Recent events have me reflecting on what it means to have a life story. There are many opportunities throughout our lives to make meaning — and to make adjustments when those meanings don’t serve us. What will your story be?
What will your story be?
I’m thinking about eulogies today. A bit of a depressing topic but stay with me. As you may already know from these posts, my dad passed away at the end of last year. We had a memorial for him a few weeks ago, and I delivered the eulogy. I also recently read the obituary for a friend’s mom. I had never met her, but she sounds like an incredible human being. Her daughter surely is. So, today, I’m thinking about our lives in terms of the stories that they turn out to be.
In working with my clients on their careers, I often use the analogy of a book with many chapters. For most of us, it’s easier and more effective to focus on the next chapter when we’re facing a career transition, rather than trying to write the whole book at once.
I find this metaphor is also particularly helpful when someone is coming out of a difficult period in their career. A bad experience at work – whether that’s working under a difficult boss or flailing in a challenging role – can leave you feeling battered and bruised. It can wreck your confidence. It can cause you to start to play small. But it doesn’t have to be that way. One bad chapter doesn’t have to define your whole career. The work – and this is something I do with my clients – is to reframe that chapter. How did it help you gain strength and build muscle? When you can make sense of it in this way, it empowers you – rather than dragging you down. It becomes the abyss in your hero’s journey, that fuels your transformation and ultimate success.
You may have heard me tell this about my dad already, but his is a great example of that kind of turnaround. When I was very young, he was not a very happy man. He was working in jobs that weren’t a good fit for him with managers who didn’t really understand him. He was dissatisfied and discouraged. Then, when I was about twelve years old, he found a job working for a boss who really knew how to bring out the best in him. This leader knew how to support him. Dad stepped into his career in a new way, and really turned things around. He found his spark again. He got excited about work and felt better about himself. It made a huge difference in his life – and in our relationship, not only then, but for years to come. I was thinking about this as I delivered the eulogy, how different a message it would have been without that turnaround.
Is it time for a Rewrite?
As you think about your career and your life in this moment, what’s the story that you could tell? Are you putting your time and energy into work that you can feel good about? When you think of your past, are you able to make sense of your experiences in a way that empowers you? Can you use that experience to create a story of hope for your future? Are you on track to create the kind of life you want to lead?
That’s the work that I do with my clients sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly, as we’re thinking about what kind of role would be a good fit for them, or how they are stepping into their leadership. What’s always in my mind, as we’re doing that work is how is the role helping you develop as a whole person? How is it contributing to the overall narrative of your life? Is it giving you opportunities to shine? To grow? To foster the connections with your family members and your friends that you want to have? To take care of your body and soul?
I don’t usually say this out loud to my clients or emphasize it a whole lot, but what’s in the back of my mind are these questions: At the end of your life, will you look back on it and feel proud and happy about how you spent it? Will you feel good about the part that your career played in your life? Will you be happy with the balance you had between your career and the rest of your life? Will the people who are writing your obituary have a story to tell that they feel good about? Will they have experienced you as someone who loved your life, who was fulfilled, who was doing what you wanted to do?
If your answer to this right now isn’t a wholehearted yes, then it’s time to change that. You have the power to create a new story for yourself. I can help. Let’s talk.