288: The Power of Telling Your Story - with Shabnam Curtis
Shabnam, the author of My Persian Paradox was born and raised in Tehran until 2004. Shabnam teaches memoir writing workshops and has been performing lectures to colleges and universities about her book and the concept of sharing stories. She actively practices a variety of storytelling workshops to help people develop deeper empathy towards each other. She is currently working on our second memoir. Her motto is, "Let's share our stories and create more empathy."
What experiences have you gained by sharing your story with others?
I couldn't believe it. It started even before I started writing my memoir and it actually encouraged me to write my memoir and I was kind of in a midlife crisis. Then I was just talking to my friends at work, especially because we spend a lot of time at work. So I have a lot of American friends who were born here, around me, and we just talked and, chit chatted and every time I shared one story from my past, I felt better. Then they got to know me better. I got to the point that this past is really bitter, but when I shared it with someone else, in a form of his story, it makes me feel better. Unsurprisingly, it makes the audience feel like oh my god, I have a very similar experience. And who would think a girl in Iran is all grown up in the Midwest in America? We shared experiences, so we just shared stories and that led me to feel like you know what, I want to write this book. Because I wasn't a writer, I started learning to write, and then I started looking for communities of writers. I published a book and then I read the book for the people. I started having a community of people who shared very similar experiences. It's just growing in so many different ways and it changed my life.
How did writing your memoir help you look at your life story differently?
It was just amazing and it still is surprising me. In general, based on what I've learned about writing stories, and storytelling, now, to put it in perspective, I just see that when you look at your story, it could be your life story like mine. It's kind of like if we want to put it in a formula, let's say, like the simplest one, the three-story act. We want to see what the setup was, what the confrontations or stakes were, and then what was the resolution. Looking at it from a 50,000 point view, it's like I see the cause and effect, and then I don't see myself as a victim anymore because I can see that I tried, and I was impacted by the social norms and social limitation, cultural limitations. I can see how I was impacted by other people and how I impacted other people. So it just gave me a sense of belonging, and that I'm not a victim. Those bitter experiences actually made me into a more resilient person. I couldn't see it before, I was just whining and I was just feeling really down. But when I wrote this story, I saw it differently. I saw the value that those stakes and confrontations that I had brought to my life.
How can storytelling make a difference and bring deeper social connections in everyday life?
It was kind of like an exploration because when you open up, you feel like you're not scared anymore. I understand that this could be talking about the dirty laundry, you're not supposed to air them, right? For many people, it's taboo, and I totally understand it. But still, we each have a lot of stories and when we authentically share our stories, from that value standpoint, there was something there.
Can you share with our listeners one of your favorite networking stories or experiences that you've had?
It all revolves around writing for me because it changed my life. I attended some classes and it was good. It was a good beginning to networking. But I remember that after two years, I felt like I am just so lonely, I just need to join a community, I just need to find the community. As a new writer, I attended a couple of writing clubs and then one of them clicked. So I gave myself a chance to see which one is proper, or closer to what I'm doing, and then I started going every month. We started reading each other's writings, giving each other feedback and now after two years, when I look at it, I'm like, wow, we built a community that we supported each other, not only throughout the writing, even though the publishing, even after my book was published. Those people were really helpful to me to spread the word about my book, come to my book launch party. But in the beginning, obviously, when the first session, I went there, I want to be honest with you, my hands were shaking. But within a couple of sessions, I was just talking to them, because I saw that they were welcoming. I was just comfortable there and we started building up. But building up means we gave each other a lot of support. It really meant a lot to me, it played a big role to me. So we can start with small communities.
How do you stay in front of your connections and best nurture these relationships?
I believe in giving and taking in a community. So the community that you start talking to you start feeling belonging. You are taking some away something out of it, but we have to think about what we can give back to the community. Just a couple of months ago, one of the leaders of that writing club that I started with got back to me and he was like, we are just going to have a panel for all the writers in our community and if you can also talk at some about publishing and your experience and like, all the stakes that you've had to deal with, that would be awesome. I was so happy to do it because you get what you give so give back.
What advice would you have to that business professional who's really looking to grow their network?
I just want to focus on how we look at the narrative arc of our stories and how we communicate with others. We all have stories and in each community, we share some of them that are related. I just believe that if you are prepared if you will look at your story within your heart and if you believe in the values that you've brought to this world, then you can share a good narrative with a very confident and authentic point of view with other people in a community. People then will be drawn to that authenticity and community and confidence.
If you could go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?
I'm sure as a 20-year-old, I remember that I wasn't confident and I was vulnerable. I didn't want to show my vulnerability. But I wish I knew that the learning curve of everything exists and it's long for some of the experiences that we have to deal with when we are younger. So when I'm 20, the learning curve on social life might be a lot longer than a learning curve on learning new software, because it's just like emotional intelligence that we have to build up. But I wish I knew that or I would tell myself don't be afraid of mistakes because mistakes are a good part of this learning curve.
We've all heard of the six degrees of separation. Who would be the one person that you'd love to connect with and do you think you can do it within the sixth degree?
I'm following this kind of existing thinking philosopher that I think we are very lucky to have in America, Ken Wilber. He's the person who started researching and teaching about the integral life practice or the integral life theory to basically that life is inclusive and how we want to include everyone and every idea and every value in our life. Although it seems very controversial, we can really do that. I'm not there yet, but I really liked the practice. So because I read his books, I follow him. I joined the community, that they practice integral life theory and I'd love to have dinner with Ken and just ask all my questions. I think of the community that I built because I joined this integral life Practice. Now I have people that are in contact with him and have been working with him directly.
Do you have any final word of advice to offer our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
I just want to emphasize on the matter that it's okay to share our stories without the fear of judgment. Some people want to hear stories, and some people are not ready. It's not about us, people's emotions are about them and if someone reacts in a way that we don't like to see or hear, it's okay. Let them just have it in the corner of their mind, but you still share your story, and one day, maybe later in their life, they will think about it.
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