#7: Growth

I joined What’s the Story expecting to learn how to tell a story. Looking back, I learned so much more. I decided to reflect on the two areas in which I felt I made the most progress.

The self-direction targets focus on being a good team member. My previous experiences with group projects were all very similar: nobody in my group got anything done and I ended up doing the entire project at the last minute. What’s the Story forced me to actually cooperate and work with my team. The benefit of this was that I had others to work with, but it also meant that my ideas and decisions weren’t necessarily final decisions. Everyone on my team had to consider what everyone else wanted, which was hard at times. The target says “I thrive in a blended learning environment, relishing the opportunity to pursue my learning unbound from the time/space constraints of a traditional class, and I’m seeking other opportunities to learn this way”. It specifically mentions being outside of a traditional class, which I feel made this experience easier. Being in a traditional classroom with stricter expectations and deadlines would have made it harder for me to work effectively with a team and actually enjoy working with a team. Considering what other people wanted and being patient with people when work wasn’t able to be completed would have been extremely stressful for me in a traditional classroom, but What’s the Story provided a space where that wasn’t the case.

The other part of these targets is the idea of getting feedback. This was also difficult for me- it was hard to want to share a project that so clearly wasn’t finished. However, getting feedback proved to be really helpful. The whole editing process was stressful because we had no idea how an audience would interpret decisions we made, and feedback gave us a good idea of how someone not involved in editing might react. The feedback target says “I can describe how I will use my new understanding of the power of feedback to solicit and offer helpful feedback” which I feel is especially true to my experience. I didn’t at all understand “the power of feedback” before the retreat where we shared our first drafts. The team we were paired with gave us advice on the section we thought was almost finished which showed us that it was actually still had plenty of work to be done. We liked their suggestions so much that the version of that clip based on their feedback ended up in the final video. It helped me realize just how helpful receiving an outside opinion can be, which goes beyond What’s the Story. Following that, I started asking for feedback in other areas of my life, particularly on school assignments, and hopefully, I’ll continue with it in the future.

Responsible and involved citizenship

Part of this target is also about teamwork, but more about being individually responsible and able to hold yourself accountable. For me, this meant taking on tasks and assigning tasks based on skill set and not on interest in the task. I had absolutely no interest in some of the tasks involved in editing, but I was the person most able to do them, so I did. Much of the responsibility of assigning people to tasks also ended up being mine, and I had to pay attention to things like scheduling and level of comfort with the technology being used. One of the members of my team was really great at asking interview questions that prompted really thoughtful answers, so we tried to have her on as many possible interviews. I wouldn’t say these teamwork targets were particularly challenging to me, they just took some getting used to.

Additionally, these targets revolved around the idea of understanding, whether it be understanding an issue or understanding the reasoning behind differing viewpoints. This is crucial in any sort of social justice work. My team went into our project thinking we had a mostly complete understanding of the issue, but hearing so many different perspectives really challenged that belief. There is only so much understanding you can gain from research and from statistics. Ultimately, you learn the most from stories.

A particular interview that stands out to me is one we did with a student at my school. We had similar opinions on the topic of sexual violence but, being a male athlete, he had a wildly different perspective. I was very much struggling to understand where opposing viewpoints came from and why people had them when to me it seemed all the data was in my favor. He talked about athletic culture and the connection to sexual violence, and the whole interview was really eye-opening. It also made me feel more curious and more empathetic to those with differing viewpoints instead of just frustrated, which I feel will be very helpful in future activism. It is impossible to create and promote change if you aren’t at all willing to think critically about your views and about other views, no matter how much you disagree with them. However, What’s the Story also helped me realize that there are some situations where safety takes priority, in which promoting listening and understanding isn’t a reasonable expectation. Everything is situational.

Unexpected Learning

I was most surprised by the development in my leadership skills that has happened over the last year. Earlier this year I made a blog post in which I talked about wanting to make change without being a leader, because I have never been the kind of person who takes charge of anything. However, as my group started working, I noticed a serious lack of organization and rose to the occasion. I was the one who organized our weekly hangouts and who assigned work to everyone. Had I not done What’s the Story, I’m not sure I ever would have figured out how good a leader I can be. I also realized that being in charge can be stressful, but it’s not as terrifying as I imagined it would be. I had to learn to trust my decisions because there wasn’t enough time to doubt them. However, I also had to learn to truly trust my team and their decisions because I couldn’t do it alone either. An example of this is an interview we did. I set up the interview but was unavailable to be there, and both of the people going had never done an interview before. Some of the other interviews in which neither team member had previous experience hadn’t gone too well, so I was really worried, especially because I know the person they were talking to was a fairly crucial part of the end product. However, I should have trusted my team, because the interview was one of the best AND one of the members got an additional interview with someone else in the building. I’m not a very trusting person in general, but being on this team definitely helped with that.

The other major part of being a leader is cooperating and listening to your teammates. When you work on something alone, every decision you make is entirely your own. When you’re on a team, that’s not the case. This was hard for me at first- sometimes I didn’t like the ideas other people had or sometimes my group couldn’t decide between multiple ideas, but we had to work through it and I had to learn to listen to what my team was saying. It’s really easy to just dismiss whatever people are saying if it isn’t also what you’re saying, but so often my teammates had really great ideas that I just wasn’t listening to. All of these skills that I have learned in the past year go beyond movie making and even beyond schoolwork. Being a good leader, being able to truly listen, and being able to trust and depend on other people are all important life skills that will serve me well in whatever my future holds. I entered What’s the Story expecting to leave as a better storyteller, but I never expected to leave as a better person.


Featured image by Ian Schneider

Avery Murray-Gurney

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