Story has impact; it connects and transforms. Stories inspire; they help people understand complex topics, build resilience and connections, and drive collective action. In uncertain and challenging times, stories can help us regain our sense of connection and purpose.
As core Relational Leadership practices, story and Narrative Leadership are foundational to individual transformation, team transformation, and the transformation of the culture of healthcare. This is the first of our Transformational Power of Story series, which explores the relational power of stories to create connection. Through written and video narratives, members of the Relational Leadership community model the practice of Narrative Leadership.
In 2022, Karista Peabody, MSN, shared her origin story — what inspired her to pursue her work — with the Relational Leadership Institute fall learning cohort. An edited version of what she shared is below.
I want to tell you a story about clay.
See, these days, in my free time, I am a potter. But my story with clay goes back to my childhood. Really, it begins with the feeling of mud squishing between my fingers and toes as a kid. I remember the feeling of being grounded, free as I ran around barefoot. I felt rooted to the earth, putting the dark brown Montana mud on my cheeks to camouflage myself on the dusty trails of the mountains. What I didn’t know at that time was that, as a kid, I was in tune with the world around me. I was in balance, with my feet and my pudgy toes rooted into the earth.
Fast forward 30 years.
My work was overseeing infection control policies in the middle of a global pandemic for a health system in Colorado. Everything was moving so fast. Everything was chaotic. Everything was a blur. Morning work blended into evenings, which then became more working at night. We were absorbing constant changes of protocols and rules from the CDC, the state health department, and there was always a new-next-something that required my attention every minute of every day. And there was SO much uncertainty. And there was very little clarity, about anything.
In this role, I found myself becoming an imbalanced ball of clay — to use a potter’s metaphor — spinning faster and faster on the wheel of life. I was not living in sync with my values, but even more disconcerting — I didn’t know it. I didn’t realize it. I couldn’t see it. I had my foot on the pedal of life and my only setting was all-the-way-on. At the time, I just kept taking on more and more and the speed kept increasing faster and faster. I thought I was handling everything. I told myself I was okay.
But, thankfully, the circumstances of life jarred me from this chaotic-nonstop-work-world.
Because of my grandfather’s health, I had to refocus on helping him in Oregon. This was the only thing that allowed me to take the foot off the pedal of the spinning machine of my work. I remember walking into my boss’s office in Colorado with arms and legs shaking to tell her I was going to take a leave of absence and I hoped the company would support me … but even if they couldn’t, either way, I had to go be with family. Something deep within me just knew that I needed to re-ground myself and this was the way I was going to do it.
It was only when I took this pause that I thought to myself, “I don’t feel good in my body.” I was spinning the wheel so fast there was no integrity to how I was functioning. In that pause, I was able to look at my life, as if I was watching a TV show, and realize that the main character, who was me, wasn’t in balance — spiritually, physically, emotionally, or mentally. When doing pottery, the ball of clay must be centered on the wheel to shape it into whatever form you are trying to make. The same is true of life. And I had lost sight of that needed balance. I knew it as a child. I lost it as an adult.
It is scary to make a different decision, to change course, to slow down. Because, like everyone who goes into healthcare, I want to be of service, and I deeply care about my job and the patients I serve. But I had to recognize the personal need to slow down and re-center. I needed to come back to the childhood joy of squishiness between my fingers and toes. That feeling of being grounded in who I am and what I do. This is what I look for in my work today.
Which isn’t to say I have it totally figured out. But I am happy to report that I have in fact found more balance. Does that mean I don’t push the wheel to go faster at times? Of course, I do. We all do in healthcare. But I have also re-learned the importance of finding my heart’s center. It is a lesson I carry with me.
Thank you for letting me share part of my story with you today.
Karista Peabody, MSN, is the director of employee health & infection control at HopeWest. Through her participation with the Relational Leadership Institute at Oregon Health & Science University, Karista continues to be an active member of the Intend Health Strategies community.
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Story and Narrative Leadership are core Relational Leadership practices and are foundational to individual and team transformation. Read Karista’s Peabody’s story.