I learned early in life the value and impact of choosing to steer my own story.
Growing up in a deeply dysfunctional family I witnessed first hand the burden and damage of an untold story. My father, a Vietnam Vet who served with an elite special ops corps on highly classified missions was forbidden to share his experiences with anyone, not even those with whom he served. This untold story led to severe PTSD, chronic depression, several suicide attempts and he died when he was 47. I was 22. My older brother coped with the pain through alcohol and drugs, an alcoholic by age 15, he is now 26 years sober because he too chose a new story. My mother coped by often living in denial and creating her own reality. Today she is also living a different story: one in a healthy new narrative in which she feels at peace.
As for me, I chose a path out of the darkness through finding ways to share my truth, first through theatre and then the power of Storytelling to heal not only myself but offer a path for others too.
If you want all the details of how Story has changed my life and shifted my narrative:
from what I learned about the importance of Story in medicine after interviewing 1000 women during an ovarian cancer study
to my adventure risking it all and selling my home and possessions to create/facilitate a volunteer literacy project in Belize
to solo trips to Haiti, Ghana and Kenya with the goal of shifting the narrative from pity/poverty to focusing on the amazing stories of innovation and potential
to infiltrating the World Bank:
If you want the short list click here: CV
The Power of Story to save lives in Medicine: how story is connected to cancer research.
As Lead Research Interviewer on the SHARE Ovarian Cancer Study at the University of Pennsylvania, I did not expect Story to play such a huge role. But it did:
In the 64 pages of questions to identify commonalities within cancer patient medical history with the hope of revealing clues for early diagnosis, the most valuable question was, "Tell the Story of how you were diagnosed." In their answers we discovered a pattern: most of the women had known for years that something was wrong within their bodies, but many weren't listened to or taken seriously. They were told, "it's all in your head," or "there's nothing wrong with you." Only to end up with a Stage IV cancer diagnosis and a life expectancy of 1 to 5 years.
Hearing the stories while interviewing 1000 of the 1500 women in the study planted the seed: the deep and sometimes life saving value of listening to someone's story.
What I learned working at a rural library:
That grant funded job ended and I accidentally landed a job as Children's Librarian and Head of Children's Services at a small town library in southeastern PA. I was hired on the spot after the Director heard me reading children's books aloud to a friend. It was a blast! The task: expand the current program which I did with glee: within 4 years from 2000 to 12000 youth attending programs. My goal, to steer them into a world bigger than their backyard and to introduce the idea that their own Story could be one beyond their current borders.
What you can learn by risking it all:
2005 I went beyond my own comfort zone: I left that full-time job to become a full-time Storyteller. A month after leaving my job I received an invitation to bring my skill set working with children to serve and bridge the literacy gap in Belize.
I took a leap of faith: I sold my home and most of my possessions to create and facilitate a volunteer project: Literacy Outreach Belize. The project grew beyond my wildest dreams: I traveled to 75 villages and donated programs for 33,000 students and trained 800 teachers how to use their own indigenous legends to teach first person creative writing in their schools. I learned so much about the value of listening to and learning from the locals, adapting and evolving the program to truly meet their needs. In 2017 my book: A Bridge of Stories: Risking it all to connect classrooms and culture in Belize was published.
2008, I moved to New York City discovered Couchsurfing and Free Hugs and learned the value of story to connect to strangers and see our similarities and learn from rather than hold any fear about our differences.
2010 I rediscovered my love of performing: I shared stories and workshops while Couchsurfing for 2.5 months across Europe.
2012 An impromptu audition for a 14 city, 12 country TED Talks Talent Search led to being a finalist representing the United States. Here’s the 5 minute talk:
2013 to 2015 I performed in Storytelling Festivals in Colombia, Poland, Kenya, Romania and Iran where I was the 1st American Storyteller accepted into the Kanoon International Storytelling Festival: One Man's Kindness.
I was obsessed with the power of story to connect us beyond perceived borders: whether physical or imagined.
I took several solo volunteer trips to Kenya, Ghana and Haiti where I interviewed local people about their own initiatives, innovations and projects to positively impact their communities. I sought to shift the narrative away from the often limited view of the developing world; one where poverty and pity seem to be the focus rather than the incredible innovation occurring.
Listening and collecting stories from widowed women, student entrepreneurs, seamstresses, librarians, and taxi drivers I learned about tenacity, resilience and perseverance. The collected stories were shared both online and in two published paperbacks.
2015 My 3 year intention of infiltrating the World Bank and steering their story to one with more humanity became reality. I'm honored to serve at Storytelling Consultant and as one of the highest rated facilitators (6.8 out of 7) in the organization. I've taught 1000+ staff from 190 countries Presentation Skills and how to tell the human story within their data.
And here I am today, literally steering my story by bringing the healing power of Storytelling to serve those struggling with their inner narrative so they can fully step into their true selves, see and share their gifts and skills and feel more empowered and at ease.
One of my focus audiences is female survivors of childhood trauma because they are carrying stories of themselves that do not serve them to live fully in the present embracing their complete and true amazing selves.
My goal is to bring this program to anyone who needs it, to show through my own life journey and the tips, tools and techniques in this program that trauma in your past need not define you today, it is but a chapter in your entire Story. Yes, that experiences informs your life, but it doesn’t need to be the end, it can be a beginning to a new narrative: so, let’s Steer Your Story together.