What’s your legacy (story)?

 

I’ve spent the weekend writing about legacy stories, a special part of the world of storytelling, in which you look back at your past, while still moving ahead.

Often, a legacy story is one that you can pass down to another generation of people who care about you. But not necessarily. You might want to create one that’s for your eyes only, a way to acknowledge choices you made and from which you find extra meaning.

You may be thinking, “But I’m too young for a legacy!” which is another way to say, “I’m hoping to be around for a while yet.”

Taking a look at the paths your footsteps have followed and the patterns they have made along the way might help you make better decisions TODAY about how you want to live going forward.

And there may be people in your life–even a lot of them–who would appreciate knowing more about you. How I wish I could read the words of my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, etc. who passed without telling me much about their lives.

I’m still kicking myself for not asking more questions of them when they were around.

Still, you don’t have to share anything and your story might end up being for your eyes only.

A few reasons for creating a legacy story:

  1. Working on your legacy story can help you find more peace about your life.
  2. It might change how you see your life today.
  3. You may gain ideas about how you want to live in the time ahead.
  4. People who care about you will be very grateful.
  5. You can sell the screen rights for millions of dollars.  (Might be a little exaggerated…but it’s not too hard to make a video).

Your story doesn’t have to be monumental

People may shy away from thinking about a legacy story because it sounds so grandiose. But it doesn’t have to be! I’m into simple and small these days (in a world that’s anything but), and you can make your story as small and abridged as you like.

For now, forget about creating the big-deal-definitive-study of your life. (Your compelling memoir can come later…)

Think of your legacy story more like a curated show about your life rather than the big retrospective.

You display a few of your interesting pictures (scenes of your life), but you don’t have to display the full collection.

I would have been happy with any show about my Grandfather.

A close friend has been working on her “legend” story–a kind of legacy–and I’m privileged to be able to read it. She explored her past for key themes, events, and people, weaving them into a rich tapestry of metaphors, using the archetype of The Hero’s Journey as background to her work. Her legend opens up new creative possibilities for what she may do over her next thirty years.

(Factoid: did you know that legend and legacy share the same Indio-European root, “leg,” meaning “to collect, gather,” related to “to speak” and “to gather words, to pick out words.”)

How you can start

Here’s one way NOT to start: don’t ask, “What’s my legacy story?”  The question is too big and too vague.

Instead, see if you can remember memories of specific incidents and people who have moved you. Your heart is a better story-teller than your head working alone. You want to engage your feelings and senses rather than your editorial brain–the one that likes to polish and puff up a “good story” about your life.

While you may have a sleek version of a story you use for job interviews (or if someone actually wants to listen to you for more than five minutes at a networking event), you don’t need to add shine to your legacy.

Your life, as you have lived it, is plenty interesting without extra gloss. In fact, part of what makes your legacy story interesting is finding out where you have a few warts hidden, and how you may have screwed up, fallen (metaphorically), skinned your knee, and recovered.

My friend and colleague Juliet Bruce has helped many people from different walks of life find their stories using the Hero’s Journey framework. She suggests the following:

“Ask a person not to remember, not to talk in generalities, but to ask story questions about their lives. What was your wedding day like, tell me about your wedding day? Very specific scenes in their lives. What music played around the birth of your child? Get people into their senses, their sense memories and whole beautiful stories of decades emerge.”

Juliet invites people to use the Hero’s Journey as a powerful, archetypal framework through which to look at their legacies.

“Using The Hero’s Journey paradigm people find that their lives were not a waste, in fact, they were very beautiful lives no matter how ordinary they were. They made choices that were the best choices they could make in the moment. They endured, they carried on, and they made it to this age.

And now, faced with the frailties of the human body and sometimes the mind, [particularly if they are older]  they still have great wisdom and a sense of continuity to share with younger people.”

Your legacy story can reveal what is fundamental and good about you, and what you did right while allowing plenty of space for the flawed parts as well.

You did enough

As someone with a noisy inner critic who sits on my shoulder like a monkey throwing off banana peels and wise-ass comments, like, “Who do you think you are?” and “You haven’t done enough,” the idea of acknowledging both the good and the difficult parts is daunting.

I gained hope watching the closing scene in the film Schindler’s List. Otto Schindler, after saving the lives of so many Jews who worked in his factory during the Holocaust, crumples before his beneficiaries and wails that he didn’t do enough.

At least my feelings of “I didn’t do enough” puts me in good company.

Your legacy story is a way that you can claim that you did do enough.

If you want to explore this more, I have questions you can ask, as well as a cool exercise for legacy-searching called “The Wise Counselor Exercise.” They’re in a little ebook I just wrote called  “Looking Back, Moving Forward: a Guide to Crafting Your Legacy Story.” Drop me a note if you’d like to receive a beta copy.

For now, just remember: your story does matter–and there’s someone who’s longing to hear more about it…

And that might even be you!

Here’s to your unique, waiting-to-be-told legacy story,

What community do you dream of?

 

 

 

Sixty plus years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed about the creation of the Beloved Community.

“Our goal is to create a beloved community and 
this will require a qualitative change in our souls 
as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”

“The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends.”

Beloved Community was built on the idea of inclusiveness, in which people share in the wealth of the earth, and “poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.” (From The King Center.)

This past weekend, I traveled to an event to talk about beloved communities, narrowly missing the latest bombshell (literally) of terrible news. How far we still are from a society free from discrimination, prejudice, and racism!

In the beautiful spaces and forested grounds of The Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island, Washington, I attended an event, The Magic of Thriving Communities: Arts, Culture and Deep Listening, sponsored by Thriving Communities. 

I went to listen to stories, and I heard many on the first day of the event. The team of Richard Geer and Qinghong Wei from Story Bridge shepherded us through the process of creating a piece of theatre in a day, based on our stories.

The stories I heard pierced my heart. I heard accounts of discrimination and what gentrification is doing to The Central District, Seattle’s historically black neighborhood.

Pastor Pat Wright, founder of the internationally acclaimed Total Experience Gospel Choir, talked about her fear of losing her home, the only remaining black-owned house left on the block where Pastor Pat has lived for years. Affluenza and Amazonia have taken their toll on Seattle. Neighborhoods are being taken apart and reassembled to match Seattle’s booming new look and many lower-income people are being forced to leave the city.

Where is our Beloved Community?

In an individuated, separated world, problems of gentrification can be set aside if they don’t affect us directly (“that’s too bad, but it’s not about me”) so that we can pursue our busy lives.

But once I’ve heard what these trends are doing to people I care about, my capacity to distance myself dissolves. In each of the three Story Bridge events that I’ve attended, I’ve listened to stories from people very different from me and I’ve fallen in love. Once I begin to carry their stories within me, I drop the distance.

Fortunately, and quite intentionally, throughout the weekend we were buoyed by music, movement, poetry, song, and story. The arts and music opened my heart and made it possible for me to listen to the pain expressed in some of the stories, and still feel joy and find reason for hope.

When Pastor Pat conducted a special performance of The Total Experience Gospel Choir, our meeting room exploded with hope and spirit. I doubt there was a dry eye among us when the room burst forth spontaneously into the “Negro National Anthem.”

Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring.
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won…

Dr. King’s Beloved Community was not utopic. One of our group members, Dr. Gus Newport, former mayor of Berkeley, California, knew Dr. King and has spent his long life working to fulfill Dr. King’s vision, working in many diverse communities.

There’s still so far to go.

As for me, as much as I know that action is called for, I am letting new perspectives simmer in me. I don’t have answers.

But I can bear witness.

I’m struggling to comprehend white privilege. White privilege is one of those phenomena that once you start looking for it, you find everywhere. I was blind to how much I took for granted and what a free pass the color of my skin was. Not so much anymore.

[Small detail: as I searched for photos for this post. I googled images of community. Up came lovely photos of circles of hands joined together, all white. This isn’t acceptable–and it hurts.]

But feeling guilty or contrite isn’t what’s being asked of me. Better to spend my precious energy learning about the patterns that keep the Beloved Community at bay.

As one participant said, “You have to see the game.”

Over the weekend, I needed to move, breathe, dance, sing, and join with others to gather the strength I need to face the daily assault of difficult news, while still finding evidence of hope.

I want to keep listening to those whose lives are so different, but still connected, to mine.

How about you? What kind of community are you building? Or dreaming of?

What calls you to act? Witness? Or be?

We all have different paths.

We’re all in this together.

With great thanks to Jerry Millhon, Anne Stadler, Richard Geer, Qinghong Wei and the many others whose commitment and effort created this event. And to my new friends, the participants.

What about your work do you love, love, love…

It’s been a hard week. I lost a bid to do work I was perfect for. Ouch! It’s hard to step back and take a rejection objectively.

A good friend reminded me that losing a proposal bid is rarely personal–but more often about politics and preferences. I later found out that I hadn’t really lost–the organization just decided to do the work internally. But I only learned this after spending a day scraping myself off the floor.

Telling me not to take things personally is like telling a Springer Spaniel not to chase a squirrel. Good advice, but…

On my little spiral down into questioning everything, I began to wonder why I do my work. Fortunately, that night I had an online meeting with a group of three other women, super-talented artist/entrepreneurs. When it was my turn to share, the last thing I wanted to do was talk about my work. Viewing my body language on the computer screen, I saw someone who looked cramped and collapsed, like a moth trying to squeeze her way back into a cocoon.

My voice sounded like I had been swatted. But as I talked about why I thought I would have been so good for the project, I said with some animation, “What I love, love, love about my work is watching people tell their stories in a circle and come alive.”

Bingo. Something happened. I started to come alive. Pepped up. Gestured. Started to fly again.

One of my wise colleagues picked up on this and noticed that my expression, “What I love, love, love…” had helped turn things around.

She suggested an exercise that I pass on to you.

Love, love, love: an exercise

There are days, like the one I just experienced, when asking yourself what you like to do or even love to do doesn’t cut it.

It’s so easy to sound reasonable (yawn.)

But when you ask yourself what you love, love, love to do, you aren’t asking for reasonableness. You’re asking for passion, energy, and sparkle. You’re asking about work that is so irrefutably yours that you would do it without being paid–although hopefully you’ll be paid a lot because you’re so good at it.

This is GREAT practice for writing about yourself or creating an “About” page for your website (see below).

What about your work do you love, love, love?

(I did the exercise thinking about work but you could do it about other areas of your life as well.)

Write it out. If you are unsure about what you’re writing, speak the words out loud and check out the energy. Can you hear excitement?

Gone was the jargon designed to look good. Gone were the words like efficiency, effectiveness, value-added, strategic, or results-oriented. What came to me instead were real examples of working at my best and helping others.

From my list:

  • I love, love, love guiding a group to tell stories and then watching them be moved by each other.
  • I love, love, love helping someone develop a story that leaves her or him feeling proud and competent.
  • I love, love, love helping a team get out of its own way.
  • I love, love, love performing a story and hearing from audience members about how they were moved.
  • I love, love, love watching board members tell stories about why they’re committed to their organization.
  • I love, love, love project-planning on a big, clean whiteboard.
  • I love, love, love supporting someone to take a risk to speak up.
  • I love, love, love writing posts, and seeing the chimp from Mailchimp give me the high five that lets me know the post is on the way to you.

My list goes on, but I’ll spare you.

In describing my work, if  I’m tempted to use a word like empowerment, I think about a specific example and remember the look in someone’s eyes. Thinking about the story always grounds my words.

If you have your own website with an “About” page, this exercise will take you into the heart of what you do and invigorate your copy. Spare yourself the weighty, well-written, important-sounding words I used for too many years. They keep people from feeling your special greatness.

Once you’ve tapped into the energy of love, love, love, you can edit your copy accordingly. You don’t have to include those words to convey the freshness and passion you’ve discovered. People will feel you more.

And remember what they love, love, love about you.

What will you stand for?

 

What do you stand for?

Isn’t it time to get a little bolder, to speak up for the truths you hold in your heart, challenging the inequities you see around you? You don’t need to be on the streets, or on the frontlines of the revolution to have your own potent message. The stand I’m referring to isn’t about regurgitating political positions or philosophical doctrines, but sharing the truth of your own embodied experience, the wisdom you have gained through living.

Speaking up doesn’t require a megaphone or even an audience. You can hold a subtle message in your heart and when the time comes speak out. Your voice may be gentle, or you may roar like a lion. There are many ways to take a stand.

I believe that standing for what you believe in is one of the keys to a long life.

If you want to see a beautiful example of standing for something, watch Oprah Winfrey’s speech to the 2018 Golden Globes. It’s getting a lot of press so you may have seen it. I could watch it again and again, just to soak in some of her prowess and power.

 

For those who study and teach presentation skills, as I do, Oprah’s remarks demonstrate what a great speech looks like. She starts with a story; acknowledges her audience; uses her powerful, resonate voice in varied ways; weaves emotion throughout; and moves us on an emotional arc that ends with a relevant and poignant story. She closes with a compelling call to action.

All of that represents fantastic technique. But the greatness of the speech came from how she shared her heart, rather than the technique she used. She won me with three special factors:

  • She owned who she was. There was no apology, no thinking small. She knows the power she wields. Oprah is Oprah–and she stood tall on that stage.
  • She embodied what she was saying. There wasn’t a gratuitous or abstract word in her presentation.You knew that she had lived or witnessed what she spoke about. She held the truths she knew in her heart, in her body, as well as in her head. Listening to her voice, you felt a credibility that extended way beyond her celebrityhood.
  • She took a stand and inspired us to do the same.

The issue of the hour (or the year) at Hollywood’s Golden Globes was #MeToo, a hashtag that became a movement, emerging from the brave testimonies of women who dared to reveal how they had been sexually maltreated over the years by men in power. Oprah spoke right to the issue and acknowledged the courage of women, in media and throughout the culture, who dared to speak out. She addressed the courage of celebrities and also of the laborers, the forgotten, and the poor, black women whose histories haven’t been publicized, but who have endured atrocities. She made it clear that she stood for social justice, the empowerment of women and the end of sexual misconduct.

Oprah is undoubtedly the most powerful woman in America. Unlike some of her male peers who rival her in wealth and influence, yet do not speak out, Unlike some of her male peers who rival her in wealth and influence, yet do not speak out, Oprah knows how to use her influence and fame to shed light on issues, to offer support to those who have been denied a voice, and to encourage us all to take action.

I hope many of us, women and men, will be inspired by Oprah to stand up for what matters most to us. This is key to staying vital–at any age. There’s so much that needs to be addressed in our culture; all of our voices are needed.

It’s time to let your words be heard. Take a stand on the issues you care about.

When it comes to changing the world, in your particular way, it’s time to say,“Me, too.”

Weaving community–through stories

weaving shuttles and multi-colored yarn in a basket

Last week, I had the privilege of once again participating in a Story Bridge event in Seattle. A very diverse group came together to share and perform our stories as a way of exploring issues facing Seattle’s historic African-American neighborhood, the Central District, now challenged by gentrification.

In an early exercise we each shared a story with a partner, in response to a story prompt to talk about a time when we rose to an occasion in our lives. My partner-in-story was a tall African-American man who offered a poignant story about surviving a health crisis. I offered him my story about moving to New York City, lonely and afraid, only to be mugged during my first week living in Brooklyn.  As I started to share my story, I looked at my partner and wondered if it would be offensive to mention that the assailant who had pointed a gun at my head was a tall African-American man. But my partner, who had lived for years in Harlem, listened with warm attention, and said, “That’s terrible, How did that feel?” And once again, through the magic of Story Bridge, I found myself feeling held and supported, and falling in love with this partner whom I had only met thirty minutes earlier.

What a gift it is to be able to see in the lives of people whose lives have been so different than ours!

When I can’t be participating in a live experience like Story Bridge, another way I learn about people’s lives is by reading memoirs. Unlike an autobiography, a memoir gives us a slice of a life, not the whole pie. A memoir is an author’s attempt to make meaning out of the shards, scraps, and stories of her or his life.

I’ve heard it said that there are too many memoirs being written today–I disagree. That’s like saying there are too many stories! Memoirs offer a way to travel into lives we would never otherwise know.

Here are a few memoirs I’ve read recently

My Life So Far by Jane Fonda

Love her or hate her, Jane Fonda’s has had a lot of influence throughout her seventy-plus years. Who would have known that behind the curtain, she was a very vulnerable woman, born to a father who could only express himself emotionally when he acted. Fonda ended up subordinating herself to men, making some bad decisions, and only beginning to feel like she could really be herself when she turned sixty. This isn’t a “poor me” story, which would have been ridiculous from a woman with such a global presence. Fonda transported me back into memories of my own youth, growing up in the 50’s and then at college during the Vietnam war when social change was exploding everywhere. Fonda, like all of us humans, is complicated: a woman who was a sex-object in some of her films, but also a feminist; a social justice advocate who married and divorced a former radical and then married a multi-millionaire; a bulimic who brought health and fitness to millions of American women. Today, she continues acting but spends much of her time helping young, indigent women in Georgia. She’s definitely not done yet.

Born a Crime  by Trevor Noah

When Trevor Noah took over The Daily Show on TV’s Comedy Central, he began as “Not Jon Stewart” (the famous former host). Reading Noah’s memoir, Born a Crime, I see Trevor Noah now as his own guy and a great choice for the show. In his book, Noah brings humor and history together, offering us a view into South Africa’s stratified society during the apartheid and post-apartheid periods–as seen by someone whose mixed-race status and education insured that he didn’t fit in anywhere. Unlike the satirical books authored by Daily Show alumni Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart that flamed and faded, Noah’s book is built to last: funny, gritty, and worth reading.

Trying to Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel by Nicolaia Rips

Who’d think that a high school student could write such a magical tale of growing up in New York City’s famous Chelsea Hotel, home to artists, derelicts, poets, and prostitutes? The setting is fascinating, her writing fresh and engaging. And, as quirky as life in the Chelsea was, Rips spins a story that reminds us of what it was l like to never-quite-fit-in at school and in our pre-adolescent years. I was captivated!

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

How do you take a truly terrible childhood, and bring it to life without trashing the people who should have taken care of you but didn’t? Jeanette Walls does this in The Glass Castle. She begins the book with an opening scene of her, as a successful adult, happening upon her mother dumpster diving in New York City. I was riveted and continued so throughout the book. This book has been already made into a movie–but I wouldn’t want to have missed her heartfelt and gripping prose.

Another way to learn from the power of storytelling is to write about your own life, whether it be in a book, journal, or on the back of napkins. In writing, we learn that stories aren’t static and we can reshape the narratives we grew up with.

Whether it be through live community events like Story Bridge, memoirs we read, or our own writings, we create a rich tapestry of community as our stories are woven together.

Create a world. In six words.

Remember when you were in grade school and you returned from your summer break, knowing that your new teacher would ask you, once again, to write a story called My Summer Vacation.

Why not write a story now that can convey the essence of your summer, in only six words?

You know that images can say so much, and it takes very few words to evoke an image.

But don’t take my word for it, have some fun and try it!

The assignment

Here’s the assignment I give to managers in my class on Leading Through Story: Write a story in six words. It will test your ability to create an image in a few words–and it’s really easy. No poetry or great art required. Hopefully, it can stir the imagination of your readers, regardless of whether they see exactly what you see.

Here are a few six-word stories from my summer:

Buffoon mocks buffoon. Scary. “Rocket man.”

Too much: Drought, Northwest. Floods, Texas.

My book. Moving forward. I hope.

Seattle housing prices rise. Teachers leaving.

Dahlia glows. Hope survives drought.

Mom lives. In hospice. Two years.

Your turn! Have fun. Then,

Please share. Your words. With me.

Here’s to fall!

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