During the lunch break at an online storytelling workshop I was teaching at the PBS station in Boston, a filmmaker turned to me and asked, “So, how about you? Are you a producer?”
Shocked, I let out a nervous laugh. “No,” I said.
“Huh,” she replied. “That surprises me. You seem like someone with stories to tell.”
That was over ten years ago. Since then, I’ve learned that I am, indeed, a producer — that in addition to helping other people tell their stories (my company, Good Things Consulting, provides content and communication strategy), I’m a storyteller in my own right. I’ve discovered that the artistic pursuits I thought were “just” the extracurricular activities of my youth are in fact core parts of my identity, and that without them (writing and acting, to be specific), I feel angry. Depressive. Small.
When I first owned up to my artistic identity as an adult, I assumed it would have to be entirely separate from my identity as a consultant. I blogged and performed improv comedy in the time I could find outside of working. Over the years, however, I’ve realized that the more I tell my own stories, the better I get at helping other people tell theirs.
It’s not just that flexing my storytelling muscles makes them stronger across the board. I think honoring the artist in me would make me better and happier at my job even if my chosen profession were accounting or something else completely unrelated to communication. Because on a deeper level, I think that when we put on our own oxygen mask on first — when we feed our passions and are true to our gifts as human beings — we are more available to help those we seek to serve, whether that’s our families, our friends, or the larger world.
Through my company, I help people and organizations I believe in figure out the stories they need to tell to get people interested in what they’re doing. I plan, write and edit content. I find this work deeply, sincerely fulfilling, a way to bridge my innate talents (and my experience) with my clients’ need to increase the reach and impact of their work.
And yet, no matter how much I love my job, if I’m not writing and/or performing, it all starts to feel empty. I get lost.
I wish I could remember the name of that filmmaker who pulled me aside all those years ago. And I hope to pay her gift forward by seeing someone in my life who has not yet seen herself, and telling her what I see.
If there’s a small voice inside you saying, “I miss writing/painting/dancing/[fill in the blank]”… take my word for it: The toll it takes on you to NOT do it, is worse than the challenge of doing it. As I learned from a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, we tend to avoid art-making because we think it only counts if it’s on a grand scale…but in truth, just taking 5-10 minutes a day to make something — a sketch, a quick song on your guitar, the beginning of a poem — can be truly transformative. Or, as Austin Kleon counsels, make something small and share it every day.
I hope you’ll give it a shot.
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