We All Love Stories

Once upon a time…

No.

Hang on.

That’s a bit old hat, isn’t it?  Not how I want to start.  I’ll try again…

Let me tell you a story.  Come on in, grab a comfy seat.  You might need that cosy blanket too, March has been a bit cheeky, weatherwise round here.

Right.  Settled?  Then I’ll just go for it.

When I was a teenager, I loved theatre.  I also loved design, textiles, painting, collage, dancing, choreography, model making, miniature things… loads of stuff.  I was one of those creative sorts and I wanted to do all of it, but most of all I wanted to make theatre.  I loved performing, but was already feeling that a life of audition, rejection and occasional acceptance wasn’t the right path.  Directing theatre seemed to encompass the most: a way of working where I’d get to have a say in all the aspects of theatre production from design, to choreography, to performance, to narrative.

Boldly, at the age of 16, I declared to anyone who would listen, that I was going to become the first female artistic director of the National Theatre in London.

Then I went to university and over that time I discovered that the sort of person who would get that National Theatre gig, was also the type who liked sitting in a quiet pub of an evening, intensely discussing their favourite line from an Arthur Miller play.  And I would much rather be drunkenly dancing to the Spice Girls, flapping my feather boa and laughing too loudly.

Life took a different path.  The love for and desire to make theatre still powered me, but I was far more interested in helping people, from all walks of life, to make their own theatre.  Theatre that could help people see the world differently; theatre that could support people to maximise their potential.

After various twists and turns including a magical time in the Lake District doing a post grad about theatre that sits outside of the traditional stage, I landed quite happily in Glasgow and before long I became the Artistic Director of Toonspeak Young People’s Theatre, where I stayed for 13 years.  It was challenging, hard going at times, but ultimately brilliant.  Working with some amazing young people, many of whom life had already diminished their dreams and it was my job to reignite that creative fire.

The last theatre I made, well the last piece that happened in an actual theatre, was a very special one.  Called “3,6 & 36”, it was a show I devised with my kids about the Commonwealth Games landing on our doorstep in 2014.  Perhaps because it was so close to home and so very intertwined with what was happening in my life, after that I stopped making "proper" theatre.  I may return one day.

Since then, I’ve been on a journey beyond the world of theatre.  Exploring a multitude of ways of telling stories and creating the right environments to help people tell theirs.  The love of theatre is still there, sometimes almost imperceptibly. 

Like at one of my retreats, it doesn’t take much to add in a little sprinkle of theatre magic to subtly make a room feel more special, to make someone feel like their story has more power or to heighten the mood to make that weekend more memorable. 

In the training room, even on zoom, you can just turn yourself up a notch, elevate the energy and create the right atmosphere for stories to be explored.

I really love that subtlety. 

Coaching is the same.  In an intimate, one on one setting, I can still curate a space that is ever so slightly elevated.  A temporary autonomous zone, just like the theatres I built on bits of waste ground in North Glasgow with Toonspeak: a space where the imagination can feel a bit freer and we can try on different stories and see how well they fit.

Coaching for me has been all about stories.  In my own sessions, I focus mostly on those stories that I tell myself which aren’t that helpful and hold me back.  “Exercise isn’t for me” is one.  Less than two years ago I didn’t even want to use the E-word, but through working with fabulous coaches I’ve been able to rewrite that story.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still not going to 6am spin classes, but I am going to 4 yoga classes a week and feeling seriously fabulous for it.

And every client I work with has those stories; the ones that no longer serve them.  Some are common across many, ones that follow the theme of “that’s not for the likes of me”, “I don’t deserve this” and even subtle little ones: “I do waffle on”.  I can say, hand on heart, people very rarely waffle on in a coaching session, not my clients anyway.  They’ve taken a bold decision to invest in themselves because they want to make change and need to get some stuff said, say things out loud to gain clarity and understanding.  That download can often be the most useful part of coaching, especially when you can get it all out there with your coach actively listening and asking those powerful questions. 

Sometimes, though, there are totally unique stories that emerge.  I love challenging my judgement, telling it firmly to ssshhh.  Because my paradigm, the way I see the world and how I fit into it, is different to my clients.  Everyone’s paradigm is theirs and theirs alone, shaped by their experience of life.  That totally fascinates me and inspires me to keep honing, learning and striving to be a better coach.

They say there’s only 7 types of story in the world.  And whilst that’s mostly true in Hollywood blockbuster scripts, it’s not true in a human sense.  There’s over 7 billion stories, each with many chapters, twists and turns, that rarely follow an archetypal narrative, but all are fascinating.  And all those stories can be rewritten as they happen and that’s the super exciting bit.