Mags is a story coach, impact co-creator, and the founder of House of Hives. She helps female entrepreneurs and change-makers use their personal stories in their business, bridging the gap between emotive storytelling and strategic marketing. Together with developmental editor, Karina Asti, and event strategist, Ana Gallo, she helps women co-create books and collaborative online summits to empower themselves and their brand.
Why are you so drawn to stories?
I've been a storyteller for as long as I can remember. I have a little framed note on my desk that says 'Oma' (the Dutch word for grandmother). It's my first piece of writing and is dated when I was three. I remember loving writing assignments in school and being praised for my efforts, too. I loved stories and was always reading. Many a night, my parents found me in bed, face-planted in the middle of my book because I would read to the point of exhaustion. In high school, I was given an art assignment to create a picture book. I wrote a fairy tale about a storytelling monster that brought together two rivaling kingdoms (and I think there was a royal wedding too, because I was still young and didn't know what the patriarchy was yet). The book was massive! I made it on 100 x 75 cm cardboard. My teacher loved it and scored me 11 out of 10.
As much as I loved stories, it wasn't until later that I realized the power of storytelling and the way that stories both define and change the world and our lives.
So, when did you become aware of the power of stories?
In 2013, I co-founded SwanWaters, a platform to support survivors of emotional abuse in rebuilding their lives. That's when stories became an integral part of my life, even as we discussed the platform and decided on its name. We selected the story of The Ugly Duckling as the inspiration for the website. The journey from outcast to winner seemed such an effective parallel to the journey from victim to survivor. However, the story was even more relevant than I first realized. You see, in most fairy tales, the hero has to pass a test, or overcome their shortcomings, slay the dragon, learn humility ... that kind of thing. The Ugly Duckling, however, doesn't have to do anything to become a swan. He was always a swan; all he needed to do was grow into himself. As I recounted my childhood and shared my healing journey, I gained confidence, built stronger relationships, learned to set boundaries ... the list goes on. Slowly but surely, I started growing my swan wings.
This work, as well as my own healing, made me realize that so much of what I was struggling with in life tied into the stories I was told and was continuing to tell myself. I began to understand that many of the ideas I had about myself were just a projection of my family's trauma and toxicity. There was nothing innately wrong with me, no matter how hard my parents had tried to convince me otherwise. And it wasn't just the stories that came from my abusive family life, but also the stories reflected in society. So much of my journey can really be summarised as me changing the narrative in my own head; I could feel myself return to a truer version of myself. So many of us are constantly trying to bully ourselves into better versions of ourselves. When thinking about that promotion we want, we usually work ourselves to the bone, because that is the story we know: hard work and personal sacrifice is a requirement for professional success. Or we go through diet after diet, beauty treatment after beauty treatment, because we are programmed to believe that we are only worthy of love and acceptance if we fit a certain definition of physical perfection. All of us are constantly living and reliving the stories in our heads, and it often means we are playing a lot smaller than we are capable of.
How did you go from storyteller to story coach?
In 2019 I started to feel a need to move away a little from the really hardcore trauma work I was doing. I was not put on this earth to hold space for that, and I began to notice the effect it had on me. It was hard work, and the people who are capable of doing that work need to be celebrated as heroes, honestly! So, I started working with people who were a little further on their journeys of self-discovery and started teaching about self-compassion and value-driven decision making. Many of the people I spoke with were women; many of them entrepreneurs ready to change the world. Often, we ended up talking about the stories they were telling themselves and about ways they could share their personal journeys with their audiences.
So, when 2020 came around, I, like many, was asked by the Universe to reinvent myself. As I started mapping out my next moves, my thoughts centered around the joy I felt in helping people reframe and tell their stories. I liked working with people on vulnerability, visibility, and self-esteem. It made sense then, to focus my work around those topics. As I was trying to outline my new business, my vision kept growing. I could see how the women I was supporting in their business were often supporting women through their work as well. That's where the idea of Female Empowerment Squared came from. I wanted House of Hives to empower women, and I knew I couldn't do that all by myself. By then, I had experienced how lonely solo entrepreneurship can get, and I knew I functioned a lot better and could be much more creative when I worked with other people. So, I approached some of the amazing women I had met at the fabulous wellness-first co-working space in The Hague, the Netherlands (honestly, if you are ever there, check out FloLab!). I like to think that I asked them to join House of Hives, but they like to say I told them. Whichever way it happened, here we are now with House of Hives, supporting women to tell their stories.
How do you support women in their storytelling?
First of all, we create platforms where they can come together and tell their stories. Not just to each other, but to the combined audiences of everyone involved. We organize collaborative online summits where speakers all submit a pre-recorded presentation around a central theme. We also publish co-authored books, where around 20 authors each submit a chapter of the book. By promoting together, they are well-positioned to reach the best-seller list on Amazon. Being a best-selling author really opens doors for an entrepreneur and adds authority to their brand.
The elements of co-creation are important to us; collaboration is one of our core values (the others are vulnerability and female empowerment, in case you were wondering). So, take the idea of collaborative marketing. By promoting a summit or a book to everyone's audience, the stories suddenly reach so many more people. We all have people in our audience who are interested in us or what we do but are not quite our ideal client, or that we just don't quite vibe with. They may, however, be ready to work with one of the other entrepreneurs in the group. This is how we can spread the word about our work and connect to new audiences that may be interested in our services.
Why do you think it’s so important that women’s stories are shared specifically?
For centuries we've been listening to stories about women that are less than flattering. We're irrational, hysterical, untrustworthy, manipulative shrews who are nothing without a ring on our finger! At least, if we believe mainstream female representation.
Many women are struggling because of all these preconceived ideas we have about what it is to be a woman. But these notions are toxic to everyone, not just women. That’s because the stories that society integrates into reality inform the stories we tell ourselves about our worth. So, when women tell their own stories, we can change the societal female narrative. And changing the narrative means that we can change how future generations perceive themselves and their place in the world.