Last time I talked about the use of narrative in your career. I consider it very important to be able to build and use a good narrative as it provides a tool for communicating and has its own psychological benefits.
There are also benefits to tearing it down because there’s a dark side to narratives. I’ll explore both of course.
You see,sometimes the narrative can backfire. In fact, every narrative backfires eventually so you have to be read to tear your hard work down.
In your career, you can doubtlessly find times having a good narrative about you and your abilities has helped. The convincing tale of writing a book, that amusing story of the server meltdown, the compelling epic about the financial software you spent a year working on. A good narrative explains, draws in, and makes you real to people interviewing you – and thus helps you get a job.
But, a moment of thought also reveals narratives can backfire. We’ve seen this happen before in careers and in life.
It Gets Stale: A story told too often can ossify, it’s a habit in your head that is told but not really as a vital part of your life. New information doesn’t infuse a narrative, and soon its passionless and irrelevant.
Self Defeating: I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people construct elaborate narratives about how bad things were. Now most of us don’t do this consciously, but sometimes we can make our career narratives too negative, or self-deprecating, or plain miserable. Fused with our own ability to decide on miserable story-lines to our lives and we’re trapped in a prison of our own tale.
Self Aggrandizing: Like fishing tales, stories at times can become more and more exaggerating. They’re not stale, they’re slowly evolving into Baron Munchausen stories that just happened to have a resume to go with them. Stories can mutate into blobs of ego if we’re not careful, especially if they work. Face it, the positive feedback on a good career narrative can inflate our own egos.
Disconnected: a tale can also become disconnected from its larger context. Yes that story of how you created that t-shirt is awesome, but your focus on your Photoshop skills may miss all the other elements of how it’s importance, like how you got the clients needs right. Good stories can sometime disconnect.
Aged: THe amount of people who care about your early Geocities site may not be that great. Stories have to get results in the career world, and some need to be updated, integrated, or retired.
Our narratives are important, but sometimes they rot, mutate, or were no that great to begin with. They can become burdens, prisons, and problems in our job search.
That’s why there’s an additional skill so creating narratives.
Being able to take them apart.
Destroy Your Narrative
Yes, at some point your narratives will need to be updated, modified, or just plain broken down for spare anecdotes. At some point you may need to take them apart.
This is scary. We are stories – that’s what human beings are. To take apart our narratives, even ones we hate is to take ourselves apart. Ever see someone have trouble giving up a bad self image? They were protecting part of themselves because that bad image was at least something.
But if you want to use your narratives in your careers (or indeed your life), the second thing you need to learn after building them is how to take them apart.
This is where good self-analysis comes in. You have to be able to look squarely at your career story or part of one (or indeed your life story) and figure out what is old, irrelevant, destructive, or plain wrong. You have to say “this goes.”
But how do we do this? Well, beyond good psychological practice and understanding (which I always recommend), one f the keys is actually building them in the first place.
To Destroy You Must Make
When you become good at consciously creating narratives for your career, some interesting things happen:
- You understand how you can build narratives. In turn, you understand how you have made them before – and often unconsciously.
- You understand their power. When you get a good narrative going, ou see it’s influence. In turn, you can appreciate the power of ones producing negative results.
- You can get less attached. Note the “can” part. It doesn’t always happen, but wen you get good with building narratives you understand that your story can modify and grow and get less attached to certain ones. Well, usually – we do get attached.
- You understand their amorphous nature. A crafted narrative goes through many iterations. In turn, that shows how they are not “solid” so you don’t have to take them too seriously. You also see how they can be broken up, combined, etc.
- You have options. You can build your own narrative – and maybe feel better about taking some apart or letting them go.
So ultimately, the flipside of learning to build a good career story is you gain the ability to take them apart, modify them, or just ditch them.
The danger in building a career narrative is that you’ll only focus on building and not apply the above lessons until there’s crisis and it’s forced upon you. So when you get good at your career narrative, always be aware that you’re learning how to take them apart.
Be Ready To Undo Your Narrative
I recommend working on career narratives regularly. Update your resume, review your cover letter, think things over, ask what you’re doing. I update my resume over time, and that’s always a good time to think over what I’m doing. In times, building the career narrative becomes instinctive.
But the more you do it, the more the above lessons apply. Regularly working on a career story means also regularly undoing the old ones and learning how your mind is working constructing ll these tales So if you practice building, you’re always practicing taking apart.
In fact, you may even start looking at your whole life’s narrative. That is a bit beyond the scope of my writing here, but you may see just how your entire life story is something you’re building and modifying – or clinging to.
The flipside of building a good career narrative is the need to modify, combine, or even ditch them. But you get better at taking them apart, a bit ironically, by making them in the first place. If you become good at building the career narrative, you can, if you pay attention, become better at changing it.
It’s a kind of dialogue really. A conversation with yourself and the world that is ever-changing and growing.
And that, of course, can get you a job. Which is, beyond thed eep insights, what I am focusing on here.
That’s part of my narrative, of course.
– Steven Savage