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  • Writer's pictureJP

Telling Your Career Story..

It’s complicated. I hear this often. In my teaching on how to use storytelling in business, science, life, I hear people opening up about their career trajectories. It can be hard to make sense of the paths we take. For some of us, our career story can look like a series of disparate moves. For others there is a visible clear line within an industry, an area of work. In all of our careers I believe there is a fil conducteur, a common thread, something driving where we land, move, find our way.

And yet often I hear uncertainty about how to make sense of the paths we take. As in how do I make sense of this as a story? What if I studied one thing but moved to a different area of work, took time off and came back in something entirely different? Staying with one thing does not make it easier now, with our career paths laid out for digital scrutiny, what if you did stay with one thing, is there a worry you will appear staid, stuck, lacking innovation? It may appear complicated for us but hear me out.

Each of us has a common thread, something driving the moves we make. And yes, it is a good idea to reflect on these at intervals in our careers even when we are not actually moving or changing roles or paths. Now more than ever, there is no simple perfect path, no one recipe that will work for everyone. Move around, pivot, shift, pause or stay constant in one place – it doesn’t matter, as each is a unique career story. Every single one has a common thread and finding this thread takes some reflection now and then. Consider it a worthy investment of time and not just when you are making the next move.

My own path was the first kind, more eclectic than one clear line. Undergraduate work in psychology and women’s studies, followed by graduate work in women’s history, which led to a career in cultural policy and archives-records management. Then more graduate work in communications, work in university administration and communications. At twenty I could not have created the path I took; indeed, it probably did not exist at the time, but I do know what my common thread was and remains, and it is something that forms part of my story.

Finding and communicating meaning, sharing ideas and learning is part of my common thread – while my engagement with storytelling concepts began in 2017, I know I have always been exploring stories – both mine and the organizations I have served. Through archives and history and later in university administration. A big part of my common thread has always been curiosity about the world, about social change, about technology, and about the ways human connect. This has led to career paths I would not have imagined and ultimately this curiosity led me to storytelling – to telling my stories, helping others tell stories about their careers, their life, and most often helping scientists and startups better communicate what they do. It took time to figure this out, to see it, but with each passing year I see it all more clearly.

Ok so good for me, but how do you find yours?

Look back and reflect on the passions and patterns that made you move, stay, wander or persist. Apply zero judgement on what you see. Whether you moved a lot, took time away, stayed in the same thing. There is no single perfect recipe now – yours is yours, whatever that is. What you may find is that most of us follow our nose in the sense of following need, curiosity, interest, passion and economic or other necessity. What do you see?

Now how would you speak to this thread, tell the story of your journey overtime. For those of us who did move, change, or pivot in studies and work, no your story is not that you are unfocussed. Go deeper – what do you see beyond the job titles or industry tags. What was in the work or study you were in that lit you up? Maybe it didn’t light you up and it is change that drove your path? Look for the motivation, the thing you see that drives your moves.

If you stayed in one discipline or area no this does not mean you are or were staid, stuck, and lacking imagination. What is the motivation to stay? Love the work, the stability, the depth of the industry? There is innovation in staying in one industry, in going deep in the work, in holding to path you set or followed.

Does it have to be a full story as in something with a narrative arc, a beginning, middle and end? Sure, it can be if you are so inclined but really you want a sentence or two that describes where you have been, something that speaks to you, your moves, your journey. Resist the myriad of storytelling consultants claiming something different on this…. when asked about your career you do not need to offer an autopsy of every moment. Think about the top lines, the big picture, something simple enough to remember, and often to help fuel more conversation.

Like these:

The common thread in my career has been about finding new challenges, in exploring work that pushes me to learn, create and contribute more.

A strong interest in new technologies – this has kept me in this industry allowing me to grow but also maintain both personal and professional stability.

I have remained in one industry but recently have found inspiration in XYZ (fill in the blank) and this is inspiring my interest in a change.

They can be longer, shorter – they have to make sense first to you. Creating your career story is a very personal, interior kind of journey – something only you can do. It’s complicated sure, but only in the sense that each of our paths is unique and the challenge is not letting flourishing LinkedIn profiles of others have you believe there is only one way. Get started now, map it out, reflect, find the thread, that thing you see in you. And do it before you have to tell that story at a job interview or networking event.

Ready to tell your career story?

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