Whispers From the Other Side

We all carry with us stories of our lived experiences. The ways by which we interpret and craft these narratives often give clues as to why we choose to move in the world the way we do. At a time when stories of fear, terror and pain frequently go viral, we hope you take from this an example of an alternative narrative. One that celebrates loss, love, hope, optimism and ultimately, growth. We are all connected by our innate desire to make meaning of the events around us. How will you author your own story?  

For the past seventeen years, I have been politely trying to rid myself of a ghost that has hung by my side.

So when the opportunity to immerse myself in a two day event at a venue heralded as Sydney’s greatest ghost homes emerged, I imagined the perfect storm. On one hand, the Thriving Workplace event served my professional goals to learn even more about how people are pioneering wellbeing strategies in the workplace. On a personal level, I was curious to see if my ghost might be encouraged to leave me and join those who were whispered to be residing at the Q Station.

This second possibility was a long shot. I’d had several attempts to move my ghost along since she first found me, shortly after I had been badly hurt both physically and emotionally by someone who I thought had cared about me. Back then, there wasn’t the language and the social media movements we have now, but we both knew that what had happened to me was wrong, and that the guilt and shame that lingered was undeserved.

My ghost’s early attempts to protect and comfort me targeted my fear, and she’d lurk as a shadow in the darkness, cautioning me to stay on high alert. She stayed by my side, protecting me in the only ways she knew how, at a time that I didn’t have the answers. What she didn’t know was that shame and guilt don’t need fear, they need love. And it wasn’t long before I found it. For just a short, but pivotal time, a new love comforted me, held my hand and reminded me that I was safe. He too stayed by my side, as we watched her jumping out from around the corners of the night. He offered me words to describe what I was experiencing and courage to share with others. But above all, at a time where I’d lost my way, he gave me permission to feel, and to be. To accept that she was there, and use compassion to combat her fear.

 Mariane Mariane

Whilst our relationship ended, these lessons stuck. Over the years, with the help of professionals, family and friends, I began to see my experience in a different light, as an opportunity for growth and greater understanding of myself and others. But she still struggled to let go. Whilst it’s been a long time since she last jumped out from behind the bed, she’s found many opportunities to whisper cautions in the hope of quietening me, and to keep my defences on call.

As we sat amongst wellbeing warriors at the two-day event all these years later, I wondered what it might take for her to begin to trust me a little more. Together, we heard incredible stories of individuals and organisations who had dared to activate their dreams of a world where humility and humanity shaped our workplaces. Examples shared by people like Barry Murphy, who described the ways Airbnb are creating an environment that enables their culture to be both compassionate and bold. Andrew Barnes from Perpetual, who disrupted the traditional five day working week at his company to bring his vision of life – work balance to life, and with it, greater productivity and engagement from his staff.  And Dr Vicki Ashton, whose story told of how Monash University, or as she described it, her big town of people, came to be internationally recognised for their efforts to ignite and sustain a culture that prioritises wellbeing.

   ……”shame and guilt don’t need fear,

                                                    they need love”

With over 25 speakers from around our country and the world, there was an energy that could only be described by being felt and experienced, as people shared their journeys toward thriving workplaces. Yet it was the individual story shared by Allan Sparkes, Deputy Commissioner of the Mental Health Commission of NSW, who through his personal account of mental illness and subsequent growth, brought us all to silence as we listened in awe. Alongside 120 of The Serenity Collective friends, I stood in applause at his conclusion. My professional goals of learning had been satisfied. And in the sounds of the claps, my personal ones were about to be too.

You see, what I haven’t shared in my story so far is that the he, she and me that were thrown together all those years ago had an opportunity this past week to reconnect. Through parallel professional lives as change champions, the man that comforted me in my darkest times sat again by my side, now as a colleague and friend. As I stood, I noticed that she, the ghost who had previously cautioned me with her fear, was gone. Without her, I felt nervous and exposed, excited and brave, vulnerable. In that moment of stillness, as she stepped aside, I was free to lean in. With my hand on his heart, I said two simple words; “thank you”. With heartfelt gratitude for who he’d been and all we’d shared together, the final chapter of that story was written. As I stepped back and placed my finished book up on the shelf, I heard her whisper to me for the final time, “you’ve got this now”. Then she left, in search for her next champion in training.

Mariane lives in the seaside town of Port Macquarie with her husband, two young children and two max sized labradoodles. She has dedicated the last 15 years to working with individuals, families and organisations, combining science with storytelling to enable others to author their narratives in ways that enable them to pursue their most meaningful lives. Her research investigates environments that foster the development of purpose, and she applies her knowledge of this field through her work as Co-founder and director of The Posify Group.


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