Sara Orem

My first story was published in my elementary school creative writing anthology. As I remember, it was a story of a snail in my mother’s garden. I don’t remember the plot, but I do remember that my parents looked quizzically at me after reading it, wondering why I wrote such depressing stories. The snail must not have fared well. The point, I thought, was that I had written a story worth publishing, not that the story itself was sad or happy.

I have written many more stories, essays, poems, blogs and a few books in the 60 years since that first story. Writing has always been a way for me to figure myself out. Even my doctoral dissertation, Transformation through Interpersonal Dialogue, was a way for me to figure out how I could have more productive disagreements in my marriage. I’ve published three books, each co-authored with one or two other people. The first is a book of daily meditations with photographs taken by my second husband. There is a picture on the back flap of the adoring couple. Time magazine wrote a review of the book after interviewing each of us separately. I had just moved out of our house in Minneapolis to take a job in Detroit. The interviewer noted in his story that its authors seemed not not to adore each other as the back cover photo indicated. I think he thought that was the most interesting thing about the book.

My Masters Thesis, Moving the Mountain, was about women in the clergy who were seeking jobs as senior ministers in larger churches than the ones in which they were currently serving, and how hard it was to overcome the church’s prejudice against women leaders. This was part of my own question in finishing a degree in ministry. Would I ever make more than $11,000 a year and would I have the opportunity to lead a congregation rather than be stuck as the children’s pastor, or the associate for technology forever, as most of the very talented women I interviewed had been stuck. As an aside, I finished that degree in 1991. There were VERY few women in senior positions then. This Easter Sunday, I visited one of the largest churches in Berkeley, California where there are three women ministers, including the senior one.

The idea for the book Appreciative Coaching: A Positive Process for Change, came out of exposure to the philosophy of Appreciative Inquiry in another graduate program. I wondered if that philosophy could be applied to business and life coaching, as coaching was taking up more and more of my time and interest as a consultant to senior leaders in companies for which I worked. That book gave me and my two co-authors our 15 minutes of fame as Appreciative Inquiry was having its own 15 minutes as part of the positive psychology movement.

I would not say that writing has been my awakening but that writing has always been the way I seek awakening from my own quandaries, my own troubles, and my own quests for answers to questions that apply to my situations, and might apply to others’ as well.

Sara Orem, Ph.D, is an OLLI instructor and member who founded and facilitates OLLI @Berkeley's Vital Aging program. This essay was originally published by Sara on Medium, and is posted here with her permission.