A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear our former First Lady, Michelle Obama, speak at a conference. She is a remarkable human being and someone with much to teach us.
She really got my attention when she started talking about authenticity. She explained that authenticity is really about owning and loving your story (this is my interpretation of what she said, not her exact words).
This struck a chord with me. In the work that Joe and I do with authenticity, we start with self-awareness. For us, this means helping individuals gain clarity on their values, beliefs, and intentions. This is important work and it’s powerful to have clarity.
But, owning and loving our story may be even more important. Our values and beliefs are a reflection of our story. The journey we’ve traveled over the course of our lives and the experiences we’ve had play a vital role in shaping who we are today and how we view the world around us.
My own story defines who I am today. I grew up in rural, middle America and still call it home today. My first marriage ended in divorce, which prepared me to do it right with my wife today. I first became a father as a step-dad and then our family grew to three kids. I have failed friends in moments they really counted on me. I have accomplished some really cool things in my career, but I have also failed in starting my own business more than once.
My story was sometimes joyous and sometimes painful, sometimes triumphant and sometimes a disastrous. But, it’s my story and I am who I am today as a result of this wild and wonderful journey.
There are parts of my story that I allow to define me (I am a Midwesterner and I am proud of that). And there are other parts that I will not allow to define me (I have failed many times at many things, but I am not a failure).
For victims of abuse, I’ve heard it said that part of the healing process is taking ownership of your story, because either you own your story or it owns you.
I think this is true for everyone and we can all find healing and growth by following this advice.
There was another thing Michelle Obama said that really stuck with me. As she was responding to a question about where she found her strength and confidence, she said it started when she was growing up. She described that she has parents who “loved her story.” They embraced her and loved her for who she was and who she was becoming. She felt fully accepted.
What a beautiful gift to give your child as a parent.
And, maybe this represents a powerful new way to frame the work involved in building an inclusive culture where people can bring their whole selves to work. What if we learned how to love the story of every employee? What if our employees came to feel like the most important people at work loved their story? Not just the “work related” stuff, but the whole story.
How might that change our relationship with our work?
Take some time to reflect on your story.
- What are your most vivid memories?
- What have been your happiest or best moments?
- What have been your worst or most painful moments?
- What relationships have been more important and have had the biggest impact on your life?
Do you own your story, or does your story own you?