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Owning My Story

I’ve been catching up on my podcast listening lately (I get behind when I am depressed). Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead are at the top of my list at the moment, followed by Revisionist History. One of the questions Brené Brown always starts with is, “Tell us your story.” It’s really got me thinking about my story.

Owning My Story

Picture of a woman's writing in a blank book at a wooden table. On the book it says "once upon a time". Background of handwriting, with the Walks Within logo in the foreground, and the words "Owning My Story" at the top.

To be fair, this question has been on my mind for a while. Since I first listened to Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice about a year ago, this quote has been burned into my brain:

If you own the story, you can write the ending. If you deny the story, the story owns you.

Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice, Brené Brown

I can’t remember if it was in that audio, or somewhere else, that she talked about writing your whole story, from as early as you can remember. Maybe it was homework her therapist gave her? I have stories about parts of my life; various moments like flashes of light on rippling water. What lies underneath, though? What makes me tick?

Telling My Story

The concept of telling my story – or maybe not even telling it, just writing it down – fascinates me. There is so much more to my history than just the big moments. How much can I remember?

Writing it down is safe. I can fill in the blanks and forgotten details as I remember them. Patterns may start to emerge, and I will be the only one who sees them, hidden safely behind the shelter of my own pages.

Telling my story, on the other hand, is scary. Am I ready to be that vulnerable? Am I ready to expose secrets and mistakes I have held for years? What if the other players in my story are upset that I shared about them? What if you, the reader, judge me, or the other players, harshly?

There is another reason I feel compelled to explore my story. I feel like I have lost my voice. I have a message, or maybe more than one, to share, and I can’t find it. I can’t articulate it.

Message vs. Purpose

My purpose is pretty clear to me. However, my message still seems messy. I know a fair bit about a wide variety of things – my knowledge is broad, not necessarily deep.

A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.

Unknown

While that may be encouraging in some ways, that doesn’t help me if I want to write a book, or be interviewed on a podcast. Hence the reason I want to explore my story, and see what jumps out at me. How can I choose the ending if I’m not clear on the beginnings?

Do you have a good handle on your story, or your message?

Blessings,
Mary

4 thoughts on “Owning My Story”

  1. When I do trainings with local political candidates, the first thing we work on is the power of story. Story is the most compelling way to convey information and a candidate must be able to take their lived experience and boil it down into a story to share. It is not an easy task – many candidates struggle to know even where to begin but if you can tell your own story, it is so powerful.

    Beyond that, in my professional work, I talk a great deal about communities telling their own stories. A city or group of people or community MUST tell its own story, otherwise, their story is left in the hands of others and they lose a bit of their soul.

    To tell your story, to write yourself into the narrative, as Lin Manuel Miranda might say, is the greatest power of all. It is to be the Magician and it takes a lifetime of practice.

  2. When I work with candidates, they usually want to start with where they were born, how long they’ve lived somewhere, whether they are married and what they do for a living. And those are all fine tidbits, but I encourage them to start with THE MOMENT. That point in your life when the clouds parted and you realized yes, I MUST take this next step. Even if it was the wrong step – starting with that moment of clarity is a great beginning to your story.

    Then I ask them what changed and why. Suddenly you have the arc of your story. By the time you’ve got the moment of clarity and what happened next, that usually brings you to today and you are in the process of telling your story.

    (sorry for the long ramble – here’s how that looks in practice)

    So when telling my story as an example, I tell it like this.

    I grew up in Olympia, and when I was in high school, most of my class was signing up to go to war. We lived right next to the military base and it was 2003. I was a passionate young activist, writing letters and attending protests but then it happened. Congress voted, overwhelmingly, to invade Iraq. The vote was bipartisan, both parties were to blame. And as I looked through the long list of all the disappointing yes votes, I had a deep realization. Each of these congressmembers and senators started from somewhere. They were a city councilmember or a state representative. They started at the bottom rung and worked their way up.

    And if I could make sure that good people started at the bottom rung, there was a chance that next time, my classmates would not be sent off to die on some foreign shore.

    So rolled up my sleeves and dived in. I ran campaigns, recruited candidates, volunteered countless hours to try and make sure good people got into office.

    But as I worked I realized that we needed more than that. Candidates don’t magically become more competent when they get elected, they need guidance and support within the system too. So I got a job working for a small city and today, I work to help good people make their communities better in little and big ways.

    That’s my story. Obviously it is tuned as an elevator speech but the core of it remains. Stories are powerful and personal stories are the most potent power.

    I hope everyone takes your advice and thinks a little bit about telling their own story.

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