Changing My Own Story

“In the evening Alice sat on her grandfather’s knee and listened to his stories of faraway places. When he had finished, Alice would say, ‘When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea.’ ‘That is all very well, little Alice,’ said her grandfather, ‘but there is a third thing you must do.’ ‘What is that?’ asked Alice. ‘You must do something to make the world more beautiful,’ said her grandfather. ‘All right,’ said Alice. But she did not know what that could be.” – Barbara Cooney, Miss Rumphius 

A very special woman read this story aloud to the entire camp during a Sunday Meeting when I was ten years old and changed my life forever. From that moment on, I was called to action and felt like I could play a small role in changing the world. At the time, I didn’t know that it was a children’s book. I thought the story was something this woman had made up. The elusive lupine flower, the flower Miss Rumphius uses to literally make the world more beautiful, has always been my favorite. I’ve always known I wanted to make the world more beautiful, yet, just like Alice, I didn’t know what my “something” would be.

I’ve always loved reading and writing and I’ve always been good with kids, so everyone told me I should be an English teacher. Naturally, I had the instinct to rebel. During my entire college tenure of majoring in English and Comparative Literary Studies, I proclaimed loudly to anyone who would listen that I definitely wouldn’t be going into teaching, since it seemed like a foregone conclusion. I just didn’t know what my “something” would be instead.

I then discovered that I loved interviewing people and telling their stories, so I declared I would be a journalist. While I was in college, I got to write the human-interest features I craved, yet when I was looking for a job afterwards, I could only find internships. It was a very exciting time, including an interview with the future President Obama, yet I knew that it would take me years to get to the status where I could really control what I wrote.

I wanted to find a way to be a camp counselor all year long, and I did, in the career of an Outdoor Education Instructor. As someone in my early twenties, it was an ideal job. I got room and board, I was still on my parent’s insurance policy and I got to live and play in beautiful places and meet amazing people. I got to be the fairy godmother of teachers, the one who got to wow the kids for a week and then disappear forever. Yet once I realized I couldn’t remember any of the kids in my pictures, I started wondering why I had resisted teaching for so long.

I taught English, as everyone had predicted, in private, public and charter schools for several years and firmly established my narrative as a teacher. I poured my heart and soul into my students. I reminded them constantly that they had something to say to the world and guided them to tell their stories. At the end of every school year, I read Miss Rumphius aloud to my students and told each one how I thought they would make the world more beautiful.

Being a teacher allowed me the freedom to travel, just like Alice told her grandfather she would, during my summers. I traveled to Costa Rica and faced my fears of getting lost in the jungle. I traveled to Southeast Asia and discovered I could travel without a complete plan. I traveled to Turkey and met the love of my life. I traveled to Nepal and met amazingly generous people.

When I discovered I no longer wanted to teach, it broke my heart. I felt like I was losing my identity. I felt like a quitter, and I didn’t know how to change that story.

I realized I still wanted to be working with young people, and joined a food education non-profit. I guided educators working with students to teach them about healthy lifestyles. It was work I believed in, but just like Alice, it wasn’t yet quite right.

I felt for a while as if all my stories had come to a dead end. I didn’t seem to fit into any of the careers I had tried, and for me, my career has always had to align with my purpose – to make the world more beautiful. One day, the vision of The Storyologist popped into my head, and at first, I instantly dismissed it.

“A Storyologist isn’t even a thing,” I told myself.

Despite my admittedly sound logic, I kept going back to this idea of a Storyologist who would help people tell their stories in a variety of ways, critique stories in society and write stories. I kept searching for a job that contained everything I wanted and realized that it actually didn’t exist.

So I changed my story and I created it for myself.

I’m so excited to present The Storyologist. Little did I know that this is where my life has been heading since I heard the words, “you must do something to make the world more beautiful” more than twenty years ago. For me, it’s always been about stories; my parents reading me stories at bedtime, my grandma telling me stories about her growing up, the stories of my brave, courageous students, learning the stories of my loved ones and examining my own stories.

Changing your story is definitely a risk. For me, no matter what happens next, it will be one of the best risks I have ever taken.

Through helping people tell their stories and writing my own, I will strive to make the world more beautiful. Then when I grow old, I’ll live by the sea.

In the comments, I would love to get to know you! Tell The Storyologist community about a time you have changed your story and what that experience was like for you.