This winter, I made a significant professional title leap from Self-Organizing Groups Researcher to Community Story Wrangler.
This recognizing-and-claiming-who-you-really-are business is fun. And scary. Not that it’s a one-time deal. I seem to do it again and again. Now that I’m in my 40s, though, it’s beginning to feel more fun, because I’m getting closer to who I really am. Some moments it’s scarier—those moments when I feel I have a lot more to lose. But most days it’s easier now because I recognize that I have nothing to lose on the path to my true self except the things I don’t really want anymore anyway.
When I was in fourth grade, I won a ribbon for a story I wrote. I still remember the premise. I wove what appeared to be a sad tale of a lonely old woman, slowly moving around her lonely house, preparing for her lonely day, walking down the lonely street, going to the lonely store, and coming back to that lonely house. As the story concluded, it was revealed that she’d simply been preparing to go to her afternoon job as a clown at children’s parties. She wasn’t lonely at all. Wasn’t sad at all. The reader’s own loneliness told that part of the story. Our own connectedness and joy wrote the end. The story made me cry, so I knew it was good. The story felt like a gift I’d been given. That blue (or was it red?) ribbon I won at school was cool, but the story itself was the true prize. And I knew it.
I knew that much about storytelling at the age of 9. Adults hadn’t taught me this, not really. I just knew it.
So fast-forward a few years in my life. The middle part may sound familiar. As I got older, I often let go of the things I innately knew and loved in favor of the things I thought I was supposed to do and learn and be.
Well-paying job. Check.
Car, house. Check. Check.
More school. Check.
Better job. Check.
More stuff. Check.
Even better job. Check.
Better car, better house. Check.
But that part of the tale’s not really sad and lonely either. All the right characters showed up along the way. Through it all, some region, some thread, of myself, hung on to what I really was. Storyteller/gatherer me never left—she watched, guiding, cherry-picking skills I’d need later, and surrounding me with people I needed. Even when I was too busy to notice: perhaps especially when I was too busy to notice. You may name this region, this thread, this “I AM,” as collective intuition, or God, or the nature of the universe, or our self-organizing nature, or personal growth, or pure mid-western stubbornness, or luck. Call it whatever you like. That’s your story.