Dr. Marry and Me,  Personal Writing

What’s your origin story?

Origin stories are all over our media landscape today. Everything from (practically) every Marvel and DC character to the Bridgerton, Star Trek and Star Wars series to the musical Wicked are taking us backwards in time to where the characters we first met at one stage of their lives began.

It’s an interesting concept to consider for yourself, too.

How in the world did you end up…here?

Just consider one aspect of your life. For instance, how did you end up with your current/last partner?

Example A (for love)

Here’s the quick origin story of how I got to Dr Marry:

To avoid teaching after completing an English secondary education licensure, I applied for and was accepted to graduate school in 1999. I shared an office with a man named Peter, and we became good friends.

In August, 2001, he was supposed to come over to watch a movie; instead, he joined a man who lived in his apartment building at a bar that happened to be down the street from my apartment.

As they were talking, Peter asked this Irish plant cell wall biochemist (who, coincidentally, was a post doc at the same University where we were getting our Master’s degrees) why he had been living in Fargo, ND, (originally from Windsor, England, and most recently by way of Glasgow, Scotland) for nine months and wasn’t dating anyone yet. The man’s response: “Because I can’t find a fu**ing redhead.”

Peter said, “Hold on.” and called me on a payphone to come to the bar down the street. I said no because Quinn was five and in bed. So Peter put this man, who was pretty tipsy, on the payphone, and we had our first conversation.

That accent!

But the swearing!!

I had pretty well decided I needed to write this one off and said I had to go. His response? “Alright Lass. We’ll speak to you soon.”

And we’ve been together ever since.

Consider just a few of the (seemingly random) elements that had to occur for that meeting to take place:

  • Mazz had to turn down the post doc position he’d accepted in Christ Church, New Zealand, and say yes to the one he was offered at NDSU (that’s its own incredible story).
  • He had to meet a woman named Holly who told him about an apartment opening in the building where she lived downtown.
  • Peter needed to also live in that building and meet Mazz.
  • I needed to apply to graduate school the year I did so that Peter and I could share an office.
  • Peter needed to ask Mazz the very personal question of why he wasn’t dating.
  • Mazz needed to be honest about what he was looking for.
  • I needed to have red hair.
  • Mazz needed to call me Lass to outweigh all the swearing.

Your origin story might not be quite that dramatic, at least not in terms of distance (approximately 3,730 miles between Glasgow and Fargo and 200 yards between my apartment and Duffy’s), but there are definitely circumstances that were required for you and that partner to eventually meet.

Example B (for life)

I’ve been having a lot of meetings with new people lately, and my email list is starting to grow. It dawned on me that it’s time to share a quick origin story of how Discover Your Spark came to be.

In the spring of 2019, the co-founders of Ladyboss asked me if I would speak at their upcoming June Ladyboss Summit on pursuing passion. I said yes to speaking but asked if I could talk, instead, about developing passion for the things you discover along your journey. They said yes, and I was off.

That talk changed the entire trajectory of my life because it was the first time I had ever talked about me. It wasn’t about the arts or nonprofit advocacy; it was my story, my journey. And the audience loved it, second only to how much I loved giving it and hearing their laughter, tears and affirmative applause.

For years, I had been thinking about starting a blog, but I always managed to put it off.

Until that day. I came home and bought my first website template.

I started writing and growing a small audience. I was invited to speak other places. I was developing a voice and my story.

Then I applied for and was accepted to an artist in residency program for two weeks in September 2020.

I had real anxiety about going away by myself for so long, but I got brave, received some beautiful support and went. The first day was fantastic.

The second day I woke up and was in a very different place. I felt like I was wearing a thick, very scratchy, wool sweater on the hottest, most humid days of summer. My skin felt like it was peeling off my body, and my mind was unsettled, edgy and irritable. I just wanted to get away from it, to go back to what I knew.

But after talking to Dr Marry and deciding that, for whatever reason, I needed to go through this day, I sat with it and didn’t judge it. I allowed myself to dwell in the discomfort; I invited in the itchy, edgy feelings and didn’t try to distract myself from them.

The next day, I woke up on the other side of it, although I didn’t yet understand what “it” was. All I knew was that I had survived the terrible day, and I woke up as if a veil had been removed from my eyes. I was seeing the world from a very different vantage point, and I was so calm and filled with light and gratitude.

I was out walking on the dirt roads that surrounded the farmstead where I was staying, and I was having a conversation with the Universe.

I was so grateful to have made it through that terrible day, and I understood that I had been gifted with time and that disruption of my day to day life.

And then it dawned on me: my breakdown had been just about exactly the same number of hours that Dr Marry’s fall into withdrawal from alcohol three years earlier had been. The same way he had had to detox the alcohol from his system, I had had to detox my routine and rhythm from my own.

I said to the Universe, “You’ve given me such a gift, but I want to do it for more than just me. I want everyone to have this experience of transformational disruption in their lives.”

I was making huge gestures with my arms, trying to encompass the globe. There was no noise but the wind through the drying corn stalks and the honks of the geese flying south above me.

Suddenly, the Universe said, “Dayna, you’re a Personal Systems Disruptor, and you’re going to do this work for others.”

Now, I’d had another conversation with the Universe once before, so this wasn’t all that startling to me. Even still, I caught my breath and stopped walking. I said, “I am?”

“Yes. You are going to do this work with everyone.”

Time stood still for a moment as I took this all in. I looked ahead to the farmhouse about 1/4 of a mile away, and I started to walk again.

In that last 1/4 mile, I developed the central structure of what is today the Discover Your Spark program. The name has changed, but the work remains largely the same.

Consider just a few of the (seemingly random) elements that had to occur for that moment to take place:

  • I had to see the application for the artist in residency program in late 2019 and decide that, as an unpublished writer, I was a worthy applicant.
  • I had to be accepted by the panel.
  • I had to work for an organization that valued my duel role as an arts administrator and an artist and would give me the time off to pursue a two-week residency.
  • I had to have staff who could manage the organization while I was away for such an extended period of time.
  • Dr Marry had to be sober so that I could leave him and not have concerns about his safety with me gone for so long.
  • I needed to trust the discomfort and fear.
  • I needed to be out walking without a podcast or music playing so I was quiet enough to hear the voice that gifted me with this work.

Over to you

So what are the origin stories you want to uncover in your life?

I’ll ask you again: How in the world did you end up…here?

If you’re not happy with your answer, then perhaps it’s time to make a change. Your origin story is the beginning of your journey, it doesn’t have to be your ending, too. You can decide right now that you want to start a new chapter of your life’s story.

Two quotes from my friend Debra Sabatini Hennelly’s book Presence in Chaos for your consideration:

A year from now you will wish you had started today.

Karen Lamb


Your present circumstances don’t determine where you go, they merely determine where you start.

Nido Qubein

Not sure how to get started? Download my Discover Your Spark document and see if that doesn’t give you some powerful insight into your own origin story and extraordinary ways to move forward. And then reach out and let me know what you discover. There’s absolute value to putting your findings into print and sharing them with others.

Dayna Del Val is on a mission to help others (re)discover the spark they were born with through her blog and newsletter, her professional talks and the (re)Discover Your Spark retreats she leads. Dayna works with people to help them not just identify and articulate their dreams but to develop a framework to get going on the pursuit of those dreams—today, in the next few months and for the years ahead. She's at the intersection of remarkable and so, so ordinary, but she knows that pretty much everyone else is, too. She's excited to be sharing this extraordinary journey with you.

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