Ear Brain Heart 19th June, 2022

Throwing stories at demons

“It’s really easy to make a podcast”, they say. “Everyone deserves to tell their story”. But what if your story is too hard to tell, no matter how important it feels to set it free? HR expert and now podcaster Serena Savini faced these questions and stared down her demons in order to tell her story.

Serena was born with a congenital heart disease that kept her from doing the things most kids love: running, playing, even attending some birthday parties. When this combined with an accident at work, a spark was lit that would allow her not only to learn more about her heart, but open it up to listeners around the world. In her podcast, she holds space for people who are returning to work after an illness or injury, or who have a transformational story to tell.

Some things to consider

  • We have an inner intelligence that we need to listen to more.
  • Ask for help, even when it feels like you don’t know what you need help with. It’s OK to tell someone you’re struggling, even in what feels like a professional situation.
  • You can create something for yourself, even in public, and that’s OK.
  • You can tell your own story, however personal, as long as you have the safety to do so.
  • Telling your story and handing others the mic is a generous act.
  • Push yourself out of your comfort zone, but from a position of safety. That contradiction is easier to resolve with help.



I'm saying why I'm still doing these things, why I'm still so open and hugging everyone, even if they are really mean to me.
Once you figure that out. Let me know.
You are listening to Ear Brain Heart, an experiment in showing up. I'm Mark Steadman, and if my career transition over the last 18 months has taught me anything, it's the value of safety. Joining me for this episode is an exceptional person. Serena Savini is an HR expert from Italy, with the biggest and most open heart of anyone I've worked with. I was privileged to have a helping hand in getting her podcast I'm Back off the ground after a less than easy start. It could only happen because Serena felt safe to work with me, but I wouldn't get a sense of how important that was until a few weeks into working together. So let's take the story back to the beginning.
I was working like a crazy person and that day, I was really, really tired and I had a really, really, really strong gut feeling, you need to go home Serena, you need to, uh, rest. And I was going to take the tube or the Metro. And before entering the tube or the Metro, I had this strong gut feeling saying to myself, don't go there, go home. And like, 30 second later I had my accident and my injury.
What do you think? Do you have a sense of what your gut was trying to tell you?
think my. Body was saying to me you need to rest and you need to recover and you need to take care of yourself. And at the same time, when I fall down the stairs during my accident, my body didn't react the way usually the body react and this is also why I had a really bad, bad injury. So I think it's really connected. But it's, I think it's harder to follow your gut feeling when your gut feeling is somehow connected to your work, because we have some expectation that you need to do it. Uh, who cares about your body? You can go the extra mile. Uh, you want to be an high performance person and all this nonsense, and it's really easy to follow your rational mind and not your inner um, intelligence.
We in, in, in the Happy Startup School community were having a discussion a couple of days ago about, well, it, it was talking about happiness and rationality and all sorts of things, and there's this funny idea about how, what I latched onto is this weird idea that somehow negative feelings are the rational ones. They're the brain ones. They're the scientific, provable stuff.
Sometimes I feel that we can explain both from a scientific point of view,
Because you can talk about the endorphin, uh, the positive hormones, let's say, your heartbeat, and these kind of things. I think you can explain everything from a scientific point of view. But the question that I have is why? Meaning, why do we need to explain everything in a scientific way to give value to what we are feeling or what we are thinking or what we are doing?
I want to challenge that because, yes, I can go there, I can answer all the question from a science point of view. But sometimes I don't want to do it. I don't want to explain the why. I don't want to explain the how. I just want to enjoy the fact that it's a sunny day here in Milan and the sky is blue and I'm happy and I don't know why, and it's okay.
And that's enough. Yeah.
So going back then to where we were, I guess at the end of last year, when you emailed me and we had a couple of back and forth conversations, and then we, got on our zoom call. And an interesting thing happened for me, which is the first time it had happened, and I think I I'd said as much to you where after our conversation, I didn't know your, your sort of your backstory and really anything other than you communicated that you wanted to talk about returning to work and, uh, illness and injury and, and potentially disability. And you expressed a level of trust in me that I was the, the person to help you. And for the first time in my life, I responded by saying, yeah, I think you're right. Which was really special because I really did feel that sense. And it, it, you know, it, it didn't feel like a sales pitch. It didn't feel like, well, I've gotta say this because I wanna land the work. It like, it just felt honest and, and true.
And I remember really well that conversation. I was not ready to share personal stuff. Not because I didn't trust you.
You didn't know me, you know, it's, it's perfectly fine to not trust her when you haven't, you know,
No, but I trusted you. And this is why I said to you, I want to do it with you. But I was not ready to say things out loud, even to myself. And I think I trusted you in the sense that I needed someone that would allow me to have the courage to say those things out loud to myself first, and then to others. And this was really precious for me.
Well, let's talk about that, that process then, because it took, and I think I really appreciate you putting it in those terms, because it took a while for you to feel able. I mean, it took until well, it wasn't until our second or third meeting, where we actually got into the story of it. And I managed to press you enough to sort of, to get into the, like, I had the sense that there was obviously because of what you wanted to talk about, there's there had to be a personal connection here. And we got into that and that changed everything for me, certainly because it then gave me the context. It then helped me realize, we'd had a conversation before and, and you'd said how much you didn't wanna put yourself at the sort of front and center of this. And you hadn't even told everything, but you'd, you'd given me enough of a sense of, of your story that it made me kind of think, well, there's no other alternative. You have to be able to tell your story because it's so important. It's so important to you. It's so important to the work that you wanna do.
So I was really, really scared. from an emotional point of view, of course, because, it's a painful part of my personal story, but also I was really afraid to be vulnerable with you at first and with other later, mainly because I had, um, difficult experience in the past where people didn't listen to me or weren't so open to listen to me. And this is, uh, strange because I was having this idea of creating a podcast where I'm asking people to listen to me or to others. and at the same time, I was really afraid to ask to you and to others to listen to me.
But the connection between finding my voice, being able to ask others to listen to my voice and let others hear my voice, it was a difficult passage for me. Because it was like saying out loud again to myself, you want to share your story and you want to listen to other story and you want to share those stories and it's okay if others are not going to, appreciate that. or if others, do not want to listen, you can do it anyway.
Did you ever question the value of sharing your story in public?
It's a great question because the first two or three months for the Vision 2020 was around asking to everyone, do you think anyone wants to hear this kind of stories? And even if, uh, the answer was always, yes, I was not convinced myself
why. Okay. I I'm nodding, but I, I, I have my sense of why that is, but I suspect it's different from why you, why did you not instinctively believe.
Again, because, uh, for many years I tried to share my stories to people in a work environment, and I received a lot of pushbacks or people used my vulnerability or, uh, my story against me in the workplace. And because if I was able to allow myself to give a value to my story, this means that I have a value as person.
And I know that sounds really easy to say or to think like that, but for me, it was really hard to understand and to asset that I have a value and I can bring value, um, that my story was valuable, and this is also connected to, the usual imposter syndrome, but also, the fact that I have invisible disability. And when you have something so big that is not visible to others, how can you assign a value or try to demonstrate a value? when nobody else can see or perceived immediately a first glance, what you are in your entirety. I dunno if it makes sense, what I'm trying to say, it's really a complex.
It's a complex thing and you make perfect sense. And you gave me, uh, goose bumps with the idea that your, your story has value therefore you have value. I mean, I would like to think that those two things are separate, but if it takes one thing to, if it takes your story, having value to realize that you have value, then, then that's great. We'll take that win. Um,
Thank you.
but I think that's a really important thing here to look at the, the, the weight of something that you carry that is invisible and that affects so much of your life affects. However you say that word. I dunno.
no, I was just gonna say that's that's not really fair is it? um, I should know better. Um, yeah, something that, that yeah, has, has a, such a big impact in, in your life and is so impossible even for people who have the experience, they still can't perceive it, they can only infer it, they can only empathize or sympathize. Like no one can see that, no one can really understand that. And we have, I think friends or acquaintances in common through our communities who are not the only people who suffer from, from this kind of thing and, uh, very different, but equally difficult to help people understand.
And I, I feel like you are perhaps not uniquely, but rarely, it sounded like from the stories that you've told, you've been unre, you've been treated unfairly to a remarkable degree. And I think if that treatment isn't rare, isn't as rare as I'd like to think it is, then that makes your story all the more important to tell to people, because I think of your, your experiences with people in the workplace and how you've been treated, not only when you try and explain your circumstances, but also the ways that people can use that against you.
And so having the conversations that you've had with people. Does your experience at work feel rare or does that feel more in common with the conversations you've had with people?
Sometimes we are so used to some behaviors in the, our daily life that we don't put a weight or a reflection on that. It's like microaggression, micro mobbing, and these kind of things. And, I also had some conversations around being excluded, lost opportunities, bad behaviors from the workplace. So I think it's, it's both.
And this is also why I think we need to have this conversation. And I'm saying this now, of course. Um, because, because if we are able to change the notion of the impact that we are having towards each other, every day, we can, improve, how we are handling really difficult conversation situation, or, uh, really painful, situation that, we are going to face sooner or later because maybe we. connected to someone that is dealing with something like that. Because, um, maybe we have a coworker or a colleagues that is experienced something similar. Because it's something that could happen to us. So I think, uh, we need to have more self-compassion and I'm saying this to myself, and also compassion to towards others because you don't know what is happening in their life. Again, I'm talking from an visible slash invisible perspective.
So if we go back to our timeline, then, so we have a conversation, we start working together and we do some of the, sort of the mechanical things. And we talk about microphones and, uh, all that kind of stuff. And then we get to the trailer, which it's not uncommon for it to be a difficult thing for people because this, uh, an idea is new. And now I'm asking you to sum the whole thing up in just like 45 seconds and make it really compelling for the listener. Uh, and it's like, well, I, I mean, I only met you for the first time three weeks ago and thought this would be a nice idea. Like, I, I don't even know what this is and you are asking me to sum up 12 weeks worth of episodes that I haven't even recorded yet. So I know that it's already difficult. And I hadn't realized yet, how tricky this was for you.
So I have recorded hours and hours and hours of the trailer without sending you almost anything. I spent all my Christmas holidays, I think recording trailers. Um, but for me it was like going in a panic mode. Not being able to speak anymore. Not being able to read anymore because I was trying to read a sort of script. My head was not functioning anymore.
So it was really, really, really a nightmare because out of the blue, meaning that, as you said, three weeks in from the initial call where, well, where I was like, I don't know what I want to do. I have a, really, a lot of confusion in my head, with this task of creating something where I need to share something about my story, where I was at the center of it, because. It's my trailer, it's going to become concrete.
I was alone in the sense that at the beginning, I needed to try to write something for myself and try to start, uh, to record. I needed to do it in English. That of course is not my native language. I needed to hear my voice because I needed to check the recordings and I need to record my voice that I didn't want to do. And it was so, so scary and so difficult, and I. I was recording hours and hours of these, uh, trailers without sending you anything. And you were saying to me, what are you doing? Not in this way, but writing me a mail, what about your trailer? And I didn't even ha add the courage to send you anything, because at the end of the day, Mark, I could have sent you like 20 hours of recording and you could, um, edit something for me, but I was really not able to do it.
I was so ashamed of myself. I felt guilty because I was not able to do it. Uh, I was thinking what I'm thinking? Why I had this idea of the podcast. so.
So easy, really easy, easy task.
Yes, easy peasy.
do it in an hour. And you're done, um, a useful bit of context perhaps for the listener is, uh, that.
I'm not a crazy person. Maybe it's a great context to give.
I mean,
Not always, at least.
we we've, we've, we've spent half an hour in this episode so far. I would think the, the, the, the listener understands that that is not the case. Um, I think an important bit of context, because you talked about being alone and I think that's really important, uh, because we, we changed the way that we worked, uh, together. And I'm delighted that we did, because I think we've made something. What you've made is far better than, than what we would've come up with in the old model.
And so what that, what that really was is the old model was you come to me with an idea, I help you shape it. And then you record your voice and I edit it and it's 12 episodes and a trailer and it, and it's sort of, it's a package and there it is.
And so. A lot of the, what that pays for is the time it takes in the editing process and all that kind of stuff, because I'm taking the audio and editing it. And my regret with that package is that it never gave me the opportunity to be more helpful to actually sit with the person and work through what it is that gets you to that audio bit. All I could ever do was say, give me your audio whenever it's ready and I will do some things with it. I never had the opportunity to really dive into what happens sort of in front of the mic. What happens in between the brain and the microphone. so I think before we actually got the trailer out, we decided that there was another way that we could work. And if I remember rightly you recorded the trailer on a Zoom call
Yeah. And so I think this is where, for me, it's really important to say. ask for help and accept the help is equally important. Because you were really, uh, in those email where you were asking me for the trailer, you were offering to support me. And I was not open to say, okay, please help me please.
Cause you might not even have had a sense of how I could help you, cuz you're just like, well, I've just got to power on through this, you know? So you, you can't be expected necessarily to, to know how that can be helpful.
but I could have been more open to you saying I'm not able to do it. And what happened then was that you sent me a message, uh, and I was finally ready to say, I don't know what to do it. And you said please come to one of our calls with other people and we are going to discuss this. And again, I was not able to do it alone, and I was not able to understand that I was not alone. And this was really powerful for me because I remember that I went to the call with you and other people. You were all super, super supportive. We came out with the idea of recording the trailer with you, Mark on the Zoom call uh, and to have other voices in the trainer, so it was not only me anymore.
And I remember that when this call with other people um, ended, I cried for, uh, the rest of the day. But not because I was sad, but because I felt so understood and so supported. And so, that I was not alone, that I could do it. And it was really, really emotional for me. And then, uh, we recorded the trailer together. So you were gently pushing me to do it, even if.
that's a theme that we'll come back to.
Even if I was still struggling, uh, of course, and I was able to ask to a lot of people to send me a short recording for the trailer. And a lot, a lot of people did it. And it was really a gift for me. And I don't want to cry again.
I feel like that was an important breakthrough, an important moment for both of us. And I kind of want to say, and from that moment, like you went off like a dynamo and just started kicking out these episodes and like we'd meet every week. Cuz the, what we ended up doing was saying, well, instead of me spending the time editing, why don't I, uh, show you how the, how to make your, instead of making the sausage, I'll show you how the sausage is made and you can make your own sausage.
of course, of course, um, and that's what we did. And, and then you went off and you just, you became a sausage factory. Um, but I think we miss something there, and I wanna know what that missing piece is between that moment, where you finish having the call, you spend the day understanding that you are, that you are not alone recording the trailer with me. What happens next? What is the change in you, do you think that then makes you able to start running and at least scheduling in lots of conversations with people?
So, two things here. We planned at the beginning to start the podcast with my episode with my story. And again, it was a big step for me, and I love that we were able to discuss together this idea, and that you were able to give me the flexibility to say, yes this episode with your story is important, but you can start with another episode. This was important for me because I was able to record this episode with, uh, Lana Jelenjev, that is of course, a mentor of the Happy Startup School, that gave me the inspiration and the motivation to say, okay, first I can do it. I can record a conversation. And second, this is what I want to do, because I want to hear this kind of conversation. And this was really powerful. And, And, then, with the trailer I had created like, a buzz in my inner circle
Get you listen to that. You've, you know, I've I've I have to hit a pause there because we've gone from, I don't know. Do I wanna podcast? Is that something does anybody wanna hear? Does my story have value? To I created a buzz in my inner circle? Just, yeah. Yeah. Just did that.
In the sense that people that recorded the short sentence for my, trailer was already informed about the podcast was already on board with the podcast. So it was a quick win for me to say, listen, can I have a conversation with you? And so I started to have those conversation. And those conversation were so nurturing for me, healing and transformative for myself. that for selfish reason, I wanted to have more of those conversation. So I pushed, uh, myself to record more and this is the history behind my podcast.
Why are you so terrified to look at your stats?
Oh no. Why do you want to go there?
it's my gently lobbed curve ball to you.
I don't want to set expectation for myself that I need to meet this amount of listeners every time, that I need to grow every time that if this episode is not, so let's say popular, even if it's not the right word for my podcast, um, it means that it's not valuable. I don't want to go in that territory. And at the same time again, it's hard to explain you, you know, already the answer, so you are tricking me.
But the listener doesn't know.
So, um, again, it's linked to the notion of value. It's easier for me right now to say I'm doing this for myself. it's a small project. It's something that, again, it's not going to become big. It's not to grow. It's just something that I have for myself. So it's more safe for me. Uh, I feel more safe if I can create a little corner for myself where I feel really safe where, uh, I don't, uh, share my podcast to a lot of people. So it's less likely to receive critics or this kind of thing.
So it's really uh, safe and you know that, because I said to you many times, I don't want anyone to listen to my podcast. That is a nonsense. I know, but it's true. Uh, if I could, uh, have this kind of conversation and I, if I could have this podcast without having no one listening to it it could be really, really great. But it's hard for me to ask to people, can I have one hour of conversation out of nothing? But it's really I still need a safe space for me. Again, being visible is not something that I. and I'm still not looking to the statistics. So.
that's okay. That wasn't a, you should. Um, but I, I thought it was, um, it was worth us getting into, because in that explanation there, I think you've maybe missed out something that maybe is, is difficult to say for you. But I don't want to ignore the generosity that is involved in you telling your story and you synthesizing other people's stories and making those available for people as well. That is a generous act. And your reward for that act is, is I think your own personal development and your own, you are still unraveling this story as it, as you tell it, like it's still an ongoing story. This is not the end of the story, but along the way, I think you have the opportunity to share it. The validation. Is not in the number of people who listen to it or the number of people who, who download it or whatever. The validation I guess is if, if I'm hearing you, right, is in having done that, having taken the step and actually doing it. That is the important thing that you, you stepped up and you've stepped out and you've done this and you're having these conversations.
But I don't want to ignore the generosity. It's not just that you, you couldn't have these conversations with people where it not for a podcast yet. That's, you know, you got a great, a great guest, which I'd, I'd love us to talk about and how you did that. Um, super, you know, informative person in their field, authoritative and yes, you only kind of get to do that on a podcast. But I think you also know there is a tremendous amount of generosity there in making that story available to people.
And you are tricking me again, Mark. I know
because this is a conversation that we had in one of our session. And you said to me that if you are allowing the words to listen to those conversation. It's because you want to support the guest in making their story heard, and you can shift the generosity with being generous to your guest, meaning that it's not about me, Serena, is about, this is an important story. This is going to be useful for other people, therefore, it's important to make an effort to let this story out of in the world. And so I know that you are tricking me with that.
That's not my intention. I'm not trying to trick you
You are always pushing me in a gentle way where at the end, I will say, yeah, it's true. And I need to do it. I know that.
I, I, yeah, I, I can't let you get away with, um, when I know you are like you have amongst the people in our circles, the worst opinion of yourself,
OK, thank you.
And I will, will continue to do everything I can to show you that that's, you know, we can't fix everything, but every now and again, if I have the opportunity to go, oh, that's bullshit in a gentle way.
You said this a lot during our meetings.
Because I know I know enough about you. I we've only met, uh, you know, a couple of handfuls of times, but I know, I think, I feel like I know you enough to know when something really, when there's real pain there and where there's just that sort of resistance of be it imposter syndrome or something else.
And you know, I'm not a coach or a therapist, but there's, there's, there's ways there that there's things that we can bust through. And there's, there's things that I'm like, okay, I'm not, I'm not gonna touch that. Cuz that's, that would be unfair and I'm not equipped to do that. But I don't know, like when I see some of those doors that you've constructed and have seen how many of those you've knocked down and how consistently, you are remarkable, and I am kind of in awe of, of how hard you've worked.
I, I'm only finding out in this conversation, how I knew that trailer was difficult for you. I didn't know how difficult it was for you until today. And that just continues to show, the only way I can do this is by gendering and I'm sorry, but the massive pair of balls that you have to, to keep doing the hard things.
Oh, let's, uh, we're back in the present. So let's, uh, let's take ourselves a, a quick moment there and, um, and I will thanks Rena for, uh, the time that she, she spent it with me. Uh, talking about, um, her story and, and the podcast. Um, and I think you get it right. This is, this is big. Um, she, she took a big leap.
If you wanna know more about her story and just to, to listen to Serena, um, and, and just her openness and her kindness and, and all of that, uh, then you should listen to I'm Back. You'll find it linked in the show notes. Also find it at S E R E N heart.com, so serenheart.com, uh, that is where her podcast lives. Um, but yes, it is linked in the show notes and it is, it's definitely worth a listen episode two, especially.
Um, listen, as the, the BBC continuity announcer might say after a particularly harrowing episode of EastEnders, if you've been affected by any of the issues today, um, you know, if, if they've, if there's any, anything comes up and you think, yeah, you know, I, I, I, wanna know more. I wanna know how I can get my story out, then yeah, drop me an email, mark@origin.fm, but also earbrainheart.com. That is where you will find lots more episodes. I say lots, some more episodes of this show, as well as some lovely future conversations to come with Rachael Mole, disability uh, advocate and also Tamsen Webster, the author of the book Find Your Red Thread. So those are coming up. And, uh, you can follow the podcast in your app of choice, Apple Podcast, Spotify, whatever. If you want all the links again, they are at earbrainheart.com.
So, back to our conversation then. And, so my mum would would would say to me when she saw me struggling with something like, uh, you know, really putting myself through the ringer with something like a public speaking engagement or, or even a, a piece of work that I, that I was doing, she would sort of say like, why are you doing this to yourself? You know, because she saw me in pain, she saw me struggling and, and, you know, is, is this juice worth the squeeze effectively? And so. I put that question back to Serena.
So I was born with uh, heart disease, a cardiac heart disease. And I spent a lot of time when I was a child in the hospital. And I spent a lot of time as a child, listening to doctors. You cannot do this, it's unsafe to do that. Uh, it's better if you don't do these other things. And of course all these things were the fun things that you can do as a child. like, uh, you cannot run. you cannot go on a school trip. you cannot go to a birthday party, uh, in the middle of the flu season. You, you know, these kind of things. and. I think I have internalized that for me, it's more safe to not do things that I love and that potentially I would enjoy, and that potentially are, could be important for, because I'm putting myself in an unsafe situation. And I know that it's not longer the case. And I know that I'm an adult now and, but I can see that the pattern is the same.
It's always this idea of feeling safe or being safe and I closed the door, as you said, when things, are becoming really important for me. And this is really sad and I'm challenging this with myself, of course I'm in this really long healing process, really, really long. But, this is the why I think. Because when I was a child, all these doors were closing at me. When I was saying I want to run, no, you cannot. When I want to do this, no.
And this is also why I think it was so important to have you, and have your support in being able to allow myself to open the door. And to have you saying you can ho open that door. This is bullshit because, sometimes, I'm still that little child that is confused about why things that are fun or nice are also dangerous. And I, of course I can understand that now. But I think I have internalized that a lot.
And it's also, I think connected to my fear of success in the sense that I'm always asking myself what if these things is going to turn right or being a success, even if it's a small success? Again, because, I'm not used to it for my personal history since I was a child. because it was more no than yes, because it was more pain than fun, and because it was more exclusion than inclusion, because it was more being the diverse child having to explain the why and these kind of things.
But yes, it's still hard for me to allow myself to open the doors and put myself in, in situation where I'm visible or situation that could be not so safe. Even at an emotional level for me. At the same time when I'm able to open a door, I'm running as you know
mm-hmm you don't open a door. You open like 12 at once.
so, uh, as Walt Wheatman used to say, we contains multitude. That means that we are full of contradiction and this is my contradiction.

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