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#127 - Storytellers I Admire: Chivon John
Carry-ons only for this storyteller and workplace wellness advocate
We are all made of stories. That is what the storyteller I admire this month, Chivon John, reinforced to me in our sweeping, deep, and enlightening conversation. Honestly, she shared an idea with me that I had never heard before and now will take with me (literally and figuratively—read to the end to get this pun) through my days. She is a font of wisdom, vulnerability and insight and comes to storytelling honestly and shares her own story with generosity.
John is a is a workplace wellness expert, facilitator, and wellness educator devoted to helping leaders re-define success and what it means to be well. She is also a storyteller. Driven by her passion for mental health awareness and diverse corporate experience, she helps organizations and individuals re-define having a strong ‘work ethic’ as one that includes caring for their overall wellbeing. Not only is she a passionate advocate for the well-being of driven professionals, but she also holds the role of Global Wellness Lead at Shopify, sits on the Board of Directors for Taking It Global, and is currently building LightWork, a brand that develops products and research at the intersection of work and well-being.
During our conversation, Chivon and I clicked a few times on the idea of re-imagining work and redefining success. (and on being introverted storytellers and enneagram fives). I hope some of her insight and unique perspective inspire you to think about the work you do every day and the ways you can approach it in new ways.
As always, this is a long one but a good one. So grab a cuppa, get cozy, and dive into the world of workplace wellness and storytelling from the perspective of an enlightened introvert.
Great. Let’s do this. The questions are quite broad so take them however feels good for you and what feels aligned with where you are and, what you want to talk about. The first question is what's your story, or if you need it a bit narrower, what's the story of your life right now.
Chivon: Wow. The story of my life right now. I knew that this question was coming, but I will say that for the longest time, what's your story? That question was always so intimidating for me.
Oh, tell me why.
C: I think because when we talk about our story or, what do you do or who are you. It's so easy to go into what you do in your profession, your job, or your career. On the other side for myself, it's well, what is the big story? How do I share it in an interesting way? Or what's the one defining moment, right?
C: And, you know, just with time and your own personal exploration, at least that I've done for myself, you realize that your story is just many stories put together and personal reflection. So, what's the story that I want to share right now? I would say that the story that I'd love to share is that I work in the wellness space right now, my life and calling I feel is very much devoted to supporting the wellbeing of others, but how I got there, my story to that point is very much rooted in my own journey of unwellness.
I think for me, I've had personal experiences with dealing with mental health challenges, depression, anxiety, experiencing burnout at work, and also just unraveling my own connection and identity to work and working and the doing. And really seeing how much all of that connects to our wellness and wellbeing. One sort of big moment for myself or that standout moment was several years ago, very early in my career. At my first corporate role I was hyper focused on showing up all of the time. It was very much about being perfect and doing the job. You know, always there first and the last to leave.
And I thought by all accounts I was doing what I was supposed to do until I got a 360 survey which is anonymous feedback you get from your peers. I got this interesting comment, a lot of different comments, but there was one that stood out for me. It was ‘Chivon is a robot and all she does is work.’ [laughs].
Oh my God.
Yes. And there was another comment about me being an Energizer bunny, meaning I just go, go, go with work. But the robot one was very—
That shouldn't even be allowed.
Yeah. So that was… that was a lot. But it was interesting because obviously in the moment you're upset, but it also, as I look back at that moment, it held a mirror to me. Like, you think you're perfect or the persona that you're operating under is that you're doing all the right things. You're doing the work. But you're appearing as vacant to other folks. And I learned later on, just through other conversations with my leaders and things, that it was just that they were worried about me.
When I look back at that moment, in that time work for me was very much a big part of my mask. And it was just a way for me to shield; pour myself into the work and not have to worry about the other things that were going on behind the scenes that I was dealing with. And not realizing that I thought at work it wouldn't show up, but it was showing up in different ways that I didn't think or would've expected.
So when I look back at that time and just the work that I'm doing now, it's very much workplace wellness and helping folks with supporting their wellbeing. Even though receiving that feedback was very difficult at the time, I'm thankful for that moment because it helped me have a stronger appreciation for understanding the ways that our wellness shows up in so many areas of our life, especially in the workplace or in the context of the work that we do. And how even when you're doing work that is important to you or that you enjoy, how easy it is to lose yourself in that, or to use that work, to distract you from other things. So I would say that that's kind of the story that resonates with me in this moment right now. But I'm really also interested in and passionate about deconstructing our work ethic and applying our work ethic to different ways of taking care of ourselves beyond just pouring ourselves into the things or the titles that we might hold.
I love that. So I've shared a lot of my own burnout experience through my newsletter and Natasha and I are working on a project all around the lessons that we learned from re-defining success and how we want share them. So everything that you're saying right now is just pinging so many different things for me, cause it's like, yes, we need more people talking about these things and doing this work and sharing it with folks in the corporate environment all over as much as possible. So, leaning into that a little bit, I phrased the next question very specifically and I've gotten some interesting responses to it. I’d love to hear what you're going say about it, tell me about work that you do that brings you joy.
C: Ooh, work I do that brings me joy. I love connecting with other people. I love community, being in community with people, whether it is, you know, coffee chats or bringing folks together for a gathering or an event. What brings me joy is to really bring folks together in community. For the longest time, when we think about wellness and self-care its been very much focused on the individual and all of the things that we can do to support ourselves. But I think what ends up happening (when we do this) is that we push to the side the importance of being in community with others and how that also plays a fundamental role and important in our wellbeing and our ability to feel joy.
So, I love anything that allows me to bring people together or to have a shared experience. I don't necessarily have to be front and centre of anything. I like to be behind the scenes—a lot or a curator of the conversations or bringing folks together in community.I have been attending a run club and it's having the opportunity to go and do something to support my wellbeing, but I get so much joy from just the community with other people as well, too.
Oh, I love that. It’s so funny because it’s only recently that I’ve started to notice the role that community has played in my own healing and my own journey. But so many people have brought it up as something that’s so important. And I think it’s something that we, as a society sort of forget, we lean into that sort of individual healing.
C: Absolutely. Yeah. When I think about the last couple of years, with the pandemic and all the other—
All the awful things that have happened to us.
C: All the other dominoes that have been pushed down it really has brought to the surface how much we didn't realize that we relied on community with others, just even if we weren't talking to people, but just going outside and just being amongst other people. And when that went away, and we had to be in our homes and you realize like, hey, I haven't spoken to somebody in how many days or how many, you know, just how many weeks. Or just the fact that we can't heal in isolation. Right? I think a lot of times there's again a strong focus on self-care and self-love and I think a big turning point for me recently was examining the phrase that you can't love other people, unless you love yourself or you can't be in a relationship with someone.
For example, I grew up thinking that I have to be perfectly healed and whole before I allow others into my space. When in fact we are able to heal, grow and to learn by being with others, by learning from their experiences, by them also pouring into us. And it's unrealistic for us to feel that we all just have to do these downloads in isolation, without the opportunities to have experiences, to have missteps, to have the opportunity to share and be in community with others. Because it just feeds that individualism mindset of feeling that you alone are responsible for everything, right? Self-care should never be self-reliance. It shouldn't mean that you should only rely on yourself.
We need to rely on and connect and be okay to be with others. I don't know exactly when we lost that. It could be years of conditioning. It's feeling like you have to do everything yourself. I think this year, the last couple of years have really pushed to the forefront that we need community. We need to be with other people, we need to learn and share. And that is very much a big part of our wellness. It's a fundamental thing that really helps us to thrive and to grow.
“We need to be with other people we need to learn and share. And that is very much a big part of our wellness.”
Oh, thank you so much for sharing that. I think that's a message people need to hear more and more, and it it's one that that's coming. I think a big part of the reason I do the work I do and share about storytelling and, and interview people about storytelling and teach about storytelling is because I see it as this sort of connector and community builder. I think storytelling's really important. I'd love to just pivot a little bit and start to talk about how storytelling shows up in the work you do if it shows up. So first of all, how would you define a good story or what makes a good story in your world?
C: So I think the good story for me is something where even though I may not have the same experience as the individual, you still feel a sense of connection. You feel connected to the storyteller or the story itself—something that sparks your own inner reflection. I think great stories, for me, start sparking ideas for me or get me thinking about what does this look like in my world? Or what could be the continuation of this story that I've just heard in the context of my own life? In terms of the work that I do, storytelling shows up in many different ways when I think of folks that are inspiring to me as storytellers or folks who are in the wellness space are folks who, you know, share about their own experiences of how they've come to be doing the work that they do and how it drives and how it inspires them.
So again, it goes against the belief that we need to have one story that is our defining moment when it's really several different stories that are happening at once. When I can see people giving us glimpses of those chapters, into those things that make their larger story, I think that, for me, makes a really great story. Where I can still, you know, see myself in some way, even though they could have a completely different background, different history, but I still feel a deep sense of connection. I have a good understanding of who that person is, what they stand for, what they want to leave behind in terms of their legacy. And how they want to bring people together through their story.
Oh, that's, that's amazing. That made me think of the idea that we are all made of many stories. I feel that's the thing that you're saying. It's like every chapter of your life is a different story and every moment to be a different story. I appreciate you sharing that. So, the question I used to ask is what made you realize you're a storyteller, but now I find it's easier to ask people, do you consider yourself a storyteller? And if so, why, or why not?
C: Hmm. So I would say that I didn't used to consider myself a storyteller, but now I do. I think because I would consider myself to be an introvert, a more quiet person, an Enneagram Five for folks who know what that is.
Yeah. Me too.
C: I love it. And typically, you know, stereotypically storytellers are folks who, at least for me, for the longest time, it's people who are more vocal and have this perfect, polished story. And again, I'm a more quiet, introverted person who often likes to be a bit more behind the scenes. And also feeling that being a storyteller you had to be a writer for example. And I write, but I never thought I'm a storyteller writer, you know? But I think for me, it was realizing that stories can come in many different mediums. If we think about social media as an example, even just posting Instagram stories, which feels so silly to say, but it tells a story. In a way you're giving people a sense of either your life or some type of story.
And it's been interesting to see as these platforms have aged over the years, the really creative ways people use it to tell stories from their life, use it to share lessons in the form of a story. Even if it's just like these little mini blogs of people giving you a glimpse into their life. For me right now, I'm sharing little glimpses of my half marathon training and getting ready for that experience in the next couple of months. So I broadened that definition of storyteller, because it was first about recognizing that I have a story to share, I'm a living story. So that in itself makes me a storyteller. And that yes, the way that I felt, the way that I tell my story does not have to be only focused on the written word. It can come through videos, it can come through PowerPoint decks. That sounds so…
No, no, no I hear you. A [presentation] deck can be powerful.
C: I can make a great deck that tells some amazing stories. So I'll give myself that, but overall a story can come in different mediums. So I would consider myself to be a storyteller and I coach myself often to say, ‘yes, you are a storyteller.’ It doesn't have to just be through what you write. But you're doing it in such different, creative ways. And in a way that very much matters in the ecosystem.
Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes. So literally the reason I started this series, this interview series was specifically because I was like, people should see themselves as storytellers and everyone is a storyteller and I want to show them. I would prove it by just interviewing a bunch of different people and talking about how they are storytellers. So I one hundred percent agree with that. And I think Instagram especially is—Facebook aside and how awful social media can be, depending on how you interact with it. It has shown people that yes, they can tell stories in even small ways. It’s such a great teacher of that at least. So, when you think about the work you do, when you think about your work specifically as a storyteller, who would you say is your audience, or who do you make things for?
C: There are a couple folks that I speak to or tell stories to. So first are folks that are multi-hyphenates like me. So you might have your full-time job or a business, but you also have this portfolio career. I know some people might refer to it also as a side hustle. But you have all these different projects that you might do. What sort of brings and ties it together is that you might be very passionate about what you do. So, one thing that I love to kind of remind people about is that sometimes there's this myth that when you do what you love, you don't need a break. [Laughs] That you won't burn out. If anything you need to be probably even more hypervigilant about just your wellness and your wellbeing when you are doing things that are very purpose driven and mission driven for yourself. Another group that I've been leaning very closely and heavily into are people in very helping roles. So they're very much individuals who in their work are often tasked with supporting the wellbeing of others. So people leads, folks in HR, I was chatting with a friend who also reminded me, folks who are executive assistants.
Oh my gosh. Yeah.
C: Social workers and things like that. So those are the individuals who are often very much hyper focused on taking care of other people. And their boundaries tend to lapse a little bit, or maybe expand in other ways that might impact their own personal wellbeing. So ensuring that they're, you know, learning how to, I guess, put their mask on first, what does that actually look like in the context of also supporting other people?
Oh, that is so important. All of those people who are so essential to, I think, a functioning society. So it's amazing to hear that. I think about my therapist all the time. I'm just like, is she okay? [Laughs]
C: The last couple of years I’ve also wondered are therapists okay? Are folks who are leading teams, the doctors, the social workers, how are they doing? What's going on with them? The people who actually had to work through the entire time [of the pandemic]. And yeah. What does work even look like in this time? And that's something I think is really worth exploring—to look at what work looks like and how it actually weighs us down in some ways that we may not even expect. So often we think of workload as being the only thing that can weigh us down, but there's other things, like just the passion tax. So, you know, if you're very passionate about your job, that can also weigh you down. Productivity culture. There are things like productivity influencers out there, even that idea in itself sounds so—
My God, I hate that. I hate that sentence.
C: Right? Like cultural norms can also weigh us down at work that we may not even notice for the longest time. I grew up learning, you have to work twice as hard. You have to do all these things where it's a cultural thing that you bring into the workplace and it actually sometimes impacts how you show up. But also your wellness because here you are doing double the work and you're not taking care of yourself in that.
I'm a true believer in reassessing and reevaluating what work means to each of us as individuals and just sort of redefining work for ourselves in new ways. I think it's an essential next step for us as a society. Not even just at an individual level.
C: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I completely agree. Like all of that exploration I do under my brand Light Work. How do we, we define work to be something that makes sense for us.
Yeah. Exactly. Okay, jumping back to stories, I feel link this is all stories in so many ways. Why would you say stories matter at all? And again, in the context of the things that you’re passionate about and care about and want to talk about?
C: I think stories matter cause they can give us a glimpse into who we are personally—our personal stories. I think stories matter because they can be a healing tool. I think for myself having experienced different challenges over the years, taking that time to reflect on all of those different things and actually finding the thread that's interwoven into all of those experiences has also been a form of healing. I feel stories also matter because they are a form of connecting. I think one of the ways that we learn and even just absorb information and retain information and oftentimes is through story. It allows us to learn in a different way, but it also helps us to connect on a much deeper level than, ‘Hey, what's your title or where do you work?’
It helps us to go a little bit deeper beyond the surface and to get to know each other on much deeper level or get to know about different experiences on a much deeper level. And it allows us to kind of preserve different traditions as well. Like when I think about bringing it from a personal perspective, hearing stories from elders in the family or different traditions that are passed on, or even in different communities, how they've passed on or view storytelling as a way to share rituals or traditions and practices. So again, that's also healing, but also it's a way of keeping different memories and things alive.
Amazing. Thank you for sharing that. I agree with it all. I think, especially that sort of traditional sharing and just getting stories from elders is such a powerful thing. So who's a storyteller you admire, when you think about your life, when you think about your work, just looking around.
C: I love Toni Morrison. Toni Morrison was a storyteller. I remember reading her books when I was younger like Songs of Solomon and even just reading interviews with her. There are two quotes that I use or always come back to, one is ‘You are your best thing.’ So that's usually when I think of taking care of ourselves; remembering that at the end of the day, you are at the center, right? Everything that you love has you in common. So you have to take care of yourself. And the other one is, ‘you are not your work. You are the person you are.’ I really feel so anchored to that, especially in the time where it's so easy to get caught up into the work or the titles of the work or where we work.
And it's a real constant reminder to return to: you are the person you are. And it's like , who are you outside of work? So she's a storyteller and I love just through her interviews her calm presence, the books, and even just her starting her storytelling journey much later in life. I believe her first book was published at a much older age. When we usually hear about folks that started when they were 19 or 20. And so that's always very inspiring to me too, of just realizing that it's never too late to pivot or too pause or to, to share your voice and amplify your voice.
Yeah. Amazing. Thank you for sharing that. That is beautiful. I totally agree with Toni Morrison. I think of her as a storytelling teacher simply by the way she showed up in her life. So is there a story or project or anything that you're working on that you've shared or, or plan to share that you're especially proud of?
C: Mm there's something that I'm working on right now that I am proud of. So it is, I think kind of based on my own personal stories. Going back to what we talked about before, about just defining work and wellness for yourself and not based on societal definitions or your titles or your accomplishments. I am currently creating a card deck. And essentially it is divided up into different sections to help us in reimagining our relationship to work. So it has 25 reflection questions that encourage us to go a little bit deeper to think about what are our definitions of success? What are our, what is our actual definition of hard work? What are some beliefs that maybe we've had about work that maybe no longer feel true for this season that we have in our lives?
Another section of that same card deck will be focusing on recharging. So what does it look like to rest. Not just taking a vacation, but actually redefining what rest actually looks like on a daily basis. So, it'll have some reflection questions and practices that individuals can do. And then another section on reminders because sometimes we just need a bit of a pep talk on those moments. You know, we wake up where we're just like, I don't know what I'm doing. So it's just a series of reminders, whether it's related to how you take care of yourself or just to completely remove the thought of imposter syndrome or things like that. Or just reminding us of different ways that we can show up and show out [laughs] in whatever it is that we're doing.
I think that's something that I'm working on that I'm feeling really proud of at the moment. And I think it's kind of a culmination of a lot of the different experiences. It’s work that I'm doing, but also the work that I want to continue to do and to put out in the world in this time to kind of combat, this whole productivity culture and, and the culture of making our whole lives very much defined around being a checklist of accomplishments and titles. Really helping people go much deeper and really pulling out what work looks like for us in this season of our lives and what we want it to continue to be and not have work to be this thing that weighs us down, but instead lifts us up.
Oh, I love that. When is the world gonna have a chance to access this?
C: So I'm in my final processes of getting it ready with my designer.
And I will, I will share with readers and also just the larger community of folks who I have shared burnout stuff with, because I'm sure it would be so valuable to so many folks.
C: Thank you. I'm really excited about it.
Awesome. Okay. So what's a story you've seen recently that you've really enjoyed or really loved? And it could be anything TV books, it could be some sign you saw on the street, whatever.
C: I would say that there's this book by this author, GG Renee Hill. So she's based in the US, but she wrote a book called Wallflower and the book is actually a collection of essays and it's storytelling for quiet women. So it's for folks who consider themselves to be quiet, but want their stories to be heard. And I thought it was really interesting because it had a series of stories about the author. It told a story about her growing up with a mother who was living with mental illness and what that experience was like. A story of her—in her words—being a professional liar and what she meant by that was lying in terms of not allowing other people to really see who she was; kind of putting on this appearance of saying, I'm fine when I'm not really. You know, saying the word so much that you start to believe it yourself. And I really just loved the way that each story was told, interweaving the author's own personal experiences, but with also bringing out those stories and lessons of how you as an individual can also tell your own stories. So I thought I went into it just kind of like, Hey, I would just like to learn more about this individual and coming away with just more interesting tools.
GG Renee Hill.
C: Yeah. And she also talks very heavily about self-care. She's written a couple of books as well about self-care a journal actually. But I just always connected with her, followed her blog for a while. I just really loved her last story about being a liar. I was like, oh, that’s what this is. It made me reflect on the ways that sometimes you lie to yourself or that you are, you know, saying things that maybe you don't really mean? So I really loved the way that she told that story. It immediately made me reflect on my own life and brought some, you know, things to the surface. So again, it was just an example of how stories can connect you, but also be a form of healing. When you take that time to reflect,
Is she a Black woman?
Okay. You've mentioned your own experience of masking yourself for all these reasons and her sort of talking about being a liar. And both of those resonated with me because I, as a Black woman, I like I totally get it. I get the idea of the two sides of yourself and what you show of yourself and the code switching and all of that stuff.
C: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. That's a good observation. I find a lot of the storytellers that I lean into are Black women or women of color.
It’s the shared experience. I feel like hearing the liar story probably would’ve hit me too in similar ways and also probably in different ways. Knowing me, I would’ve been a little offended but also ready to sort of take the real talks and hopefully learn from it. So yeah. So the last question I have for you is one I want you to take a second with when you hear it. Listen to your gut, listen to your heart and sort of let that be the answer. Don't judge it and just put it out into the world. What would you say is your life philosophy or your governing principle or wisdom?
Take your time there's no rush, listen to your gut or your heart, whatever guides you.
C: I love this question. Okay. So I would say that my philosophy right now is to travel light. That's the words that have come up for me. And I think for me, what that means, especially in this season is to not carry the heaviness of everything that's happening right now. But even just in my own story of things that have happened to forgive myself, to have compassion with myself, and just make my life a practice of moving through and experiencing the journey versus reliving the old stories. So I think for me, traveling light is just sort of the idea that ‘you got this, be compassionate, forgive yourself, forgive others.’ We're only carrying what we have moving forward and not pulling, you know, luggage with you into the future.
My God, I love that. I don't know if I've ever heard that or that I've ever heard anything like it articulated in a way that resonated with me so much because yeah, you're, you're triggering me. Not in a bad way, just sort of lighting things up for me in terms of my own experience and my own story and the many stories that have made me me and I'm sure other people have made them them and that idea of not letting it go, but not letting it hold you back.
C: Not letting you hold you back. Exactly, exactly. I think for a long time it was holding me back, you know? I can honor that it's there, but it, you don't have to pull it along with you and feel that this is everything that is who you are, you know? And again, it goes back to you are not one singular story. You're many different stories, many different things. So, it's acknowledging it's there. It's giving reverence for it being there, but it's also knowing that it's not going come into every room and be the cover of the story anymore. Yeah.
It's traveling light is traveling with the carryon and not the check-in.
Not the giant Luggage
C: Yeah. Carry-Ons only [laughs]Yeah.
Amazing. Thank you so much for agreeing to do this. Thank you for sharing in the ways that you have and the things that you have. I'd appreciate your vulnerability. Was there anything that you wanted to mention, wanted to add or talk about that perhaps hasn’t come up?
C: No. This was really great. Even though the questions, like you mentioned, are broad, I feel they were perfect [laughs]. They were good. No, they were great. There was lots of space and I really appreciate just the intention as well to share what I felt comfortable with sharing. So I really appreciate it. It's really great. Thank you so much.
Amazing. Thank again you for doing this.
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