The first time I shared my story was in an essay to apply for the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship.
I had to put on paper who I was, how I'd gotten to where I was, and who I wanted to be.
A few years after I won the scholarship and returned to that very community college to work in the Student Life office, the president of the college asked me to be the speaker at the college's annual fundraising gala.
I would have to put on a fancy dress and share my story in a microphone for the first time - in front of a bunch of rich people I didn't know.
I was terrified.
I sat down and wrote out the points of my story - the points that changed me or affected where I am today. Then I went over them with a close friend and mentor who helped me rearrange the points for optimal impact, and practice, practice, practice.
That first speech ended with a standing ovation. And I was in shock. How did this happen? How did my story - my little, story - help me win a $110,000 scholarship and win the applause of an audience? (and eventually turn into a full time business?!)
I promise you it's not because I'm just the greatest. And it's certainly not because I have an amazing story.
It's simply because I shared my story in a vulnerable way.
I went to the depths of what I felt when I lost hope in that community college advising office. I re-lived the moment when I broke down on my knees after winning the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, thinking "people like me don't get Master's degrees."
I dug into my family history. I considered the barriers that came from being from a low-income Latino family, the first in my family to pursue a bachelor's degree.
But I also considered all the privileges I had; when I speak to community college staff I always emphasize that if I needed such support to succeed, how much more do those who don't have the privileges of a safe home, loving parents, a roof over their head, or full scholarships need in order to make it?
[Answer: a lot more.]
The more I've met community college students around the country and learned more about poverty the more privileged I've felt. I tell my story not because it's the best or most inspiring, but because it's the only one I have to tell.
You have a story too. And it can inspire people more than you know. Seriously.
And I know that little voice in your head says the same things it says to me: "Who are you to think your story matters? People have had it way worse than you so don't talk about your little struggles. No one wants to hear about your life. Your story doesn't matter."
But your story does matter. There is tremendous power in it if you're brave enough to share.
A few weeks ago I watched an HBO documentary called Paycheck to Paycheck that features just one woman's story - a single mom of three named Katrina, trying to make it on minimum wage and get into college.
That one story highlighted the plight of so many.
That's what stories do.
They illustrate the everyday happenings of our lives. They give life to big concepts. They help people who can't relate understand. And they help people who can relate feel less alone.
I believe in stories. And I believe in your story.
That is why I started the #SoCanU project. I want to celebrate your story so that other people can see what is possible through what you have accomplished.
Please check out the project and click Join the Movement to share your story with the world. It matters. And it can inspire others more than you know.