What’s Your Origin Story?

Super heroes aren’t the only ones with an origin story. Chances are if you work in an established organization, you’re familiar with its own story – who the organization’s founders were, what was the idea that sparked it all… Often it’s an idea written on the back of a napkin, which may even be framed on display somewhere in the organization’s headquarters! And such narratives can be appealing for prospective employees and customers alike.

You may not think of yourself having an origin story. After all, you probably weren’t bitten by a radioactive spider, or sent from another planet as a baby. But you didn’t come to life as fully formed as you are today. What were the pivotal moments in your life that empowered you and shaped you to be the person you are now? What hard experiences brought challenging emotions or pain that have contributed to who you are now in ways that you wish they hadn’t? What were the moments that carried nuance and complications – mixed emotions that are hard to think about and separate in any way that is helpful? And what cultural experiences do you share with others in your identity groups that those outside your groups wouldn’t understand?

Culturally and individually, we all have an origin story. And each one is unique. While your work team (or any other group to which you belong) has a single origin story, each member of that team has a different origin story than you do. Without recognizing that, we can make assumptions that – no matter how well-intentioned – can be inflict harm and pain, both to the team and to those people with different origin stories than your own. A throwaway reference to an expensive meal can be painful to hear for a teammate who lives paycheck-to-paycheck. A story told by a white team member about how annoying it was to be pulled over by the police for speeding can be up trauma for a Black team member whose experiences of such moments could feel much more threatening.

So how can this be relevant for us all this week as we work in our teams?

This Week’s Tips:

  1. Think about your own origin story. Think through pivotal moments or experiences that made you who you are. Rather than creating a full autobiography, bring to mind 3-5 pivotal experiences and write them down. Spend time reflecting on them and share them with someone you trust.
  2. Be aware that others’ stories are different. Our experiences shape who we are. You may not be able to know how others’ experiences are different, just as a fish cannot be aware of life outside the water they swim in; the majority of our experiences are the water we swim in, and wouldn’t have come to mind when writing your origin story. So whenever you find yourself making assumptions about others’ origin stories, just be aware that others’ stories are different than your own.
  3. If appropriate, offer a space for people to share some of their origin stories. This should be set up as voluntary, respecting each individual’s level of comfort, and with group agreements ahead of time to ensure a safe and brave space (we are happy to help with this – contact us for support!).
  4. Look for points of unique diversity and diverse unity. What do you hear in others’ stories that differs from your own and gives you a new perspective? What do you hear that is common among people’s stories and speaks to a larger, deeper perspective? How can each of those be helpful as you move forward as individuals and as a group?

If you try this week’s tips, let us know how it goes in our Facebook group – we’d love to hear your experiences.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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