Know Why [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I’m working with a software start-up company. Upon returning from travels I found our conversation has shifted into articulating mission and vision and purpose. None of us are keen about writing these kinds of statements but the exercise is useful and necessary. Why do we do what we do? What, exactly, do we do? In that order. Why. What.

Why? It seems as if this should be an easy answer. To support other people. To support other people in doing what they need to do.

I couldn’t help but think of our experience last week. We shared our story of breaking down in Hays, Kansas. It was late in the afternoon. It was the day before my dad’s funeral in Denver. We hobbled into the dealership. They were jammed with customers and couldn’t help us. There wasn’t a rental car to be found. It looked bleak. The dealer recommended a garage on the other side of town. Davis Automotive. We limped into their parking lot. We told our tale. They moved heaven and earth to help. Why?

It was nearing the end of their day. They, too, were jammed. Yet, they helped. They took the time. They made our problem theirs to solve. They took to heart my need to make it to my dad’s funeral. My need became their personal mission.

I returned to work with a new view on mission statements. They need not be lofty or abstract. In fact, they should be visceral. Tangible. Everyday. Support other people in doing what they need to do. Why? Because they need it. Just like I need it. Or you need it. These good mechanics fix cars. That is their “what.” Their “why”: help people get where they need to go. Help people do what they need to do.

Help people.

It’s how interconnection works. My mission is, in a real way, to make your path easier just as your mission is to make my path easier. I need mechanics because I do not have that mind or skill set. They need software designers because cars are computers and they can no longer diagnose problems without them. I am an artist, a teller-of-stories. Mechanics and software designers need my mind and skill set to remind them that, beyond their role, their mission, their job, they are human beings living a universal story. Nothing they do will matter, nothing I do will matter – ever – if it is not in service to the support of others’ growth, or need, or desire or fulfillment. I cannot be fulfilled if my work does not support you. And vice versa.

So, why are these good men and women, these software engineers and entrepreneurs creating their software? They see a real need. They see people struggling. And, like good mechanics who encounter a brokenhearted son en route to his dad’s funeral in a truck that will not run, they know exactly what to do. And, they know why.

read Kerri’s blog post about SERVICE

Tell A Good Story

The Storyteller emerges from the forest. Lucy & The Waterfox

The Storyteller emerges from the forest. Lucy & The Waterfox

Over the years I’ve tried countless marginally successful ways to define for others what I do. It would seem obvious: I am a painter. I am a writer. Oh, and a theatre artist. And a consultant. And I’ve maintained a coaching practice. I’ve worked in education, the corporate world, with non-profits, and with entrepreneurs. So, in conclusion, I do too many things.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I do one thing. I deal in story.

I speak the language of story and that is confusing in any arena. What does it mean? Such a simple word, story, and yet it can mean so many different things. For instance, a truism in effective, transformational coaching is that the story doesn’t matter. By story, coaches mean the circumstance; in transformation, in the fulfillment of potential, the details of what happened – the story – are not useful. The circumstance story usually equates to blaming or endless attempts at self-fixing. The circumstance story gets in the way of growth. It is an anchor in the sea of dysfunction.

I don’t work with circumstance stories.

By story, I mean inner monologue, the-story-you-tell-yourself-about-yourself. By story, I mean the language that we use within ourselves to articulate belief. I work with the orientation story, the personal and communal mythology. Rather than get in the way, the orientation story defines the way. It defines what we see. It defines our relationship with time, with nature, with god, with community: it is the lens through which we make meaning. I help people change their lenses. Try explaining that to a CEO!

Last year, when Skip and I shuttered our business, I also shuttered my coaching practice. I ended my corporate work. Much of it came to feel like wearing an ill-fitting shirt –or a host of ill-fitting shirts – so I decided to clean out the closet. I wanted to drop all the definitions, the old forms, to make space for the new.

Last week I decided it was time to peek into the empty closet. And, as serendipity would dictate, I happened to be reading Frank Delaney’s engaging book, The Last Storyteller. On page 99 of this fictional tale, this is what I read:

“…every legend and all mythologies exist to teach us how to run our days. In kind fashion. A loving way. But there’s no story, no matter how ancient, as important as one’s own. So if we’re to live good lives, we have to tell our own story. In a good way. A way that’s decent to ourselves.”

I threw my head back and laughed. There is no story as important as one’s own. To live a good life we have to tell our own story in a good way. And then, there was this:

“…I don’t give anybody advice. All I do is release the good thinking that’s already inside of you. You’re the one who acts on your own advice, and I have the pleasure of helping you reach those thoughts about yourself. So it’s not me helping you. It’s you helping you.”

Ask me today what I do and I will say, I write. I paint. Ask me for more detail and I’ll open the book to page 99.

[to be continued]

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