There are many ways to approach narrative work – as healing, as team building, as branding and marketing. I was first introduced to its power as a little girl listening to fairy tales & folklore, and then as a teenager writing my own story, and again in my 20s reading the words of Joseph Campbell, Robert Bringhurst and Lewis Hyde. Now Narrative is my business, and the story continues to unfold.
The Call
A fellow hotdesker at the HiVE (my co-working office space in Vancouver) told me about a Narrative Leadership retreat on the Sunshine Coast. He told me about Chené Swart, a woman who looks to storytelling to transform lives and businesses. I thought this paired well with my new interest in using storytelling to resolve conflict, mediate ideas, and ultimately build leaders. So without a clue as to what I was getting myself into, I jumped on the ferry and headed North.

Janey, one of the participants, had generously offered her ocean front home as a space for us to gather. She had met Chené in Vancouver last year and had a vision of opening up her home to the stories of others. Arriving, I felt the fear start to bubble up. I am a risk taker by nature (I am, after all, running my own business!), yet somehow the fear of the unknown lingers. I introduced myself to the other 8 participants and to Chené, who had travelled all the way from South Africa to share her wisdom, and I felt the fear start to dance away. The power of storytelling is that we all have a story, and our stories likely share commonalities. It is why certain movies or books resonate with people around the world. We are tapping into shared experiences. So what do you get when you have a room full of women eager to share and listen to stories? Pure magic.

Our first night, we sat in a circle, a universal symbol for story, and introduced ourselves. I discovered I was not only the youngest (as expected), I was also the only one who did not know anyone else. That was quickly rectified as I found myself chatting with women whom, by 10pm that evening, I considered friends. Waking up the next morning to the sound of the sea and the smell of salty air reminded me why I live on the West Coast, and how my surroundings nourish my story. After a relaxed breakfast, we got right to work. We learned that the key to Narrative work is to identify a challenge. That challenge will then take the form of a story so that it can be examined from every angle, allowing you to understand where that story started, when it shows up, and how you can begin to transform it. I was a little hesitant to share my business challenges with a group of strangers, but after our dinner the night before I knew my story would be in good hands. It was an intense experience – giving that much power to a challenge – yet I trusted in the process and dove deep into the narrative.

If Saturday was all about identifying a challenge, Sunday unleashed our imaginations and allowed us to focus on the future! To be honest, after dissecting my story the day before I was feeling a little low. It is not often that we give that much attention to the obstacles we face in our business and in our life. Yet as soon as I began to re-author the story I felt the weight lifting. One of the most powerful aspects of storytelling is the act of listening. I spoke of this in my last post and this weekend reinforced my belief that listening is the key to building a strong story that invites people in rather than shutting them out. Throughout my journey that weekend, I was blessed to have a group of people listen, pause, reflect, and offer words of wisdom that continue to sit with me today.

After a powerful month of diving deep into my story, first at SVI and then at this retreat, I am excited for the knowledge I have been granted, the people I have met, and the reminder to stay the course. I am also aware, more than ever, that storytelling connects people and builds community.