Open letters to social expectations: Collective documents for social change by Mim Kempson

For the most part, the self-help industry heralds particular “personality traits” as admirable and portrays others as internal deficits needing to be fixed. It’s promoted that being productive, authentic, decisive, passionate and positive, for example, supposedly leads to “success”. In my narrative practice meeting with young people, I began to notice that, sometimes, these standards that we’re led to believe are inspiring can be more, in fact, pressuring. 

As a former journalist, I decided to explore the effects of a hybrid practice. I integrated journalistic approaches into narrative practices, experimenting with the idea of therapeutic interviewing. Unlike traditional therapy where a client seeks out a therapist, I went out to seek a variety of perspectives, treating each person I met with as an expert on social expectations. In my questions I externalised social expectations to the point of personification – because things like Authenticity and Productivity, like humans, have multi-storied complex histories. The desire to be a productive person, for example, has roots in the industrial revolution where keeping the economy ticking through productivity is core to upholding such capitalistic discourses and systems (hence internalised capitalism). Seeing passion as important to one’s career comes out of individualistic ideologies. The concept of “meaningful work”, for example, came about after centuries of work being treated as a duty and indicator of where one sat in the social class hierarchy. In the end, this project zoomed in on authenticity, exploring how not everyone has the same access and freedom to be”‘authentic”.

Mim Kempson is a writer and narrative therapist working in private practice, seeing mainly LGBTQI+ individuals and couples online and on Whadjuk land, Perth. Her work can be viewed at

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