Editor's note: This article discusses a person who had suicidal thoughts. If you or someone you know needs help, use Find a Helpline to access local emotional support resources.
Seven years ago, I was in a women-only workshop when I realized everyone around me was struggling to talk about their own achievements. I decided to do some research and found a vast body of literature proving what I had just witnessed: Women and other under-represented groups often struggle with self-promotion. So, along with a good friend of mine and a former colleague, I set out to make a change. We created #IamRemarkable, an initiative that empowers people to celebrate their achievements in their personal and professional lives.
#IamRemarkable has now reached more than 400,000 people in 170 countries, with workshops run in businesses, universities, social groups, NGOs and more. There are over 4,000 volunteer facilitators all over the world who deliver #IamRemarkable workshops — and I’m pleased to say that number is growing every day.
The impact I'm most proud of is that half of all people who participated reported that, thanks to the #IamRemarkable workshop, they managed to grow in their job or their career. That’s largely thanks to our incredible team of volunteer facilitators, which is why I want to shine a light on them, and find out more about the motivation behind their work. I spoke to Denis Duarte, a manager in the airline industry and volunteer #IamRemarkable facilitator from Brazil, who shared his extraordinary story.
What’s your background, Denis?
I grew up in São Paulo, Brazil, then spent over 20 years living and working in multiple countries. In 2016 I moved back to Brazil and, due to the high cost of living, I moved back in with my parents. This was challenging in itself after having lived all over the world. A new government was coming in, so it was a huge period of transition for the country, and things felt very unsettled for me personally. On top of that, my father was forwarding me homophobic messages. I am gay, and getting those daily led me to hit rock bottom. I went as far as planning suicide.
I’m so sorry. How did you get through that?
It was during the beginning of the pandemic, when things had settled down a bit for me, that I posted my story on my workplace intranet. Hundreds of my coworkers wrote to me after that, expressing their sympathy and solidarity and opening up about their own mental health struggles.
Soon after, I saw a post about #IamRemarkable that invited people to write about why they were remarkable. That caught my attention because I’d never thought about myself in those terms. That’s when things started to change; I realized I was remarkable, and decided to begin focusing more on myself.
What did that look like for you?
I did the #IamRemarkable workshop with 12 others from my workplace, and we all shared our experiences. That was powerful, but I saw that the transformation had begun when I sat down and wrote why I was remarkable. It changed my life: After that workshop, I started believing more in myself and my skills, and enrolled in an MBA program.
When I was asked later if I wanted to be an #IamRemarkable facilitator, I agreed on the spot, because I saw the potential of joining a movement where people were able to help themselves and others. Just writing down the sentence, “I am remarkable because…” is like a trigger. It makes people rethink themselves, and I saw the good that I could do by being involved.
What do you gain from being a facilitator?
Helping people gives me a lot of positive energy. For example, I’ve run workshops with refugees whose lives began changing for the better, and women who’ve lived through wars. You can’t beat the feeling of helping people. I love it, and don’t even mind running a workshop with people in New Zealand at 3 a.m., which I did during their lockdown.
What kinds of issues do you deal with as a facilitator?
Sometimes in a workshop, when people have to read what they’ve written, they start crying, shaking, can’t read or can’t turn on the camera. You have to be sensitive and reassure them. I’ve had times where everybody was crying — for example, when we heard the story of a trans woman from Iran. But emotion connects people, too. Hearing others' life stories inspired me to live mine, and I hope that my story will help others to share their stories too.
To get involved and hear more stories, join #IamRemarkable Week 2022 from September 28-30. The agenda features talks with guests like Venus Williams (in cooperation with Talks at Google), Tom Daley and Deepica Mutyala, plus panels, daily exercises and online workshops.