Telling your career story

7 Oct 2018

What is your career story? What pivotal events, opportunities and setbacks have shaped your professional life? What are the values and strengths that motivate you and determine the choices you make?

If these questions are hard to answer, you are not alone. Many people enjoy their job, as far as it goes, but reach a point where they feel ‘stuck’ career-wise. They sense they could be doing something more meaningful, but they are not sure what that ‘something’ could be.

A new book by Jane Horan,   Now It’s Clear: The Career You Own, is written for people seeking fulfilment in their professional lives. Jane is a Singapore-based expert in career transitions, unconscious bias and cross-cultural leadership. She tells her own story of finding purpose, and guides readers with self-coaching techniques to discover their ‘inner compass’. In this way, they learn to see all the possibilities open to them – not just the ones that are most obvious and closest to hand.

Crafting your career story involves pulling together all the threads that have shaped you. It requires introspection and it’s not a one-off exercise. In my experience, we weave our stories as we mature and some events only take on a deeper meaning many years later.

Why does it matter to tell your story? Because it reveals the ‘real you’ through the events and values that have made you who you are. Telling your story can be inspiring for those you work with and lead. People are looking for leaders they can relate to, and want real stories of how to face life’s challenges and opportunities.

Telling our career story is also a way to overcome the ‘bragging’ problem. I grew up with clear parental guidance not to boast about my accomplishments. So did Jane, an American who has spent much of her career in Asia. So did a participant at one of her workshops in Shanghai, who struggled to find three positive self-descriptions.

Career stories aren’t about bragging. They are about describing important events, or turning points, and how you responded. The author notes five character traits that people can draw on to bounce back from a setback: optimism; self-belief; adaptability; problem solving; and support seeking. Using the ones you recognise most in yourself, think of a situation when you drew on them to recover, learn and grow. This is part of your story.

The best stories come alive with colours, sights, sounds and smells. Jane describes a pivotal event when she arrived at a bus terminal in a beach town in China with little money or knowledge of the language and found herself, a towering stranger, being stared at and jostled by local people. By setting a vivid scene, she hooks the reader into wanting to know what happened next.

The book draws on methods the author has used herself to help readers find their true purpose: reflective walks; drawing; reading and writing poetry; and exercises to clarify values and to map relationships. One  poem,   Life While You Wait,  by Wislawa Szymborska, ends with these lines that resonated strongly with me in reflecting on the importance of purpose and making a difference:

‘And whatever I do

Will become forever what I’ve done’

NOW It’s Clear: The Career You Own, by Jane Horan, Ed.D, is published by Springtime Books

This article by Alison Maitland was first published by IWE on 7 October 2018

©Alison Maitland 2018, all rights reserved

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