For as long as I could remember, I loved telling people about my work. It was interesting to me, and other people seemed to find the stories interesting as well. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered just how attached I was to my story, and how getting lost in the storytelling meant losing myself.
This past week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the F***-Up Nights Basel event at LaunchLabs about exactly this. Thanks to this platform that embraces failure as a launchpad for growth, I took my 7 minutes and shared what I consider to be my biggest failure: forgetting the truth of who I am behind my story. The stories themselves are innocent and are useful and often necessary for communication.
But what happens when you forget that you aren’t your story?
This is exactly where I found myself, and this is the story I share. (transcript below)
Hi! As mentioned, my name is Rebecca Roberts, and I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to come and talk with you guys today. We’re sharing f***-ups, and for those of you who have been here before, you’ve seen that they tend to be a singular event or one situation.
For me… my f***-up was my entire life. I knoooow – it sounds a little dramatic, but let me explain. To set the stage: When I think about my story I have always loved understanding how people interact with the space around them and the people around them. I’m an interior architect by training. And that was always so fun to tell people because everybody at a party is like ‘Oh! You’re an interior architect! You can come see my house!’
As my career progressed, I realized more and more that I was switching more from the design to the personal element. Very much about how we as people interact with space. And so I got a coaching degree and I was exploring all of this area…and I loved having so many different stories to tell! So many different personalities. And it was whatever I felt like at that moment, I get to explore that and explain.
The problem was that the stories are not always reality. When it comes to
what’s really in front of us, my stories sound really good. But in the background there was a whole lot going on that was kind of terrifying in some ways. That was not so stable and not so perfect sounding.
In my work I was loving being a consultant and a coach and a career advisor and all of these different things. But I was wearing a lot of different hats, and it was total chaos. Successful, but chaos. At the same time I had problems going on in my relationship, so that added a whole other dimension.
Who am I?
I found myself on a plane headed to London, and for the umpteenth time I’m filling out a customs form. Because I’m American, don’t get the pleasure of just breezing straight through border control. I get to the point that it asks for profession, and I start to write it in… And all of a sudden it hits me – that over the past two years traveling to London (two or three times a month) – every time I entered the country, I was writing a different profession on that card.
I thought: ‘Oh my gosh! What the heck is going on there? Who am I?? And I saw at that moment that so much of my identity was wrapped up in my career.
I also liked that! It was something very concrete to hold on to. But at that same time, just after that flight, I get to London all of a sudden I’ve got an announcement: ‘The projects that we thought were going to carry you through the next year…well… the clients decided that they’re going to hold off for a couple of years.’
One after another, all of my stories just kind of evaporated. All of a sudden there’s just a void in front. Almost like a freefall. All of a sudden realizing: ‘OK. I used to hold on to all of these stories. But know what? They’re not there. And WHY? Why was I holding on to the stories?
I realized that the labels were safe. They were easy. They were clear. Clearly written: This is who I am. This is my name. This is my profession. I’m married. I’m an expat. All of these different things.
But as much good structure as those brought, they also were like a self-defined cage. They limited me, because I was constantly trying to figure out what was going on. For example, if my career was going really well, I was great! If my career was s***, guess what I was? Yeah…exactly. So much so that, at the time, I was diagnosed bipolar because I was experiencing these swings. Come to understand that it’s because of where I was attached.
Anti Storytelling Revelation
I had this revelation all of a sudden… sitting at home one night… no real reason. It dawns on me: I am NOT my story. I’m not my career. I’m not my status.
To be honest, he (on the screen) looks a lot happier than I was at that moment. To be fair, one part of me felt ecstatic! I was free. Oh my gosh! All of these restraints – these ideas of who exactly I was just fell away. But with that, also my structure. The thing that I held onto that gave me clarity and understanding about Who I am, was gone…
The story of how I discovered that next bit is a little longer. How I discovered who I actually am behind the stories… But that exploration brought me to what I do today.
I’m an anti-storytelling coach. I work with folks on how to, in the midst of major transitions, stand firm and solid. It doesn’t matter what stories are going on around you. You’re not your story.
This is the work that I do, and this is what I’m passionate about. I wish I could say that it’s a *poof* kind of thing, and that all of a sudden it’s quick. But the realization is completely mind-boggling and totally worthy of feeling this free.
My F***-Up in a nutshell
What I want to leave with is, for me, my f***-up was forgetting who I am. It was ‘becoming my career,’ and in letting that go, I found ultimate freedom. This is something that I wish for myself to never forget, and this is something that I wish for everyone that I meet. For all of you.
I really appreciate the opportunity to come and talk to you today, and I welcome any questions. Thank you!
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About F***-Up Nights (FUN)
F***up Nights is a global movement (251 cities, 79 countries) where stories of failed businesses and projects are shared. Each month across the globe, three to four people to get up in front of a room full of strangers to share their own professional f***up. The stories of the business that crashes and burns, the partnership deal that goes sour, the product that has to be recalled, we tell them all.
FUN Failure Institute
Given the increasing amount of documented cases on failure to which FUN had access, they assumed both the mission and the responsibility to share that information. Through studies and publications, they spread this knowledge with same the disruptive style that has always characterized their work. Their mission: ‘We want the Failure Institute to help decision makers take better informed decisions on businesses, academia and public policies.’