In the development of print journalism, the lead was designed that way so that, if the bottom of the article had to be cut due to space restrictions, you would still get the most important information.

Most of us don’t remember any of the other words that Gehrig said in that speech that day. But, we certainly remember his lead.

What about your life?  If you stood up to describe your life story to others, what would be your lead?  Now, many you are wondering why this idea of lead has anything to do with you.  However, it might be more important than you know.

Have you ever asked someone to tell you about himself or herself? Or, maybe, someone has asked you to describe your life.  How do you answer?

For some, the answers can fall in one of these areas: 

  • There’s nothing interesting about my life.
  • My life is boring.
  • I’m just a common, ordinary person.

If your lead to your life story is the summary of what you have experience (and the most important piece) then how do you think the other person is going to react to you saying that? How have you reacted when someone else has said those words to you?  That lead takes our lifetime of thoughts and experiences and sells your epic life story short.   Your epic life story deserves an epic lead.

Even if you still think that your life isn’t interested or even both, let’s try to challenge that notion and see our lives in a different way.

In terms of writing, you are the protagonist in your own life story.  That simply means that you are the main character in your journey.  You are the common denominator in every experience and event that happens to you and around you.  Your life is a mix of nature, nurture, relationships, choices and events that shape the person you are in any given moment. 

When there are so many moving parts in your journey, there is no way that you could be “boring” or “uninteresting.”  You simply need to find the central conflict in your story.  You need to find the place where you are challenged to change or where you fighting to overcome.  When you find that struggle, that conflict, that key piece in the journey, you will have discovered your lead.

As a way to challenge your way of thinking and to find your epic lead, honestly think through these questions as they apply to your life:

  • What is your greatest accomplishment?  Everyone has an accomplishment and it could relate to just about anything.  You might find your accomplishment in family, friends, work, school, politics, sports or humanitarian causes.  On some days, that major accomplishment might even be getting out of bed and facing the world.  We all have accomplishments.  How has your accomplishment shaped who you are?
  • What is, or has been, your greatest challenge?  Part of our lives includes overcoming challenges and navigating through obstacles.  Each of us has at least one thing in our lives that we are challenged to overcome.  It could be related to illness, relationships, educational challenges, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, bullying, etc.  What is the challenge that you’ve had to face head on and what are what are you doing, or have you done, to overcome it? Some of the most interesting life stories follow a lead of “I was (fill in the blank) but now I am (fill in the blank).”
  • What’s your life purpose? Another way to rephrase this question might be, “What is your calling?” To get to this place, think through the things that bother you, the issues that you want to see addressed or the problems where you want to be a part of the solution.  When you find the those things or places where you are most passionate, you will be within striking distance of your calling.  If you could make a difference in the world, someone else’s world or even your own world, what would it be?
  • Other questions.  Other areas to consider would be your high- and low-points of life, the places where you felt most disappointed and the places where you came through or the lessons that you have learned in your life.  In fact,there are so many variations of these questions that we couldn’t begin to list them all.

After you have thought through these questions and your answers, then try to complete the following sentence frame:  If I could tell you only one thing about my life story, it would be …”. Then, describe the tension that event, person, place, thing, etc., created in your life.

If you still think that your life is boring, then go back to the beginning and repeat the process until you get there.  Whether you are ready yet to accept it, your life story is epic and it deserves an epic lead.

Even with that, you may still be wondering why “finding your lead” is so important.  Here are a few reasons to consider:

  • What you share that event, experience, dream, etc., with other people, you will begin to find others who have similar life experiences.  It’s a powerful reminder that we are not alone in our life journey. 
  • It connects who you are now and where you are heading in life with the experiences that have helped to push you there.
  • It changes the way you see your life.  If all you say about you lives are things that tear you down and portray you as boring, uninteresting and unimportant, then what do you really feel about yourself?  What if you could see yourself as an overcomer, a winner, a survivor, a creator, a dreamer, etc.?  When you change that inner voice from one of negativity to one that reflects the true nature of your life, you’ve reached a powerful place in your own story.

Lou Gehrig had every reason to be down about his life on July 4, 1939.  He lost his ability to play a sport he loved. He was diagnosed with a rare illness.  He life would never be the same.  Yet, he made a choice on his life story.  He chose to view himself as a lucky man despite his current predicament.   That moment provided an epic lead to his epic life story.

He ended his speech that day with a sentence that could’ve also served as his lead.

“So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I still have an awful lot to live for.”

Imagine what it would look like if you were asked to describe your life and you could say, “I’ve been through some things in my life, but let me tell you about how those experiences have shaped me into who I am today.”  What would it look like to see your life as something more — as something epic?

Your epic life story deserves an epic lead.  Now, find your lead.

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