Two years ago, Smarty Mom and Writer, Mai-Lis Bahr, launched PeopleofCLT. Since then, over 124 stories—and counting—have been shared on the storytelling platform, bringing awareness to causes, triumphs, talents, adversities, advocates, and honoring stories from the community.
How did you become drawn to storytelling?
Around the dinner table, I found myself in awe of my parents stories. My mom is a war refugee and my dad grew up in the foster care system of NYC after being given up by his father at the tender age of three, when his mother passed away. Their stories opened the door to my profound interest in storytelling, igniting a curiosity about others as well. I always think about someone’s story: who are they, where have they been, and where are they going? I try to imagine what it is like to walk in their shoes and it makes me engage with the world more. People become human. Disgruntled waiters are forgiven, I-phones are put down at checkouts, and we look up, we LISTEN.
What impact do you believe stories have?
Stories have POWER—they teach, motivate, inspire, and encourage empathy and inclusion. Stories help us make sense of our own worlds through the lens of another; they make us pause for reflection. Sometimes the hardest person to see is yourself. Stories offer profound teaching moments and they let us know that we are never alone. And stories weave a community together. In our often divisive world, this couldn’t be more important.
What do you say to people who say they don’t have a story?
Everyone has a story that is worth sharing; if you are breathing, you are journeying, you are learning, and have experiences to share that will no doubt resonate with another. Turn away from celebrity stories because the person next to you has a more tangible, relatable story. When people say they don’t have a story, that couldn’t be any further from the truth. Ask a few questions, get a conversation going, and you will show them that they too have so much to offer. Our everyday neighbors show us what real life looks like. We need to pay attention to real stories from our own communities.
What drives your passion for storytelling?
We are losing the ability to stay still long enough to truly listen to others, to have real, authentic connections. I get that many of us are busy raising children, working, and barely have time for ourselves. But still, I find myself longing for more than surface conversation. Just think—what if you miss a story that has the power to change your life, to change the life of a loved one? Stories offer us hope, solutions, and inspire us to creatively think. They let us know we are not alone in our struggles. When you learn about a local person doing something great or has conquered tragedy, it inspires a sense of “I can do that too.”
Storytelling is vulnerable for some. Why?
Our stories are different and are meant to be different; we all have our own paths, our own ways of contributing to our time here. And if you are trying to live someone else’s story, you are cheating yourself out of the chance to be who you were meant to be, to feel fulfilled. Stories gift listeners an opportunity to learn and grow, to be more accepting, and teach us to not pass judgement so quickly. So yes, there is a vulnerability in sharing one’s own story. Admittedly, I haven’t shared too much of my story yet because I fear vulnerability at times—I’m working on that. And it’s kind of like the carpenter’s home needing the most work; my story inevitability comes last.
Do you ever allow yourself to be vulnerable?
Most certainly, but with a very specific audience right now. As Brene Brown says, “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” My two children know my most vulnerable stories; my tragic stories, as well as my stories of triumph and adventure. I share them because I know they can learn from my experiences in the hopes of having different or even greater outcomes. So when I give advice, it comes from a real place of knowing, having lived it. My words are delivered through storytelling and it’s because of that, my words are received and held onto. Nobody likes being lectured. So you see how your most vulnerable stories offer the most profound teaching moments.
Can we rewrite our own stories at anytime?
We can choose to be the authors of our own lives, to write our own stories, to live authentically. It’s never too late to start a new chapter or build a new chapter upon a prior one. Write your story down. I like to think back to those choose-your-own-ending books that I read as a child. I loved thinking about how one interaction, one decision could change your course.
Why do you think People of CLT gained an audience so quickly?
We are wired for storytelling because we are human—it’s ancient and universal. We crave connection, inspiration, and relatability. I think people also appreciate the recognition and kind feedback. Again, it circles back to connection. Suddenly, they are talking to friends and family whom they haven’t spoken to in a while. Their story did that—it reignited the connection.
What didn’t you anticipate when you launched People of CLT?
Friendships! I have made new friends along the way whom I dearly cherish. And I have connected many people to others. Every time I press publish, I feel like I have put good into the world.
Any words you live by?
-Don’t underestimate how far your light can shine!
– Offer grace and forgiveness to others. It’s a gift to yourself too.
– Surround yourself with authentic people.
– Never stop learning.
– Actively live life in every way.
You were recently on TV?
I was honored to be Coach Lamonte’s MVP on WBTV’s Morning Break. Coach is an amazing storyteller who not only looks for inspirational stories but who also seeks to be an inspiration for others. His positive outlook is refreshing!
Video Link: motivational-mvp-mai-lis-bahr
How can people share their story on People of CLT?
Email peopleofCLT@gmail.com and please be patient. I have a lot of requests coming in, so I am in the midst of recruiting help.
Any closing remarks?
I would say this is just the beginning, for myself and for People of CLT. I do intend to share my more personal story in the coming months. And I certainly plan to share many, many more stories from others. In the meantime, connect with others as much as possible in your day-to-day interactions.
“Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead