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Chocolate. Karaoke. Star Trek. Travel. Books. Puppies. Shaking what your Mama gave you. All of these are some of my favourite things. But when I meet someone, I want to know who they are, not what they like. I want to know what’s their story? Why do they get up every morning?
For me, what rocks my world is showing daring creatives how to draw the curious down the rabbit hole with stories, how to use their tales to spark connection, understanding, and create belonging with a wonderland of their making.
Stories entered my DNA as a kid. They were what saved me from lonely lunch times with no friends when my family moved states and I was shoved into a new school mid-year, mid-puberty, mid-awkward-phase. They allowed me to escape to another world of adventure, of struggle (that wasn’t mine), of empathy, perspective, and heroes who strived against the bullies, and again and again, picked themselves. Stories showed me how to adapt, to care, to trust myself. They understood me on a level I barely understood myself. I was such a voracious reader I started writing my own books when I was 12 because my favourite authors just couldn’t keep up.
Stories were how I survived boredom. Boredom was how I ended up a Star Trek nerd. Every afternoon when I got home from school, my mother commandeered the TV to fuel her Star Trek addiction. The choice was be bored or be obsessed. You could say I was brain-washed a Trekkie and I have no regrets!
That’s the only reason I can think of for how I ended up choosing to study Astrophysics. Two years in and something happened that I never in a million years expected. I hated it. I had no idea what else I would even do if I quit. I was good at it, sure, but every six months I would have a mini-break-down in my bedroom, the words of high-school teachers and parents going around and round my head – ‘you’re too smart for art.’ If present me could time travel, I’d go back and slap them all up-side the head, with a loud, ‘fuck that noise’ for good measure.
How many times have you been told you ‘should’? You should do this, you should do that, even though you know that box doesn’t fit you?
What I didn’t realise at the time was the reason I was so drawn to Star Trek wasn’t the science, it was the adventure. A soap opera in space; people working together solving problems, falling in love, and shooting phasers! This was the root of my unhappiness; I was suppressing the biggest part of myself. I didn’t want knowledge for the sake of knowledge, I want to create things that connected people. And the way that excited me, that lit a fire in my belly to create that connection, was by creating and sharing stories. Fictional preferably, with a hint of magic, a dash of quirky, and a sneaky side of truth.
I wish I could tell you that when I set my sights on career as storyteller, I shook off that ‘should’ energy. I did not. While I devoured dozens of courses on writing, publishing, marketing, editing and eBooks, and learnt one of the most important lessons of my life – that what you create alone will never be as good as what you’ll create together with the feedback of professionals who aren’t you and see your blind spots – I was still doing all the things you should. You should send your novels to traditional publishers, you should write short stories to get a name for yourself, you should have a ‘very’ professional website where you’re ‘very serious’ and therefore ‘competent’, as confirmed by your head shot which makes you look like you have sat on a cactus.
I waited a really long time for someone to pick me. And I was lonely, so very very lonely. When a boy who already had a 3-book deal with a major publisher got the only writing grant available in the state to writers under 30, something finally snapped for me. I was sick of waiting; it was time to choose myself. I couldn’t be rejected if I was the one creating the thing, right?
It was when I took the conscious decision to step off the beaten path that things changed for me. I created my own opportunities, but in a way that no one else was doing at the time – I created them so that I was making and creating WITH someone else. The power of collaboration runs through everything I do now, from the very first writing and publishing project I created in my little city of Adelaide, which spiralled into a 5-year international endeavour that would turn into the award-winning storytelling app, Story City, and lift up over 300 storytellers across half a dozen creative industries.
In creating my own opportunities, in making things like Story City, my novels, my branding work, I realised I made a place where I belonged, and where hundreds and thousands of others realised they belonged.
The success that I have had today is due largely to the power of story. Of how stories allow you to be understood for you, and to connect beyond yourself. I’ve won awards, presented hundreds of hours of storytelling workshops internationally, published 6 books, edited and/or published dozens of authors, I am a global entrepreneur of an app that helps you explore and connect to a city and the stories of its people, and I’m part of a 6 person team that brands a handful of high-flying femmpreneurs every year.
While much of that has been because of hard work, talent, and practice, the truth of the matter is I have gotten this far because I have chosen to make things together, rather than alone. To hone my understanding, skills and stories, with outside eyes, because through collaboration I make far more impact than I ever would on my own.
So I say to you pick yourself, don’t wait for others to pick you. But also pick doing it together, rather than doing it alone.
Find your people. Band together. And you will make great things.