7 universal insights into storytelling between therapy and communications

[FLASH OF CREATIVE INSIGHT✍️🧠] Storytellers, anyone? “In therapy we say: Let’s edit your story.” I’m inspired by people who do courageous things, who tell honest stories, or even help to change them. And by great content editors, but that’s a different…story.

The book “Maybe you should talk to someone” by therapist & writer Lori Gottlieb made me think hard about the universal truths of stories, between #comms and #psychology. Why care? We, and our world, are made of stories.


🟠 ALL STORIES BOIL DOWN TO UNIVERSAL QUESTIONS. On a human level they’re something like this: “Everyone lives their own story, but underneath the details we’re forced to face the same essential questions: How do I feel safe in a world of uncertainty? How do I connect?” And in comms we all need to answer “What’s your reason for being?” (PS: don’t forget those WHY questions), as a communicator you know.

🟠 STORYTELLING IS ABOUT BUILDING UP, AND LETTING GO.We grow in connection with others. Everyone needs to hear that other person’s voice saying, I believe in you. I can see possibilities that you might not see quite yet. I imagine that something different can happen, in some form or another.” “…But part of getting to know yourself is to unknow yourself – to let go of the limiting stories you’ve told yourself about who you are.” Stories only have the power that you give them.

🟠 THE FIRST STORY WE TELL IS NEVER COMPLETE. Give important stories time to unfold, and to change. The story a patient comes into therapy with may not be the story she leaves with. What was included in the telling at first might now be written out, and what was left out might become a central plot point. Some major characters might become minor ones, and some minor characters might go on to receive star billing. The patient’s own role might change too – from bit player to protagonist, from victim to hero.” And in comms, how often have you been scratching surface level or getting it all wrong?

🟠 STORIES DON’T ALL OBEY THE SAME RULES OF EXPRESSION. So go find the right one. “Wendell [her therapist] and I had a conversation, even if no words were exchanged. He watched me grieve, and didn’t try to make things more comfortable by interrupting or analyzing the issue. He let me tell my story in whatever way I needed to today.”

🟠 STORIES CAN CONNECT US, OR CAN (PURPSEFULLY) KEEP US AT BAY. The seemingly pointless, repetitive, aggressively boring and aggravatingly-angry ones are attempting the latter. “Anger…pushes people away and keeps them from getting close enough to see you. I wonder if John needs people to be angry at him so that they won’t see his sadness.” Deep. Be boring with your therapist to do get stuck, but please don’t do it in comms.

🟠 STORIES HAVE LIMITS TO SHOWING REALITY. Remember to work in the here-and-now, to illustrate, to let different people speak up. ”One on one, therapists get depth but not breadth, words without illustrations. Despite being the ultimate #insider in terms of Julie’s thoughts and feelings, I’m an #outsider here among all these people I don’t know but who knew Julie.…Instead of focusing on a patient’s stories from the outside world, and here-and-now is about what’s occurring in the room.” Whatever you do, don’t get lost in the BIG, generic narratives. Understand what you’re not seeing, the puzzle pieces you’re missing.

The foundations of it all: understanding. Understanding of the self in therapy, understanding of a subject in comms. And that can be pretty humbling. 

Here’s to telling and editing stories that help real people.

Hi! I’m a comms professional and creative for social impact. On my CV, I have life experience in leadership. Off it, I know about some hard edges of life. Through it all, I write to connect the dots and help bring out the best in people.

Reach out via LinkedIn or Email if you’re now feeling a tingle of connection, excitement, thirst for more. Or go back to the Blog to keep exploring. 

7 things I learned from leading teams as a creative communicator for social impact

I don’t believe in born leaders. Some of us grow up as leaders, others craft their way to leadership later in life and a third group walk a quite different path altogether. As the Communications Coordinator of the European Youth Energy Network, an experienced project manager and passionate creative, I want to share bits of what I learned over the past months, choosing leadership and connection above everything.

(this place is a work in progress, like all writing that happens in the time borrowed from other things; so please bear with me)

#1 – A leader shows the big picture. Be it giving insights into organisational strategy, showing connections inside our work or even tossing in inputs from the creative world seen elsewhere. To be considered when the time is ripe for them. Interdisciplinarity is key. For example, graphic design is a lot more than making things pretty. Graphic design is about breaking down complex things, creating order, storytelling and messaging, making things human, prompting curiosity. It’s about organising information, visual and text-based and emotive.

#2 – A lot of the work is literally about building confidence.I trust you to figure it out”, “I’m seeing your progress and eagerness to learn”, “If this journey is what you want, I’m confident you’ll get there” – we can all say this more often. While explaining those uses of secondary colours, element combination bingos and perfect punchlines. Or just the importance of a comms activity or result, and why it needs to happen till a certain deadline. Do not take anything for granted. Just because the puzzle pieces are layed out nicely in your head, it doesn’t mean that others see them (they might just see the puzzle, and like the result..or well, not so much). To cite Brené Brown from the Dare To Lead book: “A strong leader pulls players toward a deep belief in themselves.” And: “Clear is Kind. Unclear is Unkind”

#3A leader is also human. Between the funny parts and the „being overwhelmed or still figuring out things“ parts.” – as I wrote before in my last leadership text. It’s still equally true. I learned to not be afraid to show up, show my vulnerability also in the professional context, and thus also steer expectations back towards what is realistic. As volunteers – me, you, everyone. We can be fun and professional, confident and honest at the same time. It takes courage to speak (and also sit through moments of silence) and intentionality to say what is natural and needed. “I’m also learning” – I’ve said this before, and I will keep saying it.

#4 Give feedback. Ask for what feedback is needed, structure, be concrete, keep it brief. I’ve made good experiences with “what kind of feedback do you want?”, “why do you (not) like it?”, “what do you like about it?“, “what is your idea behind…?”. Help the other person to think and understand before rushing in with advice. Finding a balance between letting a team member work their way through (eg the admittedly hard-to-learn language of our branding) and directing towards what we know works vs doesn’t is something every creative leader needs to figure out. With every unique person they work with. Balancing the needs of the organisation, upholding the trust in the brand, with those of the humans growing inside.

#5 – 1on1 meetings are great to address questions of your team member, revisit how previous work went and talk about motivation & the future development of their role(s). I found that these meetings, even when happening a lot less regularly due to a volunteering environment, create a space beyond the operational and balance out expectations of team lead and member. A space to discuss how you want to work together. To open the floor for feedback to you as a leader, giving – but also asking.

#6Allow people to innovate (but don’t expect or force them to do it at all times). I learned that it materialized through a mix of ownership, clear responsibilities, short feedback loops (screenshots and quick message over Slack or WhatsApp? yes, that’s what I mean) and tasks that fit the passion of the person. Most importantly, it’s about breaking down complexity. Not overcomplicating things. Asking yourself “Is this simple? Can I simplify it further?”. Be it decision-making processes, feedback, literally designs or other. #simplicity #clarity

#7 You can set up a creative studio, and it’s worth it. You can have a common place with all your world of brand materials, collaborate with colleagues on designs, and then extract the essence of what works into a brand book. It takes time, but through common iteration ping-pongs, feedbacks, learning from each other and picking up creative ideas, systematizing blurbs and design templates for different occasions and processes you get far. You’re professional, and you still have fun. It’s still not easy, but I was amazed by what we built up. With the aim of setting up a best-practice for a communication team and hub, as we haven’t seen before in the youth space.

PS: Crafting powerful designs is hard work, just as crafting human connection is. They both require care, presence and attention to detail. And they yield immense power. Many of us are both makers and leaders, and that’s exciting.

Hi! I’m a comms professional and creative for social impact. On my CV, I have life experience in leadership. Off it, I know about some hard edges of life. Through it all, I write to connect the dots and help bring out the best in people.

Reach out via LinkedIn or Email if you’re now feeling a tingle of connection, excitement, thirst for more. Or go back to the Blog to keep exploring. 

Volunteering is about refusing the urge to make oneself small. Tell me, are you still asking questions?

The words drown in the heatwave. It’s funny how when you’re part of the system, when you work for it, you stop asking questions. Your feed: assumptions from within, instructions from above. Strange, startling, shameful, stationary. The volunteers, the ones who care about what’s happening outside of what some want to see, who reach out to bring realities to the light of day and demand change, who question, who understand what is needed, who look for solutions themselves.

It’s funny when we sit together in the summer air behind the container. High spirits, vivacious fun. If you don’t stick with your “no’s” you won’t be able to honor the “yes’s”. Quote of a volunteer. Conversations, between Piter, Moscow, Kherson, Dnepr, Vienna 23rd district and what else etched somewhere into my memory. Switching roles (are you aware of which ones you get stuck in?), between Russian-speaking volunteer and German-speaking human. In between.

Very funny when a translator colleague shows me a scene from a popular old series. It’s funny when the paramedics make a blue-elephant-balloon with the curly tail for the 4-year-old-girl that eats too much icecream. A standard practice they learn during their training as they tell me. The elephant is a world-class gymnast, she sticks a finger into its balloon-skin trunk and makes it dip into the balloon.

It’s funny-meaning-strange and unsettling to learn how your world is not those of others helping. Understanding the connections and motivations that shape one’s experience, it’s the community in the end, communities living side by side. How a different-cultural upbringing changes everything, and a multi-cultural upbringing adds a complexity kaleidoscope on top if it. Maybe if you never really belong to a place, you really understand what it feels like to have lost a life. It’s funnily unsettling when someone tells me my Russian/German etc. is so perfect or that I learned it so well. Thank you but no thank you. It’s unsettling when the Ukrainian woman speaking English and French with her neighborhoods wants to know how the hell to make them realize that the invasion of Ukraine is a threat to the whole of Europe. “Do they not write it in your news?”. Battle of narratives that I don’t want to fight.

It’s dangerous when you give up. On seeing, on changing realities beyond the little world fenced off by someone else. Someone, in this life-quality-socalled-progressive-we’re-in-control country, not doing their job. The civil society that the state would be nothing without. Isn’t it time we had a big discussion on which narratives “we” (you know what I mean) splash it with and jeopardise its power that makes it unique? It’s dangerous to stop seeing the unfairness and not stand up with one’s allies.

Individuals – connected to the world, overcoming barriers. The general inertia that permeates everything. Heartache, exhaustion, insecurity, institutional obstacles and constraints of one’s own life plans, parallel realities around and what not. In the end, you’re putting yourself out there and you know that you won’t come out of it unchanged. It takes courage, will power (do we have enough of it?), trust in everyone regardless of their age and background. Even if it feels like you lose yourself in helping, volunteering is all about your core as a human. Though the signal might take time to travel.

Volunteering is a constant exercise in refusing the urge to make oneself small – and to get stuck protecting one’s little world. And do the things that need to be done, in a watchful balance between taking responsibility and letting go. Just to come back to it – to whatever you’re doing to not ignore a war, soon.


I’ve given up on forcing texts to flow when everything’s just stuck or meandering through space, cushioned by sweltering summer days brought to you by human-induced climate change. So “enjoy” the mind-racing fragments. 19.6. – Vienna

Into worlds beyond the capital, talks between youth at night and the signs of giving too much

We talk about social entrepreneurship in the hot morning sun at the arrival centre. Us – no more volunteers, but humans with ideas, jobs and lives. I remember that we’re empathetic, we relate, when we act from our whole being. Caring, then setting boundaries. But this day also brings me down to the bottom of reality. In German we say “aus den Augen aus dem Sinn”. Out of sight, out of mind. We’re not responsible, we don’t know, this is not our job, we follow the rules, there’s no more that we can do, this can’t be, there must be a solution in place. But I’ve already pluged into worlds beyond the capital.

O. arrived to the centre from the northern tip of the country, before she approaches me while I’m jogging between the tables in the waiting area. There are another woman and a child with her. After landing in a distribution centre they were sent to live in a hotel – they call it a курятник, a hen house. The other woman is ready to go back, how can you live in such conditions, back to Kharkiv. I just listen to their request, ready to jump to the next task, but this hurts. From their story – the hotel houses 50 people, it’s old and dirty, and I wonder if it was closed cause of the pandemic or other reasons. 2 floors, people sleeping on the first floor which isn’t made for that, one toilet (besides some in the rooms, that don’t fit all?), two cooktops, two fridges and a kitchen sink for all. Imagine the queues, she says. A billard table. Food stored on random cupboards. Contorted, slippery, endless corridors in the dark. Elderly people left to their fate in this environment. No pharmacy in the village, kids shouting into the night, and the stories of having to hop on a bus to the neighboring village to get bread (if you cannot pay 3,5€ for a loaf, who can). I watch videos with rats and filth, and here I stop the story that at the start I find too hard to comprehend myself. A few discussions and a phonecall later there is a next step, but how can writing to some mail address with videos and photos attached feel like enough? The lack of knowledge, procedures, horizontal coordination, of transparency and faces to approach. Maybe the worst thing isn’t that this is happening, and that this wasn’t the only case, but that I-We don’t know about it, and the most vulnerable people we don’t see. As if this world didn’t exist, as if we had all the grounds to trust in the system beyond this microcosm that has been working since March 4th. But why would we. There are things that one can understand but not accept, this is one of them.

Scene cut.

After this, the other stories blend into the background, mums and kids, the deaf family, the deaf woman. Kharkiv, Mariupol. Shampoo, excel sheet, info sights forwarded, familar face, talks to understand why we don’t know, and lunch in the volunteer container. A constant exercise in staying firm, confident about your responsibility, and at the same time human and fair. I believe in justice – not equality, it’s hard to live it. And there’s summer outside.

Scene cut.

Conversations. I think that we’ve all had our own savior to helper story as volunteers. The frantic beginnings, going the extra step of the way with the people we were helping, feelings of sympathy and guilt and not doing enough, bonding beyond the professional, handing over personal mobile numbers to many more people than now, thoughts revolving around some situations or people we can’t forget for days. Then a certain alienation, and a return – slower, maybe stricter, with an own solidified understanding of one’s role as a helper. And a life to still uphold. “Ah my child? There’s also this yes”. It’s a marathon. What I’ve learned: to be fully present. And that we’re a team, an organisation, a little wonder (thanks to the people who set this up).

Scene cut.

The night at the train station a few days earlier. It’s a calm one, few people are arriving, I’m the only translator, things happen. The colleagues from the other organisation are sitting on two stools, one of them says what’s up with Ukraine, it has calmed down, one doesn’t hear “anything” anymore after all. Well..We talk. I’m always amazed by the rift in realities. Before, there’s the family that needs to go back to Ukraine cause of a medical emergency. The moments when you think why, how much pain can you bear? The tickets are very expensive, the free ones sold out. Then the drunk guy is annoying but it’s all part of the game, the volunteer pouring him a coffee laughs out hard when I translate. Mediation.

Late night talk with R. from Kiev, in his 20s, once the basic questions are clarified, the camp bed for the night is occupied and the station is unwelcomingly empty. Crafting French ceilings and drumming in a Christian community. From Kiev to Ternopil, Georgia, Vienna, now Germany – “to friends”. What would we do without them, the people who co-create our geography and give us something to hold on to in the unknown. The humans who gift us a bit of “home” away from home. There’s so much more, and I don’t have words left. We’re just doing what we can, we walk through the sleeping city to the night bus towards home, go back to work, jump between different realities, big respect for everyone.

Signs, rules, boundaries & motivation – What the supervision taught us

Friday afternoon on Zoom. Here some super quick takeaways.

  • If something irritates you, then that’s to be taken seriously. You have to feel good about your work. A negative emotion is a sign that we have been giving too much.
  • There’s always an organisational and a personal side to things 😉 and to purpose. Remember the organisational question of what can we offer the people arriving, we have a specific function, we have a main task – everything else comes second and can be delegated (if there’s someone to delegate to), we’re not equally responsible for everything. Know exactly who you are and why you’re here – personally. Know your motivation.
  • Automatization of processes is important to reduce conflicts, an obviously increase clarity, in an organisation.
  • In all the helping, and doing things, and good emotions it’s always helpful to reflect why a person / situation made us feel in a certain way. And sometimes just be aware of when a bond is created or there’s manipulation happening. In the end, the endeavour is still about helping as many people as possible. Oh, the psychology!

As a writer you have huge responsibility, and I feel it with every word that I’m putting here. I hope that I respected it with the way I wrote this text. Volunteering can often produce an emotional cocktail of love, cooperation, irritation, indignation, duty, standing your ground. And there are no obvious answers.

Sun and Scouts. And no one should have to be ashamed to ask for diapers.

STORIES | “How can you live without a cat?” I laugh that I don’t know how, and promise to send photos of my cats in exchange. I etch their smiles into my memory disk, and drink the – now lukewarm – cappuccino that they brought from the kitchen despite my protests. Gratitude, on both sides. And swinging bit by bit through the unknowns of Austrian institutions. The microcosm is bubbling with life; helpless exhaustion doesn’t have a chance here.

Arrival centre an summer outside. In the hall, scouts are building games for kids (and this includes lots of wood and painting with your feet while sitting on a swing), kitchen people keep up a steady supply of fuel, translators are registering people for emergency housing and regional distribution, or exchanging infos in conversations that just flow. Ukrainians are resting or problem-solving.

Human stories.

O. has two little kids, 2-year old twins. They had to flee their house close to Boryspil Airport in Kiev, shells, air raid sirens, and the little ones who were tugging their mother down into their basement in the middle of the night (understandable). If the twins were tricky troublemakers before, now O. and her sleep have it even harder. “They wake up 3-4 times per night”, she tells me standing between the kitchen and waiting area. “The docter said this is normal, it’s because of the war, they have to get over it”. Like everyone else she expects more, more guidance than that. It’s the conversations in between mindful, quiet questions about basic needs and rummaging around the shelves to find the right size of diapers. A coordinator hands me two more products on top, cause you can always need that for a baby, and this is how she did it with her own kid. Smiles. Hand on heart. O.’s pale-pink T-shirt with a quote on ‘kindness’. While I write this, part of me feels feels ashamed and I remember the words of the psychotherapist: the shame you feel doesn’t just come come from yourself. No one should have to be ashamed to ask for diapers. No one.

V. lost his bag with all his documents. He lived all over the place. We agree that we both love St. Petersburg, the war cannot change our attitude to a city.
I. & L. are struggling to get into a German class. One of them has a cat (which had to stay in Germany), the other brings cappuccino. Phonecalls, I want to understand. Plans of action, and numbers exchanged.
The Ukrainian-Russian volunteer grown up closeby, the invisible bonds that bring life trajectories a bit closer together. The guy from Chechnya – “I come from a war, I know how it is.” “If you can help, then you want to help.” Even though it might not be our job anymore.

The young women in a light-blue cap who just arrived and wants to volunteer. In the end, I observe her play with the kids, and I remember the importance of asking. Of going out there. Of doing what you love. And not wasting a second to do that. And I remember the big respect I have to everyone here.
The children’s drawings. I fix my eyes on them every time I walk by.
The sunny frenzy.

In the right place. At the right time.
#Слава Україні!