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My wife and I were walking through the mall together when out of nowhere I hear, “Ryan Haack?!”  Since that’s my name, I looked in the direction the voice came from.  A young woman stood there smiling and waving.  “Hi!” I said.  I didn’t say her name.  I couldn’t remember it.  Eventually I figured out we went to elementary school together.  It was nice to catch-up, but afterward I felt bad.

“I hate when I can’t remember people,” I told Julie.

“Well, it’s not really fair,” she said.

“How so?” I wondered aloud.

“I mean, we all have an advantage.  You’re pretty easy to remember,” she said.

I stared.

“Because of your arm!  Jeez.”

Then I got angry.

Ok, not really.  But, she’s totally right!  You two-handers have the upper-hand (as it were) when it comes to remembering those of us with a limb-difference.

You’re welcome.

The truth is, anybody with a pronounced difference, physical or otherwise, is memorable.  Could be a big nose or a bald head, Leno’s chin or Angelina’s lips, Conan’s fiery locks or Arnold’s bouncing pecs.  Then there’s that total jerk.  Oh, and that super nice lady.  The one with the laugh.

So, what makes you memorable?

I was recently in Nashville at the StoryLine conference with Donald Miller and we talked a lot about living a better story.  To me, living a better story makes you different.  It makes you memorable.

We heard from a variety of people who are living better stories.  There was Al Andrews, a successful therapist who decided his dream was to become a philanthropist.  One problem: philanthropists need money in order to give it away.  Al didn’t have it.  So, he started Improbable Philanthropy.  His first venture was to write a children’s book and all the proceeds will be given to charity (buy here).  A noble beginning.  Then we heard from Jamie Tworkowski.  In 2006 Jamie met a young woman struggling with depression and self-injury.  He wanted to help, so he wrote a story and then put the title of it on shirts to sell and raise money for her treatment.  Eventually, Jamie founded the organization To Write Love On Her Arms; the title of his story.  TWLOHA “is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.”  The reach of TWLOHA is growing exponentially and those in need are being helped.  What an amazing story!

Then there’s Bob Goff.

Bob is the kind of guy you just want to be around.  All the time.  I mean, his sweet wife would probably have to push me out of their bed if I had my way.  Bob just released a book, Love Does, wherein he shares some of his more famous stories.  Like how he became the consul for the Republic of Uganda…by accident.  Or the one abut the parade.  See, one year Bob’s kids were talking about how boring New Years Day was, so he asked what they wanted to do.  One of his daughters suggested having a parade.  Bob thought it was a great idea, so they dressed-up and out they went, inviting all the neighbors.  One rule, though: You can’t watch.  You can only be in the parade.  A perfect metaphor for life; we’re all in this together.  And for years now, the New Years Day parade has grown.  Families who have moved out of the neighborhood fly back to San Diego just for the parade! Here’s this year’s:

Personally, I was blown away when, as I walked-up to greet him, he looked at me and shouted, “Ryan!”  He gave me a great big hug.  “I love reading what you’re writing!” he said.  Me.  Ryan.  A guy he’s never met.  Bob knows thousands of people, many of them world leaders, and yet he recognized me from our few Twitter connections.  And I’m sure it didn’t hurt that I was wearing my LOH shirt.  Either way, I felt loved and cared for and encouraged by this man I was meeting for the first time.

Me and Bob

Me and Bob

Everyone says Bob is one of the best story tellers in the world.  But you know why that’s even a possibility?  It’s because he lives great stories.  He has them to tell, because he lives them.  And while it’s tempting to whine, “But he knows way more amazing people than I do and he has more money and influence and opportunity…I could never do the things he does,”  I implore you not to.  I’ve done it.  While reading the incredible stories of limb-different people like Josh Sundquist and Kevin Connolly and Jim Abbott, I’ve thought to myself, “Why would people want to hear about my life?”  Well, here’s a secret:

It’s not about me.

It’s about other people.  When we help other people, we live better stories.  And when we live better stories, people remember us.  Know why?

Because most of us aren’t living very good stories.

Most people are letting life push them around; me included.  It’s time to be more intentional.  It’s time to be known for more than a big nose or a strong chin or a missing left hand.  It’s time for you and me to choose to live better stories.  To discover good ambitions and overcome conflict and help other people; to make a difference in the lives of those around us.

I’m fine with being recognized because of my arm, but I’d like to be known for much more.

Don’t you?

(Follow me on Twitter @livingonehanded and “Like” the Facebook page!)