Skip to content

Writing an Origin Story

I'm participating in a learning experience called "Storytelling for Cultural Competence." The experience begins with writing and reflecting in a "Personal Storytelling Journal." The journal has daily prompts, weekly reflection questions and storytelling tips to help you get started on your cultural competence journey.

The second week of writing focuses on passion and purpose. As noted in the journal, by telling stories with passion and purpose, you’ll feel your connection to the “kinship of humanity,” and help others feel their kinship as well.

Your passion and purpose is also an important part of telling your origin story. David Hutchens has a simple formula for creating your origin story. Start with your purpose statement (What lights you up? What do you care about? What are you and advocate for?), then think of an event in your life that led you to that purpose. Finally, connect your purpose and event together with a relevance statement explaining why that event led you to that purpose statement. The power of Hutchens' formula is that it produces an origin story that focuses less on how you became who you are and more on why you became who you are.

Here's mine.

I light up when I see people come together, as equals, to work toward positive social change.

When I was 20, I got a work-study job at the public radio station on campus. The format was news and jazz and my first shift was "Jazz Overnight", 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. The music director pointed me to the stacks of LPs and CDs and turned me loose. He must not care, I thought. It’s the middle of the night, no one’s listening, so he must not care what I play. I pored over the stacks, knowing little about jazz, choosing records based only on their album covers. I played Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane and Miles Davis and a particularly interesting-looking record, Tauhid by Pharoah Sanders. It was full of atonal piano crescendos and cymbal crashes punctuated by Pharoah’s honking and screeching saxophone. I knew it probably wasn’t “radio-friendly” but I didn’t know how to stop it. Should I just stop the record, mid-song, or should I wait it out? That’s when the phone rang. It was the music director. He wasn’t angry or scolding. He just said, that’s probably not the right record for right now. Just get something else set up, fade down Pharoah Sanders and fade up the new record. He was listening the whole time.

Pharoah Sanders, "Tauhid"
By Source, Fair use,

Until that moment, I thought work was something you were told to do. Something constrained by training manuals and policies. Thinking of work as something to be explored within wide boundaries, as something to bring your individual sensibilities to, changed my view of how things could get done. It started me on a path toward the belief that empowering individuals and loosely connecting them is the best way to produce positive social change.

That's my origin story. I'd love to read yours. If you feel comfortable, share it in a comment on this post. If you'd like to share it in a safer, more private space, join me in the "Storytelling for Cultural Competence" discussion forum. You can sign up at