Telling our stories

One of the great things about peer mentoring is being able to tell my stories to a trusted and supportive crew of women. 

I don’t have to worry that my story is too small, revealing or wrong-headed -- I can just share what I need to. And I receive all sorts of goodness -- laughter, empathy, ideas for moving forward, offers to lend a hand, stories in return.

That’s a distinguishing and brilliant feature of peer mentoring. With more senior mentors, it can feel silly to raise an issue that you suspect may be trivial. We might not want to pierce the veil of competence that’s brought us into the relationship in the first place. Peer mentoring helps us to let our guard down.

Last month, I had the opportunity to share some of my stories with a different type of audience. People from the business community all over New Zealand turned out to hear me alongside these four dazzling individuals at part of the New Zealand Innovation Council’s “Innovation Heroes” series.

Back in March, I’d accepted the invitation from Louise and Andy at the New Zealand Innovation Council not because I felt that I fit the billing, but because I was honoured to be part of something with legends like Glen Martin and Steve Henry. I was equally excited to get to know Lisa King and Dale Clareburt and hopeful that I could perhaps encourage one or two other people to take a leap. I also thought it would good for me to take stock of the past couple of years of my career and to give myself a good dose of public speaking.

Predictably, fast-forward to May and thoughts like ‘why did I agree to do this?’, ‘I don’t belong here’, ‘I’ve got NOTHING to say’ and various other hits from the I’m Not Good Enough Top 100 are playing in my head.

The other speakers were all Founder-CEOs of remarkable businesses. I was not. And while I am indeed part of an amazing technology company, the evolution of our business 8i didn’t feel like my story to tell up on the stage. Instead, the story that felt authentic was an intensely personal one about me … my fears, insecurities, challenges I’ve overcome, lessons I’m learning. I felt really vulnerable sharing that information with crowds of people from Dunedin to Auckland and worried that no one would find it interesting.

As it turned out, the experience was one of the most rewarding that I’ve had all year. Lots of people responded to my story, they laughed at my jokes, came to meet me, wrote to tell me my story inspired them. And of course most gratifyingly, they tweeted about it (jokes). It turned out that the honesty and humility spoke to people just as much as a hero’s tale could.

A week on, I sat across from one of my best and most impressive friends as she relayed a recent experience of her own. As a successful senior manager in one of New Zealand’s most prominent tech firms, she’d been called upon to speak to a very senior group of female leaders in the Public Sector. If you know my friend, you know she’s an obvious choice for this kind of thing … a deep thinker about successful workplaces, accomplished manager and great speaker. Turns out, same deal. She went through the ‘why did I agree to do this?’ ‘I’ve got nothing worthwhile to say’, ‘What if I’m not worthy of this audience?’ cycle too. And sure enough, she’d give her talk, nailed it, and several weeks on Tier 1 and 2 leaders of large organisations are still emailing her for further advice. It felt so weird that we’d both gone through the same kind of thing.

Turns out not so weird. Tara Mohr recounts virtually the same tale in her book Playing Big, which I am right into at the moment. My feeling is that women tend to be cautious about putting their stories in the limelight. Having that bias, it’s actually pretty unlikely that we’ll go ahead and share stories that don’t have real value with a wide audience. So try to quiet that voice in your head and go for it. And p.s. If you want to be on the receiving end of some inspirational stories told from a place of honesty and vulnerability, I highly recommend you check out the next installment of Extraordinary Tales of Strength and Daring, which is hopefully not too far away.

I want to finish this blogs by recording some of the gems I remember from 2 weeks on the road with Innovation Heroes:

Steve Henry:

  • Forget being an innovation hero. Focus on being an innovation survivor.

  • Fall down seven times, get up eight. Fall down eight, get up nine.

  • The Auckland Inorganic Waste collection is an institution to rival Christmas. Long live the inorganic waste collection.

Dale Clareburt:

  • It’s normal for start-up entrepreneurs to devote most of their waking hours to work and then dream about it as well. Dale can make business decisions in her sleep and wake ready for action! Impressive.

  • It’s a cliche, but it really is a roller coaster. Closing a $99 deal can make you feel like a millionaire, but you could get knocked back down the very same day.

  • Holy crap I’m in a light-box. (Ditto that Dale).

Lisa King:

  • It takes a lot of courage to start a business, and then once you do ...

  • It’s like having a baby. Everyone will give you advice, but no one can really prepare you. It will change your life, you can’t stop taking care of it, night or day, and you can’t give the baby back.

Glenn Martin

  • Believe in facts, believe in science. I don’t believe in myself, I believe 2+2=4 and that tells me what I can do.

  • It helps a whole bunch to have the right partner (well, Glenn would say “husband or wife”).