How do you tell the story of your greatest accomplishment?
A good story is the fuel of every leader— Shark Tank pitches need a personal hook, politicians need a cause to rally behind and superheroes need an epic origin story.
These founding stories can begin in many different ways:
“When I became a mom I realized…”
“For me, growing up in rural America..”
“My first time at a tech conference made me feel…”
Overwhelmingly, these stories lead with “I,” “me” and “my.” It’s become common to hear about a lone voice calling for change, a dynamic duo, or a small band of renegades with a vision. Just look at America’s national monuments: a single man riding to victory on horseback, four faces on a mountain.
There’s no doubt that many solitary, remarkable leaders have transformed our world. But to tell these founding stories with just their names at the headline creates a very narrow view of history.
So let’s try things a different way. Here’s my founding story— one that makes space for the dozens of voices who contributed to our project’s creation. Through conversations between Made By Us, a coalition of 100+ established history museums and civics organizations, where I serve as managing director, and Civics Unplugged, an engine for Gen Z civic entrepreneurship, we landed on a visionary idea that would transform the way the next generation spends their summers: the Civic Season.
The Civic Season rethinks the way we celebrate Independence Day, expanding it into an annual tradition to strengthen our democracy that kicks off before Juneteenth. Rather than just hearing one story or one source, the Civic Season makes space for the multitude of voices that shape our nation. Rather than just celebrating on a single day with hotdogs and fireworks, Americans around the country can also take part in hearing real stories about our country’s past and find hundreds of ways to take civic action— from volunteering, to registering to vote, to gaining new skills and knowledge.
The Civic Season is happening now, and we hope you’ll be a part of it. But even that founding story is just the tip of the iceberg.
The idea for Civic Season started out as a phone call between Civics Unplugged co-founder and COO Gary Sheng and I. But then, we brought in the voices and perspectives of hundreds of our colleagues, rolling in input from concentric circles of expertise and knowledge. And that’s not to mention the significant planning, research and discussion that occurred before the idea for Civic Season even began. We held design thinking sessions with 90 museums, brainstorms with youth civic leaders and exploratory conversations with students and historians.
All this to say, the first year of Civic Season is the result of many hands, each playing an important part, each bringing a new ingredient to the mix.
The complex, multi-faceted process of bringing this project to life is more often how big ideas became a reality throughout history— yet we tend to remember the sole founder stories instead. We celebrate the moment a select group signed the Declaration of Independence, not the 8 years of war, sacrifice and tiny victories by many. The Civil Rights Movement gets reduced to one iconic Martin Luther King Jr. speech, a set of policies and a few landmark moments, rather than decades of sustained effort by millions of people.
Take it from me, a public historian— history is made through the hard work of many hands. It takes leaders who make it their life’s work, but it also takes everyday people who spend five minutes helping a neighbor unload groceries, 30 minutes researching their ballot, or an hour attending a school board meeting. Even in the business world, scale is what transforms a service or industry. Not one person or company, but many.
We don’t have to accept the simple founder story. We can paint a broader, truer picture about ourselves, about our work, about our country. Let’s normalize complicating the narrative.
When I was graduating college and just beginning to figure out my own strengths and interests, I read a line in a book about film careers that changed the way I think about jobs and causes. It read, “The good news is, whether your skills are in accounting, design, or construction, they are needed on a film set.” The same is true of democracy. We need builders, communicators, networkers, nurturers and investigators to make our country work. To help get started, you can find your special strengths using this quiz we created.
The creation of Civic Season can serve as a reminder to every founder, entrepreneur, writer, and the movement leader to look for ways to widen the lens. Acknowledge the labor, the layers, the complexity. Invite more voices in. It doesn’t take away from your vision, but rather adds to its richness— and its chance of success.
The Civic Season is here to help you navigate your role in our democracy and our shared history. We know there’s no “we the people” without all the people. Together, we can write the next chapter.