An Immigrant’s Story Nearly Lost

Despite its rather modest size – the current population hovers around 1,000 – the history of Plymouth, California is something of a cultural stew that contains flavorful and contentious stories of both mining and viticulture. Its modern day persona is that of a waypoint in the middle of the Amador County wine country, but a century and a half prior, the area was a puzzle piece within the geological landscape that played host to the California Gold Rush.

Plymouth CaliforniaMy 48-hour residency there was the result of a friend’s wedding nearby at Amador Cellars. A beautiful event indeed, with the red, gold and yellow hues of the vineyard serving as a vivid palette for the couple’s nuptial bliss.

As I gazed across the acres of dormant vines before the ceremony I tried to imagine what life had been like during the mid – late 1800s when this remote region was awash with fortune seekers prospecting for gold, as well as fortune seekers prospecting for miners. At the time there were more than 100 wineries satisfying the thirst of those fortune seekers.

While most of those in the area were of European decent, there was a small contingent of Chinese who had ventured from San Francisco to seek their fortune, and during the morning hours before the wedding ceremony became the center of my attention, I took a slow stroll through town and came across a building that had been owned by one of those immigrants.

Old Ming Chinese Store Plaque in Plymouth CaliforniaThe square brass plaque told an abbreviated story that inspired far more questions than it provided answers.

So Plymouth used to be called Pokerville? Who was Old Ming, and how did he play into the Gold Rush story? What happened to him?

Returning to my hotel I was certain that a quick search would clear the air and provide me with a sense of historical enlightenment, but my grand assumption proved incorrect.

Old Ming Chinese Store Front in Plymouth CaliforniaPlymouth never had much of a Chinese population, but in 1882 Ah Ming purchased a building of stone and brick on Old Sacrament Road where he operated a store. Known to locals as “Old Ming”, he apparently kept a vegetable garden behind the store and sold firecrackers, as well as general merchandise … his store stands as the only reminder of Chinese presence in Plymouth. Excerpt from Banished and Embraced by Elaine Zorbas.

That was it. Just one fleeting mention from a single authoritative source. We can skip the chronological inconsistency (was it the late 1870’s or 1882?) and the conflicting information offered up by various online sources as to whether or not Plymouth had once been referred to as Pokerville, or even Puckerville before that.

What I found disheartening was the fact that none of the stories – Ah Ming’s or the store’s – had apparently been preserved. That Ah Ming was a proprietor in town, as opposed to a laborer in the mines, spoke volumes about the life events that brought him to Plymouth in the first place. What products did he sell, who were his customers, and most importantly, what stories were told behind that brick and steel facade?

What is known from other accounts is how difficult life was for Chinese immigrants during this time. Similar to the actions of many today who seek to vilify immigrants, anyone who didn’t come from European stock was often looked upon as something less than fully human.

So as you craft your own personal story, consider the value that your words and experiences can bring to current and future generations. I have a feeling that Ah Ming could have taught us a thing or two about honor, respect, and compassion for those who are different than us.

Storytelling Newsletter

Using Story for Persuading, Influencing, or Most Importantly, for Understanding

If you spend time, as I do, reading about the art and practice of storytelling you will often come across reference to the notion of persuading or influencing as the objective of crafting and presenting the story that you have in mind. I hear this from other speaker coaches, as well as renowned public speakers, and it’s not wrong, but it’s never been the way I see things.

Having watched a few thousand talks, and worked with a few hundred speakers, the stories which impacted me the most were the ones that informed me, expanded my knowledge, or brought forward a new way of looking at an important issue, not those trying to convince me that their way of thinking was better than mine.

Persuading
Causing someone to do something, or believe something, through reasoning or argument

Influencing
Having an effect on someone with the desire to change their behaviors, beliefs, or opinions

Understanding
The ability to comprehend based on knowledge of a subject, problem, process, or situation

When working with speakers I’ll ask them to think about what their audience will understand differently after hearing their talk. And there’s not a single answer to that question, as each person will have a different mindset before your talk begins.

And while it’s impossible to know what everyone listening understands in the moment, it’s a productive exercise to at least define a number of general categories (half a dozen or so) and then write out how you see their thinking/understanding transform.

For example, “Most people have no idea how big the refugee crisis really is, but after hearing my talk they will understand that nearly 1 in 100 people around the world has been displaced from their home.” [Watch Brian Sokol’s TEDx Talk]

Take that view a level deeper as you think about your audience by age, income, gender, ethnicity, education. How would a native understand your talk differently than an immigrant? Or a college student, as compared to a politician or business leader?

This exercise will prove beneficial while editing your manuscript. Consider your choice of words, and how deep you take your explanation of the issue. Remember, it’s not about having the audience think like you, it’s about them thinking differently than before they heard your talk.

Storytelling Newsletter

Follow Your Passion, Or Just Enjoy Life

In each moment we’re writing the story of our life based on the decisions we make, and a big part of that story revolves around the career path we choose. On that point, the sage wisdom of the 21st century is to follow your passion. Which, by definition, implies that everyone has a passion to follow. But in my experience, that’s not always the case.

Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of business leaders, entrepreneurs, professors, veterans and students, developing personal stories that include such career-based decisions, and the driving forces behind those choices.

The word passion does come up during these conversations, but not in the way one might expect. As it turns out, life decisions – both personal and career related – involve a complex medley of intellectual and emotional threads coursing through hearts and minds, often in a most confusing and perplexing pattern.

When the topic of passion does arise – I’ll overly simplify here for the sake of discussion – people tend to fall into one of three camps. They have too many passions, they have clarity on their one, true passion, or passion wasn’t a factor when determining their vocational path.

Breakingpic Black and White Headphones

Image by Breakingpic from Pexels

We’ve all met people who knew what they wanted to do from an early age. They fell in love with science while standing in the backyard watching the night sky, were captivated by art and carried a sketchpad everywhere they went, or they spent hours each evening incessantly practicing an instrument. Decades later they were still pursuing that one passion, as no other opportunity that crossed their path in the ensuing years had caused them to stray.

Alex Socha Doors Pixabay

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

For those with a handful of passions, life tends to be a blend of excitement and frustration. Too many pursuits with so few hours in each day. In some cases the choices are narrow in scope, such as which discipline to pursue within the field of neuroscience, but the options can also be quite diverse, such as whether to become a doctor or a ballerina.

Sometimes that journey leads to a major/minor relationship. A brilliant surgeon by day, and musician by night, a best-of-both-worlds sort of life, though it must be said this particular combination doesn’t work so well in reverse. Other times the choice is made, often for more practical reasons such as money, and there was no looking back.

Then we have the aimless souls without desire or direction, just stumbling through life. Or so the purpose pundits would have us believe. But when I ask these folks about passion, they smile, and say something like, “Don’t have one, have never needed one, I just enjoy my work.”

Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Mark Twain

And that mindset can result in a string of jobs that, in many cases, cover a number of career paths which overlap, intersect, or build upon each other. The graphic designer that shifted to building websites and, ultimately, toward creating content which took them into social media. It’s not a matter of reaching a skill-based pinnacle, but rather a quest to explore and stretch.

Truth be told, I’m a proud member of this cohort. Looking back, I would have to say that my career path wasn’t a result of following a passion, but rather a series of opportunities, each of which offered the promise of learning, which is one thing I enjoy above most everything else.

I’ve enjoyed my corporate adventures in operations, information systems, marketing, and a CEO stint. And my days organizing TEDx events – despite the trials, travails and tribulations – were most enjoyable. The team members I worked with were incredible (I learned a lot from each of them) and there was nothing more gratifying than seeing speakers (and performers) take the stage to share, illuminate and delight audiences.

Mark Lovett backstage at TEDxSanDiego 2015

Backstage at TEDxSanDiego 2015

The thought of having pursued one of these avocations has an appeal, to be world-class in a specific discipline. To be at the top of my game, complete with all the industry adulation. But I would have lost out on the diversity of learning that I’ve enjoyed. The viewing of life from so many perspectives.

So if you have a passion that drives you, then dive in, go deep, and master your craft. But if professional passion is not your cup of tea, it’s okay to just enjoy what you do, and let it feed your passion for life. In the end, it will still be a story well told.

Storytelling Newsletter