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The two most important stories of your life

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I was talking with a client the other day who was entering the job market after spending an extended period of time doing a mix of freelance work and raising children.

He was concerned about holes in his experience, and the impact they would have on securing a good job.

He felt scared, uncomfortable and insecure.

Another client had gone through a really tough period in her life which had caused her to drop some balls at work. Coworkers weren’t happy, and she was concerned about how it would impact her opportunities moving forward.

She felt awkward, ashamed and stuck.

In both these cases, there are two very important stories to tell.

The story you tell yourself

Going after new goals is challenging. The job market is competitive. It isn’t easy to create art, or get customers or write a book. It is hard to bounce back from failure or adversity. Before you start to worry about what someone else thinks about you, you have to make sure that you are thinking great things about yourself.

Consider the difference between these two stories:

“I have been out of the job market for five years and have not kept up on all the latest trends in technology. I am scared that prospective employers might see me as lacking.  I must do whatever it takes to prove that I am worthy. I am desperate for a job. I will take any opportunity that comes my way, and heave a sigh of relief, because it will mean that they accept me, despite my flaws.”

How are you feeling after reading something like this? Kind of yucky and in need of a hug or a shower, right?

Consider this alternative:

“I am proud of the wide variety of experiences that I have had in my life. I can think of many times when I was put into new and challenging situations, and learned quickly. Being out of the job market for awhile has given me a new and refreshing perspective that makes me extremely focused and excited for new opportunities. I have enjoyed working for myself, but now I am ready to be back in a team environment where I have support and resources to get my work done. I want to work in a place that appreciates my experience. I will do a great job, and they will be lucky to have me.”

That feels better, doesn’t it? The first story reminds me of Das Boot and the second of Rocky II.

When crafting your personal story, consider:

The story you tell others

Once you get a clear and empowering story to tell yourself, you need to work on the story that will resonate and influence others. In addition to the questions you have answered for your own story above, add these:

  • What challenges are these (potential employers) (prospective clients) (resistant team members) facing?
  • How can I prepare to give the best interview of my life?
  • How might my background and experience help them to overcome their challenges?
  • How can I clearly and powerfully respond to legitimate concerns about holes, gaps or weaknesses in my background or skills?
  • How does my total life experience give me a unique competitive advantage over fellow job applicants or business owners?
  • How can I deliver tremendous, measurable value to the people I want to work with?

“You will have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”

-Zig Zigler, may he rest in peace

Every day, I see people with similar backgrounds and equivalent skills accomplish radically different results.

One big reason for this is the story they tell themselves and others on a daily basis.

The quality of your life is directly related to the quality of your stories.

Craft them well.

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15 Responses to “The two most important stories of your life”

  1. Great post and just what I needed to hear in the New Year. You always get me thinking. Thank you!

  2. How serendipitous to read this post at this particular time in my life. I have made the decision to change my circumstances (mostly by way of what I do for a living!) and don’t want to just “change four quarters for a dollar” so I have been delving deep to find my way. Thanks to Danielle Laporte’s Desire Map FB page, I found you and read this post.

    I have been totally telling myself and others the wrong story! I have way more to offer than I’ve been telling.

    Thank you so much for writing this and thanks Universe for bringing me to the page!

  3. Jeff Funk says:

    Brilliant post. I always believe that there’s no greater resume than the story you are willing to share about who you are.

  4. Uzma says:

    So true. What we actually think of ourselves, defines our language and our action. True for how we see ourselves and how we see life !! Goof stuff

  5. Nick says:

    Great post! Hero’s journey was a unique takeaway from this post. I might have to read a little more on that, though. Also, loved Zig’s quotes. They are appearing on every blog I follow. The man has touched so many lives. Thanks again for the great tips!

  6. Heather says:

    I was laid off from corporate america the first time when I was 28. the first 4wks were horrid. I HAD to find a job, or so I thought. I had just started grad school and was afraid of how I was going to get another job that paid as well and could cover my new grad school costs. My husband told me to take a pay cut. I refused. Fortunately I was able to network with another student to land a job. I got the exact same salary I had before. But, before the joyful dance of employment, I let go of the pressure and frustration of finding a job. I was off for 8 wks, the exact amount of severance and unemployment allowed at the time. 1st 4wks were horrid. Last 4 wks were amazing. For the first time in my life I didn’t have overwhelming pressure to perform. I just enjoyed school and being home.
    2nd time I was laid off was in Oct 2009. Due to personal difficulties, the first 3mos were really awful. But, in Jan 2010, I had a freaking blast. I traveled; I spent time with my kids like a stay at home mom, which I never had been; did home renovations for myself and a friend for extra $$. I LOVED IT! I set my schedule. I spent time with people I wanted to, not people I had to for work. I got to relax from the tremendous stress, anxiety and pressure from my corporate job. I got to be me, not that witchy tense person from work. Even though I new it would be okay, I had to let myself freakout for the first part of being laid off just like I did 13 years earlier. I only went back to work after 17mos because I felt in order to keep myself ‘marketable’ I should. I didn’t want to drain my savings. My kids were in grade school and middle school now. But, it made me appreciate several things about my life, my approach to work, and reduced my stress. I’ve been back for 19mos now. Some of the regular work stress has returned. But, I cherished my time off.

    • Pamela says:

      Wow, Heather, what an amazing story! Thanks so much for sharing your journey. I love the lessons learned in your experiences being laid off.

  7. Maris Olsen says:

    You cannot expect someone else to honor you if you do not honor yourself. Direct experience may be important to getting a job, but the ability to learn new things quickly and well is so much more valuable. Why? Because the experience that is needed today may not be the same that is required tomorrow.

    Thank you Pam – lovely post! Hope to see you again at WDS 2013!

  8. Brent says:

    As I wrap up the first year of my new biz I am reflecting back on the year and your positive frame is a perfect way to do that. What are the positive lessons, the positive story, the challenges overcome and dragons slayed?

    And I really love the Zig Ziglar quote at the end which has me thinking about the upcoming year.

    What do the people I feel most called to lead deeply crave?
    And what value/results/outcomes could I deliver if I fully leveraged my strengths?

    Hmmm…

  9. Julica says:

    Brilliant. Thank you, you keep me going. :)

  10. Cheryl says:

    Oh my goodness…I just wrote a blog on exactly this subject which I am publishing today. Since I’ve been doing some recruiting, I hear this all the time. Such wonderful people are struggling to re-enter the work force.

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