An Imperfect Story

(Reflections on my year as a student of The School for Social Entrepreneurs 2011, excerpt from Finding My Tribe – Stories of Melb2 students)

When I speak about Beyond Words, I often use the metaphor of a painting. It goes something like: We all have lights and darks and during times of illness and impending loss we tend to focus on the dark bits (the illness or what will be lost). What the process of telling and reflecting on one’s story does is that it helps us to step away from the painting – to see the dark areas in the context of the greater picture or story of our lives and what has been gained. To see the good and hard times as colour and to appreciate the contrasts. But what kind of story does someone tell whose business is to help others tell theirs?

This is actually not as easy as you might expect.

“Step away from the painting!” as I stand transfixed, face one inch away from a dark blob on the canvas of my life. Haha

You see, through being a volunteer biographer in the original service, I developed many skills like listening and empathy to help others attain some perspective and a greater awareness and connection. I prided myself on my gentle approach with clients – but what about being gentle with myself?

Somebody Embody

Am I ‘embodying’ my project? This was a question that would regularly come up for me. How could I be working on a project that embodies self-acceptance, awareness, celebration and relationship when I felt in my heart that I was struggling at being self aware, not accepting of my faults, not coming to terms with ‘mistakes’ and disconnected to the relationships most important to me –my relationship to myself included! Huh?

Battle with myself

I may not have known it at the time, but it has been a journey to not only find the strength, belief and confidence within but to find ways to be more gentle on myself, to come to terms with who I am and to really care for myself. Helping my father write his biography was one step in reminding me about why I am doing the project, and I resolve now to know my ‘danger and comfort zones’ and prioritise the things that nourish and sustain me.

To have had this personal battle in the company of such like-minded, passionate and compassionate people has truly been a privilege.

When the student is ready the teacher will appear

I didn’t know there would be so many.

In our year together I have witnessed. I have shared in the power of: vulnerability, pertubation, grace, intuition and insight, values, enjoying the ride, inevitability, the group, action, letting go, friendship and presence. I have also shared in the growth of others and they have seen it in me.

When I have presented at conferences I talk about the process of storytelling and how stories can evoke meanings and emotions in those listening or reading. It’s true. In your hopes, fears, frustrations and achievements I have seen my own.

I am not a freak
I am not an imposter
I am not alone

Surprise!

You’re having a zen moment during a pitch to Macquarie
You’re actually surprised by your own father’s story
You’re having a heart to heart with a stranger in Newcastle
You’re now in a meeting with two volunteers looking to you to lead them
You just asked the CEO of a Victorian peak body if they’d be a Board Member and they said ‘Yes’
You’ve just been endorsed by three industry peak bodies
You just met your guru on leadership Meg Wheatley
You just got incorporated. You just got DGR status
You didn’t get the grant you wanted but instead got one for Awesomeness
You surprised yourself! (You inspired yourself)

The beginning at the end

I’ve seen it before. I recognised it in that moment.

A smile that appears when someone is talking to you. It says, “How AWESOME is it that I’m able to be doing what I do!? Almost a smile to themselves. It says, “How AMAZING is it that I’m able to do what I love!?” How cool is it that I’m here telling you about it!” And I’m doing it.” And when you see this you can’t help but smile yourself. It’s infectious.

Standing by the bar at the Panama Dining Room on Smith St I had met someone who loved what they were doing.

I had found a home.

Being a volunteer biographer taught me to listen from the heart. SSE has helped me to speak from it. Through SSE I have walked along side others who care and believe enough to make it happen in their own way. I learnt to learn through action and my peers, instead of books. I have tried to transform my attitude to making mistakes – more to be done here! (mistakes that is… and lessons!)

I’ve tried to be more comfortable with not knowing everything. To be comfortable with uncertainty, the unknown and imperfection – to make the path by walking. I have found and lost and found the courage to be myself. To trust myself. To be okay with imperfect. I must remember to enjoy the ride!

You have all been my teachers – reminding me that the answers and strength is within if I choose to seek it. Thank you to all of you who have seen me, accepted me, challenged me and supported me (and your hugs are awesome too!). You’ve been incredibly generous in sharing so much of yourselves and the important work you do.

Francis

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