Got an idea you've been sitting on?

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As the end of 2017 comes around, I am hit by how telling our inconvenient stories helps us get going on our more daunting ideas. I mean the ideas that don't fit into standard formulas. Daring to tell stories that spring out of our longing, injustices and deeper truths inevitably put us on the edge where we start to envision a different future, rather than just coping with "the way things are."

Many of us have spent years working to prove our value, ability and worth in a context that doesn’t recognize us as able equals, even by measures in the old criteria.

Never mind us getting to shape the criteria. We keep trying to tell our stories, offer our insights and expertise in a system that is designed to make us invisible, silent, passive, as Salma Hayek so poignantly illustrates in her New York Times editorial on #MeToo. As women, at worst we are only valued for our sex appeal, all other efforts and contributions remaining unacknowledged. At best we get a nod for being a “hard worker” or “capable professional.” In other words, we get a pat on the back for getting good at serving up someone else’s ideas.

 Salma Hayek

Salma Hayek

We won’t get to be “brilliant,” “original,” or “groundbreaking" as long as we are telling someone else’s story, or trying to tell our story in the existing container.

Some questions that help me connect with the ideas I keep sitting on:

  • What’s something you keep thinking about, being curious about, wanting to see?
  • What two (or more) ideas or images keep bumping against each other in your mind? Is there something there that doesn’t make sense to you? That bothers you?
  • What’s one of your pain points? An injustice, a longing, a vision for how things could be radically different? I don’t mean a “bucket list” fantasy trip, not an escape, or suddenly jumping into a material fortune. I mean an idea about things that really upset you in everyday life. Something about your work, school, family, community, your own creative contributions, or your mental/social/emotional health.
  • What’s the need behind the frustration? Or the longing?
  • What’s the story you tell yourself about the situation to convince yourself not to put this on the agenda? Is it, “This is just the way things are,” or perhaps “It will never change, so I’d rather put my energy into something else.”
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What happens to the story if you sit with it and start to touch your experience and unpack it without immediately jumping to all the “yes but” reactions? Maybe the vision of how reality could be seems totally science fiction. Maybe that’s how we know we’re on to something. I think the struggle to unearth these stories that might require a total paradigm shift is worth the effort.

Maybe the vision of how reality could be seems totally science fiction. For now.

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 Princess Madeline of Sweden, leaving the NYSE

Princess Madeline of Sweden, leaving the NYSE

The old stories don’t reflect reality. We all need these other stories.

I keep trying to convince my daughter real princesses don’t wear evening gown all day. They wear pants, even jeans, ski suits, wetsuits, go to work, try to help people. None of them has giant eyes and tiny waists. But it’s very hard for my daughter to believe me. Never mind that most of us aren’t princesses, and even if we are, we aren’t waiting around to be rescued or told what to do. The old stories don’t reflect reality and they are not serving women or men, nor a future we all want to live in.

More than ever I’m convinced that we all need these other, often untold, stories. This change is not just about women hearing other women, though that’s a vital piece in overcoming isolation, and us not thinking we are crazy.

My hope

If every young person, male and female, heard a broad range of stories, told by many voices, maybe the next generation would have more of a chance of lifting out of the narrowing oppression that patriarchy keeps serving up.

As #MeToo showed over the past three months, there is immense power in telling the stories that everyone is sitting on. As Hayek writes, “…as women (we) have been devalued artistically to an indecent state, to the point where the film industry stopped making an effort to find out what female audiences wanted to see and what  stories we wanted to tell.” 

As you set goals for 2018 what if you consider how you can get going on an idea you’ve been sitting on - one of those ideas that matter?

Rather than continuing down the conventional path of goal planning from external forces (what will others think or value, what will bring status), what happens if you approach your “goals” from the place of telling the story that YOU feel needs to be told, isn’t told, or hasn’t been told? This is regardless of gender. This is about trusting our insights and longings, and changing the world in ways that are desperately needed. 

It may seem easier to make your goals about your financial targets, or losing weight, because what we come up against seems so immovable.  

I imagine in 1918 it seemed like only men voting in the US was just the way things are. Or that in 1955 when women in The Netherlands needed their husband’s permission to sign a work contract, it was just the way things are. The same goes for past institutions like segregation.

History gives us innumerable examples of systems that seemed fixed — but people changed them. We can change things when we work together.

When we tell our stories, our true, heart stories, we can connect. Once we connect, we can organize. That's a political and social impact. It may seem a tangent, but I think these honest stories lead to better sex for everyone too.

What is urgent for you?

    Every time I hear the phrase, “All great stories fit into a formula, and all stories are just retellings one way or another," something in me bristles. With the explosion of #MeToo sharing of stories of sexual harassment, workplace indignations, abuse of power and ignored voices, my bristles come into focus.

    Mary Beard’s new Women & Power Manifesto lays out the “silencing of women” handed down to us from the Greeks. This silence is not “just the way things are.” It is systemic, and we know there are dangers in going against that silence.

    the “mainstream” story is not telling us the whole truth

    Now that we start to hear an avalanche of stories, each in their own voice, there is a palpable feeling of how many people have been dismissed, their truths twisted and suppressed for so long. Evidence mounts that the “mainstream” story is not telling us the whole truth.

    Now is a time when the dam has burst. There is momentum. It’s time to tell our stories. All kinds of stories, about all kinds of things. Not only about our indignation and abuse, but also what we imagine, know, want, long for, believe in. Then we start to find synergies and solidarity. We need empathy, and that comes via stories.

    I’m sure there’s an idea that each one of us has been sitting on for awhile.

    Whether it’s art or science or social justice - our idea just sits there, sometimes for years. I know I have that. I’ve done lots of things, but I still have research that has been left and not developed to further test and publish, creative outputs that seem to not get documented, thus not promoted, developed or recognized. Subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) I have the thought, “But why bother, it won’t have that much meaning or impact anyway.” Or, it just seems like a lot of work, and I’m not sure for what. How do I get it out there, not only creatively, in terms of process, but practically? If it doesn’t really fit anywhere, I can’t see where to go with it. My idea doesn’t fit in the categories and specializations that exist. 

    Exactly. the. point.

    It’s impossible to take risks alone, especially if they touch on anything political. Choosing what connection, and to whom, is part of wholeheartedly embracing curiosity and developing ideas that don’t fit into the standard forms.

    I need to work that idea out, let it produce results, be tested, evolve. I’m talking about harnessing creative process and putting resulting insights into action. I have commitment, but I also need connection to have the staying power to work on it. It’s impossible to take risks alone, especially if they touch on anything political. Choosing what connection, and to whom, is part of wholeheartedly embracing curiosity and developing ideas that don’t fit into the standard forms. As a female in culture, in society, what specifically do I notice? How can I acknowledge and validate the lenses I look through? I believe that #MeToo stories offer us a path to the future. 

    What idea have you been sitting on for awhile, and how can you move it forward in the year ahead?


    Laura Carmichael is creativity coach specializing in women's leadership, and an innovation facilitator with a knack for helping teams harness diversity. She's also a rebellious classical musician, currently working on a new solo show SOS Vivaldi, to be premiered in Berlin at Aker Stadt Palast 23-24 February 2018. In April she will teach at the True Colours Urban Creativity Retreat for Women at Droog Design in Amsterdam.