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November 6, 2023

What's Your Story?

Yolande Conradie

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When does a story start? "That's easy," I hear you say. "It starts at the beginning." But any story really starts long before its beginning.

As human beings, we are meaning-making beings and one of the ways we make meaning is by "story making." How do we do that? We experience many moments and events, and we "make stories" by connecting the dots between the events.

Most of us have asked someone, "Have you heard the story of (the good wolf and the bad wolf)?" Or, when wanting to relate something more personal, we ask something like, "Have I told you the story of the time... I missed my flight because I was head-over-heels in love?" (True story, by the way!)

If you had a funny or special experience you might ask the people you were with, "Do you remember the day we...?" Then you retell the story to one another, filling in one another's blanks, reminding each other of nuances and detail that might have been forgotten. And you laugh or shake your head in disbelief over it again.

In retelling one another the story, you work together to acknowledge and witness the bond that the shared experience created.

We name things that have some importance – and we name our stories too. Sometimes it reflects characters in a tale, a lesson, place, or a process or journey. Think of names like "Tuesdays with Morrie" or "The Midnight Library."

Often, we don't consciously name our life stories or even parts of them, but they become part of our identity – and may even become a dominant narrative in our life. My story with Mind Tools forms an important part of mine and has shaped me in many wonderful ways.

What's My Story With Mind Tools?

One evening in July 2007, I was searching for material on the internet to help me deal with a difficult situation with an employee. One of the sites I was directed to was Mind Tools. I was immediately excited about the wealth of information on the site, and about what was then known as the Forums. And I was so happy to have found a place where I could ask questions in a safe space that I became a subscriber that instant.

I regularly participated in the Forums and almost exactly a year later, the then Forum Manager asked me if I'd like to become part of the Forums team. Funny, I still remember exactly where I was when I read the email: in a very remote part of South Africa where, by some fluke, I happened to get a mobile phone signal for a few minutes.

I was about to embark on a seven-day safari and knew I had to respond before going off into the bush. So, I sent a very eloquent email from my Blackberry (remember those?) saying, "Yes, please! About to lose signal for the next seven days, chat next week."

Comfort Arrived in the Midst of Chaos

So started a long and cherished relationship with Mind Tools, its founders, James and Rachel Manktelow, and many other leaders and colleagues.

From the first day, there was a trust relationship. Even though we'd never met in person at the time, and I was in South Africa and they were in the U.K., they trusted that I'd worked the hours that I billed. And I trusted that they'd pay me! (That trust relationship always remained intact, even though the organization changed hands more than once during my tenure.)

The year 2009 was a chaotic one for me. I got divorced, moved to another city, lost my dogs, and had to move house twice. I also had to find a way to support myself after moving, all while I was in the second year of my studies.

It was also the first time that I really experienced how the Mind Tools team supported one of their own. Even though I was the smallest cog in the machine and lived thousands of miles away. My then manager, Dianna Podmoroff, even offered to have virtual "water cooler chats" (I didn't even know what that meant, it wasn't a thing in South Africa) to give me a safe space to talk.

Even though my role was small at the time, Mind Tools was the one stable element in my life, and it gave me purpose. Even though it was "work," it was also a place where I could be, and breathe, witness others' stories, and help them write new endings.

And Then I Met Them!

In July 2014, after Dianna's departure, I became the Community Manager. I remarried in 2015 and we went to Paris and London for our honeymoon. Seeing that London wasn't far from the Mind Tools HQ at the time, we made a trip to Horsham to finally meet all my wonderful colleagues in person. It was literally one of the highlights of our honeymoon.

Two years later, I was invited to join the celebrations when Mind Tools won the Queen's Award for Enterprise. Once again, I got to meet some colleagues whom I'd not yet seen in person. It was yet another experience and occasion that I'll never forget.

Over the years, I've been privileged to have wonderful team members who gave their all – even though they were all contractors, who worked part-time as Mind Tools coaches. They taught me many things, challenged me, supported me, and helped me to grow as a person and as a leader.

Earlier this year, I reached a point in my life when I desperately needed a six-week break from work. It wasn't a break planned months in advance, but rather weeks. However, as always, the team, with the help of our managing editor, pulled together. They simply made things work; sometimes by the skin of their teeth, but quitting was never an option.

If it sounds like we only had good times, don't be fooled. Over the years we've had sad times, challenging personalities, major health scares, difficult situations, and loads of change to deal with. However, the good times far outweigh anything else. As a team, we always found productive ways to deal with the challenges.

Celebrate the Life

An ending like this cannot arrive without bringing a huge sense of loss. And even though I feel grief, I also celebrate the years I spent with Mind Tools.

I gained experience and learned skills that I wouldn't have learned otherwise. And I was forced to grow, learn and be self-reliant. To find ways of making things work and learn how to work in a virtual team.

I celebrate the people in my team, the leaders who guided me. And, of course, and the colleagues who supported me through thick and thin.

If I didn't already know it, the year that wasn't (2020) revealed who my colleagues were as human beings, and the heart of the company. I received so much love, care and support from everybody and even had the most joyous virtual birthday celebration!

Naming the Story

I was wondering what I'd call it if I had to name my Mind Tools story. While writing this blog, I thought a fitting name would be "Lessons in Love and Leadership."

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Lessons in Leadership

The leaders I worked with at Mind Tools always lead by example. I was given room to make decisions, make mistakes, and be me while being taught and guided gently.

They raised the bar and supported me, changed things, and helped me navigate. They listened to me, allowed me to do new things and asked, "What do you need from us?" That's how the #MTtalk Twitter chat came about.

Lessons in Love

I know it feels weird to talk about "love" when talking about a workplace. However, let's treat this as a "mathematical" equation:

Acceptance + kindness + care + support + grace + gentle correction + guidance + connection = love. How can it not be love? It's not the type of love that is shouted from the rooftops yet never actioned. It's rather the type of love that isn't spoken of but demonstrated daily in a thousand different ways.

Human beings are meaning-making beings, and this story of leadership and love helped me make meaning of me.

What's My Next Story?

What's my next story? I don't know. I see the void that invites possibilities, opportunities, and new ways of thinking and becoming. As much as I'm a human being, I'm also a human becoming – one in the process of writing a new story.

But the ending of this story is happening now. All I'm doing with it is sitting with how I feel. I also invite gratitude into this space, gratitude for the shared and sacred Story of Mind Tools. It's one that binds me to some of the most exceptional people I've ever met.

We part as colleagues; we continue as friends.

When Does a Story End?

When does a story start? "That's easy," I hear you say. "It starts at the beginning." But any story really starts long before its beginning.

And when does it end? I hear you say, "It ends at the end." But a story never ends because it changes who we are. It changes how we think, what we do, and some of it passes through us to other people. Its threads and impact continue to grow in ways we know, and don't know.

Two things can be true at once. This is the end of a story, and yet it continues forever.

Special Thanks

Thank you to leaders and colleagues past and present and a special thanks to:

James and Rachel Manktelow, Charlie Swift, Keith Jackson, Jaye O'Farrell-Stevens, Alice Gledhill, Danielle Ormshaw, Dianna Podmoroff, Sarah Kyle, Anne Evison, and John Yates. A special thank you, too, to all my current colleagues in the Content Team, and Mel Dowding.


You may like to take a look at the following Mind Tools resources, then join the coaches’ events to share your thoughts, ask questions and learn more. Note that you will need to be a Mind Tools Individual or Enterprise member to see all of the resources in full.

This Is My Story
Lead With a Story
What's in a Story?
The Story of Business Storytelling Video

You can read previous blogs by Yolandé and the coaching team here.

Yolande Conradie

About the Author

Yolandé uses her 20+ years of experience as a therapist, coach, facilitator, and business school lecturer to help people develop their careers and live up to their potential. She thrives on facilitating conversations designed to build bridges between people by using creative questioning and thinking techniques.

You may mistake Yolandé for a city girl. But she's an honorary game ranger who loves birding, archaeology, and spending time in the African bush. Early morning runs with her rottweiler and reading (a lot) are her favorite activities. And her neighbors will tell you she loves the kitchen and it gives her joy to "bake" people happy!

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