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Telling your professional story

People love to listen to and tell stories. When I meet people to talk about their professional situation, they almost always start off by telling their story.

Some of their stories are fascinating while others are predictable or a bit confusing. What many people’s story shows is how little conscious thought they had apparently put into choosing the overall direction of their professional life. A deeper issue is that many people really do not seem to know how they have gotten to where they are in their professional life. 

This is why I think it is helpful to write your story down and share it with others.

Your future choices are, in part, determined by what you have done in the past and an honest and objective accounting of how you have arrived at a specific point in your professional life is the first step in looking ahead and thinking about what to do. Once the past is clear it is possible to begin the process of looking ahead maybe using the framework outlined on this site.

There is a section on this website called stories and I encourage everyone to register and tell their own personal story. The basic idea is that other people’s stories might prove enlightening or even inspirational. The idea is not to reproduce the kind of stuff you might write on your CV or your linked-in profile but to actually tell other people what you did and why and what you might have learned along the way. Over the years I have listened to thousands of people’s stories and find that the most interesting aspect is this idea of learning.

The story needs to be both true and also compelling. We can craft such a story when looking back even if the changes seemed more chaotic when we were actually making them. The reason this is so critical is that whatever happens next needs to somehow flow from what came before. This change may be gradual or abrupt but needs to be well articulated.

It should be possible to articulate your story in 2 minutes, under 10, or to spend a long time over a cup of coffee or a meal. The key is that all three versions should essentially say the same thing.

What sets the best stories apart is how adversity and problems are dealt with. In some cases, a person will explain why they have been victims of circumstance, other people’s agendas, or other types of misfortune. Great stories turn these dips into learning opportunities and examples of being resilient.

In the summer of 1985, for example, the price of oil dropped abruptly and I  and many of my friends lost our jobs in the oil industry. The truth was that I was not a great engineer in any case and getting fired pushed me to pursue my MBA in Spain. The rest of my life has unfolded largely as a result. 

Please feel free to register on the site and tell your own story. You will see that there are a series of prompts dividing your professional life into jobs and phases. Phases are the big chunks of experience – in the same company or space and then jobs are the different positions in that phase.



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