“I want to be a part of telling the stories that are empowering to be told.”
Megan Staub tells me this on a clear fall day, the kind where you can see the full length of the valley from my front porch. We’re on the phone and she’s at her home in Charleston, SC working out the quirks in her new digital project, StoryOn. From working as a PR pro with Brian Communications in Philadelphia, to doing her own thing in digital storytelling, Megan is a powerhouse of language, insight, and compassion. She’s also one of the cutest people you’ll meet in her bright green pea coat and bows in her hair. Don’t underestimate her—like Anne of Green Gables before her, this red haired spirit will be heard.
StoryOn is a multi-genre digital platform where young women can tell their stories and have honest conversations about being alive. This age group is asking big questions and going through big life experiences at the same time. To founder Megan Staub, that means cutting to the heart of the matter and sharing the moments that defined us and shaped us, for good or bad. “To steal from my favorite podcast,” Megan laughs, “‘what we think about a lot and need to talk about more,’” and we tip our hats to one of our favorite podcasts, Death Sex and Money. The big dream is that StoryOn becomes a safe space for women to share their stories and know that it matters, a place that grows into a community where people want to learn from each other, and a place where artful storytelling is honored and shared.
Megan Staub is a creative, writer, and PR professional who’s taking some leaps of faith to get this off the ground. The idea emerged from her hunger to understand other people’s perspectives. “I am one person with limited life experience and limited friend groups.” She realized that the relationships she cherished were the ones who let her into the struggles and the hard places, and where she got to experience their unique take on their lives. That vulnerability is something she values in her closest friends and is central to her most life changing experiences.
By her own description, Megan has lived, “a very blessed life,” though she isn’t sure that’s exactly how to describe it. Lucky? Privileged? Easy? She’s white, middle class, and college educated. Her upbringing kept her safe and happy, within a familiar and welcoming community. Her time at Penn State University was the kickstart to expanding her community beyond other familiar. She began to connect deeply with people who had profound differences from her own background and experiences. At the end of the day, she identifies those relationships—where people let her into their experiences and perspectives—as the most defining of her life.
While Megan sees her experiences as easy, that doesn’t mean her life is carefree.
On the other side, Megan has always been a big reader and reading was another way to empathize with worlds not immediately connected to your own. Regarding true empathy, she noted that, “maybe you don’t need a friend who’ve been through this thing, but you have a sense for what that might be or feel like after you read about it. And then you carry that ‘experience’ with you when you meet someone else in the world who does have that background.” Reading and writing and listening were modes to expand her world.
These modes became more critical after college when she faced some new challenges that would limit her ability to travel and go in person to meet new people and experience new places. Towards the end of college, she began to experience some serious health challenges that continue to require extra precautions today, although her health has significantly improved. It introduced a new kind of life, one with more borders and boundaries than she imagined as 20-something adult with a career, a marriage, and a creative dream.
One of the pieces that will be live with the StoryOn launch is a conversation between Megan and her sailing instructor, another young woman living with chronic illness. “We talked about how to live large in the middle of chronic illness. Our health challenges can cause us to live small, afraid of what might happen, afraid that our bodies will betray us—again. But trying not to die is not really living.” Fear is now one of the stories Megan faces in her illness—fear it will get worse, fear she won’t get better, fear that her body will come up short when she’s ready for more. It’s what her storytelling is about—getting past the barriers that seem to be in the way so that she can love people more.
Her illness became a significant energy barrier to Megan exploring the world the way she once imagined she would. Now, she refuses to believe that she must automatically be limited in her experience of other people, that she can’t gain new perspectives and practice empathy. “It’s why I want to learn people’s stories. I refuse to keep my life small. I want to talk to people who are different from me and see the big world for what it really is and not just what is in my direct experience.”
In addition to growing her own perspective, Megan is also deeply invested in the way that telling our stories can set us free. She wants StoryOn to become a safe place where they know that their story matters. Telling the stories can have a big impact on us, for good and ill, and Megan is committed to making the former a more common occurrence. “Stories are empowering when we tell them freely,” she says. “They are disempowering when they are used against us or taken from us. That’s not what this space is for.” Sometimes, it is better to close a chapter of a life than to reopen it for others—the empowerment is all in the choice that is good for the speaker. “No one should ever be pressured into telling a story,” Megan points out. “It’s a huge privilege when people share their stories with me and not one that I expect from people. But too often, we don’t ask for each other’s stories.”
One story that might never make it to StoryOn is an interview Megan did with a friend who is an illegal immigrant. “I am not going to compromise her safety,” Megan said. “Even if no one else hears that story, I know it was powerful to ask. My friend said that no one had ever asked her for her story before, never taken the time to listen. And that’s a travesty. I want more people to hear each other in this world.”
Fear, as with all important work, holds powerful sway against true storytelling. It’s fear as the platform host and editor—that no one will read it, that it won’t matter. It’s fear for the storytellers—that their experiences won’t land or that they’ll be exposed. The internet can be vicious place these days. There are stories “breaking” all the time about the harm done in the world. Now, though, we are seeing the power of these stories coming out of silence. And it is silence that StoryOn is working to combat—silence and then meeting with a compassionate, listening ear. The connection between listening and empowering holds Megan’s work together. “By communicating ‘you matter,’ artful writing empowers both the storyteller and the listener to see their value and find understanding in differences.”
Consider submitting yourself! StoryOn invites submissions from women of all ages and backgrounds. Can include digital art such as photo essays or spoken word. Average piece is 600-1200 words. Submit by sending a note of introduction and your work to firstname.lastname@example.org
PS. Full discloser: I have a poem in the launch!