Personal Stories: Sarah Smith

As a practitioner, a researcher and a human being, who much of the time feels like they are muddling through this messy thing called life, I have always been fascinated by story. By its sensemaking role in our lives, individually and collectively. 

From almost as young as I can remember I delighted in reading, the expectant uncertainty felt at the threshold of every new story, latent with potential. New characters waiting for me inside the pages. When I read as a child, I became blurred at the edges of who I was. New possible selves emerging in the fuzziness. I think I have always seen life as a creative act. 

This entanglement between fiction and truth has always fascinated me. As a child I could regularly be found asking “Is this story fact, fiction or ‘faction’?” Perhaps in today’s post-truth world a prescient question to have rehearsed! Stories that were based on the truth but were not the truth were my favourite. Little did I know at that age that arguably there are no other kind. As an adult I see wisdom in this entanglement…that truth varies through both space and time. There is entanglement between my storying and that of others, between my ‘stuff’ and my clients’, between our past, our present and our possible futures. Our childhood stories are always with us in the room, as are our emerging futures.

I feel no need to fully separate the threads, to lay them out in individual strands as if protecting delicate chains otherwise compelled to twist into each other in a jewellery box. But it has been the work of a lifetime to tease gently at the knots, to see more clearly what is mine and what belongs to others in the mess. Recognising with compassion my “immutable” childhood experience and its legacy, whilst reimagining the future through reinterpreting the past. Old unhelpful internal narratives shift, even turn themselves inside out under loving examination. 

My experience of childhood story work has been one of finding my voice. I have spent much of my life listening with care and curiosity to the voices of others, helping others find meaning in their entanglement. I am reminded of what a good distraction this can be when the hard work calling me is work on self. I am also reminded of how important the one is for the other. For me the current work is integration. The integration of love, perspective and power. The power part has always been the challenge for me. But in the giving of voice to myself I am finding power. I feel a more skilful coherence emerging. No doubt some kind of unravelling will be around another corner. As I said, I am muddling through the mess. I think it is probably where the magic is. 

 Written by Sarah Smith, Leadership Development Consultant and Coach