What's Your Story?

When you're in the midst of a major career change, telling stories about your professional self can inspire others' belief in your character and in your capacity to take a leap and land on your feet. It also can help you believe in yourself. A narrative thread will give meaning to your career history; it will assure you that, in moving on to something new, you are not discarding everything you've worked so hard to accomplish. Unfortunately, as the authors explain in this article, most of us fail to use the power of storytelling in pursuit of our professional goals, or we do it badly. Tales of transition are especially challenging.

by Herminia Ibarra
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

When you're in the midst of a major career change, telling stories about your professional self can inspire others' belief in your character and in your capacity to take a leap and land on your feet. It also can help you believe in yourself.

A narrative thread will give meaning to your career history; it will assure you that, in moving on to something new, you are not discarding everything you've worked so hard to accomplish. Unfortunately, the authors explain in this article, most of us fail to use the power of storytelling in pursuit of our professional goals, or we do it badly. Tales of transition are especially challenging.

Not knowing how to reconcile the built-in discontinuities in our work lives, we often relay just the facts. We present ourselves as safe--and dull and unremarkable. That's not a necessary compromise. A transition story has inherent dramatic appeal. The protagonist is you, of course, and what's at stake is your career. Perhaps you've come to an event or insight that represents a point of no return. It's this kind of break with the past that will force you to discover and reveal who you really are. Discontinuity and tension are part of the experience. If these elements are missing from your career story, the tale will fall flat.

With all these twists and turns, how do you demonstrate stability and earn listeners' trust? By emphasizing continuity and causality--in other words, by showing that your past is related to the present and, from that trajectory, conveying that a solid future is in sight. If you can make your story of transition cohere, you will have gone far in convincing the listener--and reassuring yourself--that the change makes sense for you and is likely to bring success.

Harvard Business Review, January 2005

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