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This is why we write

October 27, 2010

With Christina Baldwin at the Listening Well workshop

Why do we write?

Why do we come to the page day in and day out and pour out our souls? Why, especially, do we who are bloggers regularly choose to send our words, our hearts, and our hurts, into cyberspace for all the world (or at least a dozen or so people) to see?

Let me tell you why we write.

Eight or nine years ago, I was in a dark place in my leadership journey. Working for the federal government as the Communications Manager for the only Level 4 lab in the country, I was the proverbial fish, swimming against the tide in water that was not my own. (Side note: thank you Kelly for being the other fish swimming with me.) Surrounded by scientists, I would often sit in meetings in which I was the only one in the room without a PhD attached to my name. I was also the only one who didn’t spend half of the meeting trying to peek under the table to check what was going on in Blackberry world. AND sometimes I felt like I was the only one who had a clue (or even cared) about the poor morale running rampant in the building.

The problem was, in the land of high-end science, there’s a tendency to promote good scientists into leadership positions because that’s the only way they can think of to reward them. Unfortunately, nobody stops to figure out whether they’ll make good leaders, nor do they bother to train them to think differently than they’ve thought all those years lost in their little worlds of test tubes and beakers. In my experience, what makes a good scientist rarely makes a good leader. (There are exceptions, of course, and I like to think some things can be taught, if you put some effort into it.)

Needless to say, it wasn’t a happy place for this right-brained artist who looks at a dna strand and can only imagine what a pretty necklace it would make. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a happy place for a whole lot of other people either, including people who were much more science-minded than me.

I’ll admit, I soon gave up on trying to swim upstream. Early on I tried to help create a more positive leadership culture, but it didn’t take long for discouragement to wear me down.

All the while, I kept thinking “there must be a better way! There must be a way to stem the tide of all of this negative energy we are all swirling in. There must be a way to lead people that makes them feel valued and that helps us all move forward in a positive way.”

I don’t remember what rabbit trail I followed to get there (perhaps I was Googling “alternative leadership models” – though we may not have called it “Googling” back then), but one day I stumbled upon the PeerSpirit website. “Life and leadership through Circle, Quest, and Story.” Ummm… what? And might I add… WOW? (I don’t really know if those were the exact words they had on their site at the time, but something to that effect certainly drew me in.)

More beautiful words have rarely been spoken to this right-brained artist/leader. Leading with circle, quest, and story? It sounded a little like nirvana to me, and so far removed from the culture I was living in.

I dug a little deeper and found out this was the work of Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, two incredible women who’d become disillusioned with the status quo and were looking for ways to engage people in meaningful conversations that are about how we can all contribute to the transformation of our world. At the time, I read everything I could find of theirs and vowed that some day I would meet them and learn from them and perhaps even work with them.

For years that quiet little intention was buried in the back of my mind. Life happened – I had another baby and switched jobs – and mostly I forgot about PeerSpirit or the impact Christina & Ann’s words had on me at the time. But then last year some time, their names started popping up again in things I was reading or in conversations I was having. I started perusing their site again, and started dreaming of going to one of their workshops.

When I decided to quit my job this summer, I knew that I wanted to invest in at least one learning event that would help launch me into this new work. As luck would have it, Christina was traveling to Ontario to present a Listening Well – Circle/Story workshop together with some other facilitators. I jumped at the chance to participate.

In the opening circle of the workshop, I shared my story with the group – about how it had felt like someone had lit a candle for me when I discovered Christina’s writing eight years ago.

When it was Christina’s time to speak, she got a little choked up when she said “you know, when you’re a writer, sometimes you feel a little lonely, not knowing for sure who is reading your work and if it’s making any difference. But then when I hear a story like Heather’s I’m reminded that this is why we continue to write – to light candles for people we may never meet.”

Christina’s words continue to reverberate in my heart.

I don’t always know who shows up at this blog, and I don’t always know if it’s making a difference for anyone. But I will continue to write in the hopes that for someone who’s feeling lost or alone, a candle will be lit and they’ll begin to see the way more clearly again.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2010 12:18 pm

    Heather, I can’t explain why (guess I’m fumbling for words too) but I reacted emotionally to this article-really got me choked up.

  2. October 27, 2010 12:20 pm

    What a beautiful story, and I always enjoy reading your posts. A candle has been lit for ME today by reading your words….so thank you!

    And at the same time it remind me that I too light candles for others who read my words on my blog and elsewhere.

    Thanks for this gift today, and every day.

  3. October 27, 2010 12:37 pm

    * holding up my lighter* Thanks, and you’re right, the DNA strand would make a very pretty necklace! xoxo P

  4. October 27, 2010 1:41 pm

    I’ve been showing up at my blog since 2006…sometimes prolifically, sometimes not. Somewhere into 2007 I decided that I was really doing this for me and if no one else ever showed up at my blog again, I’d still do it, because I want to and need to. Things slowed somewhat this past year as I dealt with extreme fatigue but I still feel the need to show up for myself – even if it’s just for a quote and a photograph – to say “I’m here and this is me today.

    Last year I began putting my blog posts into yearly blurb books as journals and as I look them over, I’m so glad I kept showing up even when I felt I had nothing to say. It’s a record of me and my journey…for me. The bonus of it all is the wonderful connections I’ve made around the world…those who’s words have lit candles for me and those who keep coming back for my words. I think if we write from our heart with no “expected” results or feedback, that’s really enough (although there’s always more!).

    I sense a kindred soul in you – one who does indeed write from the heart. Blessings to you for your courage.

    • October 31, 2010 3:19 pm

      I really appreciate your reply, Kate.

      I met Heather at the ALIA Institute this past June, and it was the first time I’d ever heard someone introduce themselves as a blogger.

      I began blogging this July to chronicle my year sabbatical – as a means of staying in touch with people (puts the onus on them if they’re curious), hone my writing chops, but most importantly to chronicle and reflect back on what I found impelling, curious, moving to want to write about….all in service of helping me “sense” what might come next for me as I begin to design my next life’s chapter. Heather has been a mentor in this realm.

      Sometimes I get discouraged when I fall victim to the “dragon of comparison” and don’t have comments, and wonder who am I writing for, because the writing doesn’t come easy. (Frankly, I find it easier to write responses to others’ blogs.) Then I relax and remember my intention – and I especially appreciate the way you put it: to show up for myself.


  5. Renee permalink
    October 27, 2010 2:52 pm

    Lol, I’m glad I’m not the only one who looks at a dna strand as art. But seriously, I am always grateful that you show up to the page, as it were, and share with us. I suspect most, if not all, of your regular readers are kindred spirits to you in one way or another. Your writing is always so honest and vulnerable and thought-provoking, you can’t help but touch the lives of those who read you. Congrats on meeting Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea at last and experiencing the gifts they bring to the world.

  6. October 28, 2010 8:58 am

    Excellent reminder, Heather. Thank you. ❤

  7. October 29, 2010 9:40 am

    Thanks for sharing those words: “…this is why we continue to write – to light candles for people we may never meet.” WOW! So spot-on!!

    I’ve had Christina Baldwin’s One to One: Self-Understanding through Journal Writing for years and years (and often have to beg for it back when I lend it out – people get so attached to it – lol), but had no idea (duh) about the PeerSpirit website –

    thanks for pointing to the website – and for this luscious story!!!

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