My ‘me too!’ stories and why they are important

We have all had them, these ‘me too!’ stories. You know, it happens when we see someone else do something we imagine would be fun doing ourselves. Being a musician, a writer, a reporter, a coach, an entrepreneur, … The list is endless. Most of the time these things remain just that, a wish that we could do that too. Sometimes we actually start working towards it … and then give up. Some people might see this as a lack of determination, laziness or even as a failure. Sometimes we persevere. And when we do, sometimes it’s actually fun and sometimes we wonder why we do it. You probably heard of these motivational gurus shouting: never give up! I think it’s the worst advice you can give people. Imagine a marathon runner following this advice when he starts getting cramps. He might injure himself so badly he might never run again … or drop dead in the worst case scenario. Giving up, for the right reasons, is the best way to move forward in the long run if you ask me.

My first big ‘me too’ story started when I was 13. Back in those days computers were still a rarity and the things fascinated me. A client of my uncle had a son who had one. One of those early PC’s or maybe even a Tandy TRS 80, I don’t quite remember. The only thing I do remember is sitting next to this kid who was 1 or 2 years older than I, staring at a screen with green text rolling over it of which I didn’t understand a thing. But he seemed to know what he was doing. And I thought: I want to do that too! And I did. This has been the longest ‘me too!’ story of my life so far. I managed to convince my aunt and uncle (I grew up with them) to buy me a Commodore 64 when I was 14 and taught myself to program in Basic. Later I went to university to study computer science and launched into a fairly successful career as a programmer and software architect. And then, in 2006, I decided to quit. I gave up. The reason? I just didn’t like doing it anymore. Oh, I was good at it and would have probably been able to be pretty successful doing just that for the rest of my working career but well, I lost the fun of it. And yes, this is a good enough reason to quit. I had less fun days before in this job too. But they came and went and on the average I loved the job. Until the moment I didn’t anymore. And not just every now and then. I started disliking going to work more and more every single day. For two years I kept telling myself: but this is what you do! This is what brings in the money! And you only work 4 days a week and get good pay and a lot of free time and it’s close to home and it’s not too stressful and … But all those reasons did not weigh up to the fact that the idea of sitting in front of a computer writing code for the rest of my life was giving me the creeps. So I quit.

Part of the reason I started realising that I didn’t like my job as a programmer anymore was because I had discovered the joy of doing improv theater and not so long after, scripted theater. I really dove into this! I took course after course, spent evenings rehearsing and training and it was fun! By the time I had decided to quit IT I also decided to take a sabbatical and move to Canada for a year to go and do improv with Loose Moose, a theater company founded by Keith Johnstone.

Here a couple of new ‘me too!’ stories started unfolding.

Sometime before I moved to Canada in 2007 I had met Cyriel Kortleven during a brainstorm session. This was the first time I ever heard of these things and I loved the experience. That must be fun to do! Me too! So I took the introductory course in creative thinking with COCD and was already contemplating a career as a facilitator of creative sessions.

In Canada, I noticed that there were actually people living off improv! Wow! Me too! Yes! That is what I want to do! Only I didn’t know how.

Also in Canada, again thanks to Cyriel, I discovered a field called Organisational Development (OD) at an IODA conference. And there, again thanks to Cyriel and his insistence that we should not just go there but also give workshops, we ended up on stage for the entire group of participants with … improv exercises. Little did I know you can actually use improv in corporate settings but there it was, you could actually do that. And they loved it! So, OD! Me too! And again, I didn’t really know how to start doing that either.

When I came back to Belgium in 2008 I started looking for clients where I could give workshops in creative thinking and do brainstorm sessions. Again, with a lot of help from Cyriel. I owe a lot to him, not at the least the fact that he believed in me at least 100 times more than I believed in myself. I liked it but not in the way I imagined I would like it.

So there had to be something else.

Then I heard of coaching. That looked cool and fun! And I already had quite a few friends who would come to me for advice when they got stuck so I was clearly cut out for it. I first took an introductory course to coaching with CTI and loved it. It was fun! So I launched into the full intermediate course. A coach! Me too!

While I was doing that I also met Shirine Moerkerken an another IODA conference (that ‘me too!’ story hadn’t died yet) and she talked to me about what I shall loosely translate as ‘business interventions’. Together with Wick van der Vaart she gave a course on the subject. I got curious and saw it as a possibility to launch into an OD career as an ‘intervenor’. Cool title, eh? So I enrolled in the course. Me too!

By the end of the coaching course I realised that becoming a full time professional coach was not really my cup of tea. I loved the course, learned a lot and decided to quit that path. I did some occasional coaching along the way and enjoyed it but it’s not the thing that makes me come out of bed in the morning.

But this intervenor thing? Oh yes! Now that was something else! Or so I thought at the time anyway. Stien Michiels, a friend of mine and also a facilitator, helped me find a name for my business that resonated with me. We came up with The Stand-Up Business, I had someone design a logo for me and I had a website built and business cards printed. And that is about the entire story of my consulting business as an intervenor. Excited as I had been, I just could not bring myself to do the work necessary to make this successful.

There was something else that was ‘distracting’ me. For a while now I was wondering why it’s so hard to solve our climate change problem. We have known what to do for quite a while but we are still not doing enough. Why? This started to make me look at our economic system. First at our tax system. That’s when I discovered the Ex’tax project. They had found a solution! I wanted to join them! Me too! I contacted them with all my enthusiasm but never heard back from them. But the itch of this topic never left me. And I started spending more and more time on studying our economic system and the incentives that it creates.

And then there was the leadership program of CTI. I had heard of it during the coaching courses and a couple of the front of the room leaders (their word for teachers or trainers) had advised me to do it. And it sounded like fun! So I did it. And this made all the puzzle pieces fit together. All of a sudden all the ‘me too!’ stories found their place in my story. At the end we had to announce a quest that we would launch into. Some years before I probably would have said: ‘making people more creative’ or ‘making people more playful’ or ‘making businesses sustainable’ or something along those lines. Or maybe not, I’ll never know because I did the program when I did it and not before. My quest became: ‘I want to change the world economic system’. I know, it sounds crazy. I have no clue how far I’ll get with it. But it’s something I want to get out of bed for.

Let’s recapitulate my ‘me too!’ stories:

  • IT career. Quit because I didn’t like it anymore.
  • Improv career. Never even started it. Still love doing improv though.
  • Facilitator career. Still do it occasionally if I really like the cause behind it but I can hardly call this a career. Quit because it just wasn’t ‘it’.
  • Personal coach. Attempted it very briefly and quit. Reason: didn’t like it enough to do it full time.
  • Intervenor career. Attempted a start but never got off the ground because, well, I just didn’t have the energy for it.

And you might wonder by now, what is my story? I have a few running at the moment:

  • Monetary systems. I know there are others working on this too but it’s not a ‘me too!’ story. The reason is that I did not get excited by the fact that I saw others working on this. I started working on it and then discovered I was not alone. This helps me when I feel desperate and it’s nice to know I’m not alone in this.
  • Writing a book on personal growth. Maybe the book part is a bit of a ‘me too!’ story. The goal is to give people some handholds to deal with this complex world and take some pressure off. We don’t have to be always right and we don’t have to know everything and we don’t need to feel on top of the world all the time. Admitting to being wrong is one of the most courageous things to do, not knowing opens the mind for learning and being ok with feeling like shit is often the fastest way to feeling better.
  • Blogging. It’s a way to get my thoughts and musings out there. Ideas for articles pop up in my head all the time. Often too many at once. The real challenge is to pick one and write it and leave the others on the shelf for a while. The inability to choose is the only thing that stands in the way of publishing more.
  • Somehow working on creating a better society. This is fragmentary and often I have the feeling that I have no clue what I’m doing. And sometimes I have the feeling that I’m on the right track. It’s exciting and confusing at the same time.

And all of these things make me want to get out of bed in the morning because these are my stories. I needed all the ‘me too!’ stories to get here. Without them I would never have found my own story, never! I needed to learn, I needed to explore, I needed to give up. A lot!

It’s not always fun. Sometimes it’s just hard work. And that’s ok. On average, I love what I do now.

Now don’t get put off because I just happen to have some ‘big’ stories going on. Never let anyone judge you on the size or the shape of your story. If your story is to get the neighbours to get along then there is no one who can tell you it’s not big enough or not good enough or whatever. If it’s something that you are willing to get up for in the morning then you found your story, whatever it is.

I’ll end with a suggestion. Don’t be afraid to quit for the right reasons. And you are the only one to judge whether the reasons are right or not. And sometimes you’ll make a mistake. That’s ok. We’re all human after all.

Also published on Medium.

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