The stories we tell ourselves
It is the Friday before a Grand Final like no other.
I’ve attended the last fifty Grand Finals in a row (including a couple of replays) but will miss this one.
I spent my first Grand Final crying my eyes out, way back in 1972 as a young fella when Richmond got smashed by Carlton who kicked a record score. The Tigers came into the game as clear favourites, and it was all too much for this kid. The game didn’t go to plan.
I had fallen in love with the game, and the team, pretty much before I’d fallen in love with anything else, from the first game I’d seen live only a year earlier.
My father, Alan was CEO (then called Secretary) of the Richmond Football Club, “Ruthless Richmond” as they were known.
Awake or asleep, the experience of the first game I watched would never be lost, images, moments and people remain vivid and prevailing, and in colour, sound and smell.
After losing that Grand Final, I became aware that the game was not merely background; it dictated the rhythm of our household, its energy and attention, its self-esteem, its identity.
And the game became my identity, my story.
I learnt a lesson then, one of which I was reminded many times over the next half-century:
“The game doesn’t give up its rewards easily.”
I cannot think of anything worthwhile in life that doesn’t have the potential to disappoint in a way that stays with you.
It is where personal growth comes from, but only if you allow it.
What are the stories that have defined you?
This edition of “In the Arena” focuses on the stories that have shaped us.
Mine and harvest your stories
There is such power in understanding our story.
Three years ago, Richmond FC introduced the much-discussed Triple H sessions, in which a single player stands and shares his story of a ‘Hero, Hardship and Highlight’ from their life.
While there can be too much emphasis on ‘telling’ part of storytelling, it can be cathartic for both teller and listener.
The ‘telling’ is just the conversation. Tell it how you would talk it. You will find yourself laughing and crying as the story impacts on you again, engaging your ‘audience’ while finding new insights each time you tell it.
The real power is in the understanding, and how it has shaped and continues to shape you.
It goes deeper than nostalgia, but that is also important in terms of identity and the stories we tell ourselves.
I sometimes think about our stories as an old school blackboard never properly washed. It has the ghost-lines of lessons taught layered on top of each other, one of those faint scribbles perhaps igniting the passion for learning in just one child that then shaped a life.
People like to talk about authenticity, as a value. I think of it as an outcome. You cannot have authenticity without vulnerability, and you cannot have vulnerability without courage.
And there is courage in everyone’s story and a gift for those whom you choose to share.
“When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”
― Kurt Vonnegut
Just when you reckon you have no idea what you are doing, despite having a red hot go, you’re feeling like the losses are mounting, you can reconcile that even the most celebrated and iconic have these moments.
If you are ever looking to change life up a bit, try a Kurt Vonnegut novel.
“The Liars’ Club’ by Mary Karr.
I felt privileged to read it and changed my attitude towards telling my story, even the stuff that feels confronting every time I tell it.
It is also really brutally funny.
It might just inspire you to tell your story.
…and a timeless song lyric:
From one of the great storytellers:
Bruce Springsteen – My Father’s House
I awoke and I imagined the hard things that pulled us apart
Will never again, sir, tear us from each other’s hearts
I got dressed and to that house I did ride
From out on the road I could see its windows shining in light
I walked up the steps and stood on the porch
A woman I didn’t recognize came and spoke to me through a chained door
I told her my story and who I’d come for
She said “I’m sorry son but no one by that name lives here anymore”
This YouTube of Bruce Springsteen telling the story behind the song. It is rough and raw.
This version by Ben Harper singing it to The Boss is pretty special as well.
CEO & Founder
Leaders are in the ambiguity business. If we are not doing ambiguity, we are not doing leadership.read more
Leadership finds you wherever you are now but never leaves you where it found you.read more
I have no doubt it was these setbacks, personally challenging and heartbreaking at the time, that created the path to the work I now do.read more
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