By Holly LeMaster

This week I was invited to join a client in a retrospective storytelling circle. It was an honor and a privilege to be included with the members of a team who have been through some great trials and tribulations over the past three years (and what team hasn’t?). The intention of this sacred time was to reflect on our individual and shared experiences, and to celebrate a significant success. 

This is something we’re not especially good at in our culture. Once we achieve a big milestone, we are too often likely to just keep our heads down and plod forward on the next project, toward the next big goalpost, slogging through the density. In support of our resilience and well-being, it’s important to remember to pick our heads up and look around, to increase our awareness through a wider lens of perspective. Especially if we do that together.

Telling our stories to one another is a powerful process that connects us to our humanity and our history. Consider our ancestors who regularly gathered to share in the oral traditions—a form of teaching, entertainment, connection, and even documentation as the stories were passed down through generations. Recounting and sharing our own stories, we may remember forgotten details, evoke the feelings we experienced in the moment, or have profound insights as we re-consider the events in a new way from a fresh, perhaps more mature, viewpoint. Through telling our stories we are making meaning—both for ourselves and for those who are listening. Stories can make abstract or difficult ideas clear and add an element of fun and intrigue that lingers long after the facts or data have been forgotten. The vulnerability required to share one’s true self can foster trust and a greater sense of belonging and connection.

Our group gathered this week for the storytelling circle with animated curiosity—maybe even a little bit of giddy uncertainty. This was because nobody, except the sage group leader, knew exactly why we were there or what we were going to do. When we settled in, she literally began the conversation with, “Once upon a time…” We loosely held the chronology and throughline of the shared experience of the covid-19 pandemic and an important project that spanned that timeframe. While each member of the circle had robust connection points into the team, the work, and the organization, each person also had a wholly unique experience of their own. We organically moved through the narrative, each person bringing their voice to the circle when they were moved to speak. We felt excitement, had loads of laughter, moments of quiet reflection, and even some grief and tears. There were moments of, “Oh, right! I remember that now.” And moments of, “Oh, wow—really? I never knew you were going through that.” It was healing. Enlightening. Energizing. Celebratory. We had insights, we learned more about one another, and we grew together as a tribe through this shared experience. 

Taking this moment to pause and reflect was an invaluable investment in the team’s sense of belonging to one another, to their work and their mission. Their leader, indeed, demonstrated deep wisdom in creating the space for this crucial process. And as this team continues to move together toward their mutual goals into the unknowable emerging future, they will be fortified by knowing, and having shared in, one another’s stories.