design by Segun Adesina

Why a story approach to career?

Because stories show you (and the world) who you are and what you can be and do.

It is with stories that we inspire ourselves and one another to do great things.

Story Awareness

Stories are a choice. The stories that you tell and the ones that you choose to listen and pay attention to give you a sense for what’s possible.

But they are so ubiquitous, they become invisible. And so too their power.

Such it is that by becoming more aware of stories — and how you use them — you start to become more aware of the choices that you have in meaning-making. I love the example that Matthew Dicks shares in his excellent book Storyworthy.

His elderly dog woke him up in the middle of the night, needing to go pee. Half asleep, he takes her outside in his boxer shorts. She then decides that she wants a stroll around the block, and takes off. He follows her, barefoot, and in boxer shorts. It’s 2 am. He’s cold and tired. At the furthest point away from home, it starts to pour down with rain.

As he shares in this version of the story in his TEDx talk Homework for Life, before he started paying attention for stories, he would have seen nothing in this moment but annoyance. He would have been angry. But because he had been developing a story lens for years at this point, he can see something more in this moment than he previously would or could have done.

He stops. He realizes that this dog who has been his best friend for 14 years is probably not going to be around for much longer. He realizes that this might be one of the last times that he walks in the rain with her. He makes the choice to see and experience this moment — one that would have been annoying and forgotten — as something precious.

Matthew Dicks’ approach teaches you to see that there are meaningful and life-changing moments around you all the time.

I argue that when you do so — when you increase your awareness of what stories do – you will stop letting the ones that limit your perspective have any influence. You will make choices about how you share stories, only giving voice to ones that are empowering, expansive, and life-giving.

As I look around at the multifaceted and complex challenges facing our world, I see both limitless potential and great need for change. When we hear and tell more stories featuring the breadth of purposes and problems to which our skills and training may be put, we better feel our value and dream bigger about the impact we can have.

Story Finding

But first, you need to find your stories. This is my favorite part of the process, often because folks will insist that they don’t have any. But when we start triggering and collecting them, and when we are given the gift of real story listening, we start to experience stories’ impact and ‘stickiness.’ Once we learn how they stay in the minds of your listeners, we never again head to an informational interview, or a job interview, or a networking event, or just about any time that we find ourselves together with people, talking about things we care about, without powerful stories at the ready!

Story Telling

Take for example a job ad. Would-be employers have a bunch of asks articulated there, and a would-be employee is bursting with knowledge, skills, and abilities that she would like share. Not only are stories the key to presenting these qualities in a way that the would-be employer can really visualize and feel them, but stories are the right stackable container to get the information delivered in a way that the reader can really access and make sense of the breadth and depth of what this candidate has to offer.

It’s one thing to list qualities, saying for example that you are a teacher who values student-centered learning, and who uses research to inform innovative approaches to instruction that includes integrating multiple modalities, and it’s quite another to take story listeners to a moment …

….where you designed a study abroad experience in the UK where students went to Jane Austen’s house and were able to experience the sights, sounds, and textures of her writing nook, while at the same time reading and hearing her writing read aloud.

In describing the backwards design of this lesson, this applicant can show why she is going to be so very effective at teaching ESL students, owing to her awareness and experience of how language is multi-modal and not only best acquired experientially, but can be impactful in developing writing ability because that skill is all about emplacing language within context.

With story, this educator shows just how effective she is at sparking students to be more persuasive and compelling writers, while at the same time making them more aware of writing in place and how this builds a sense of community and culture, forging a sense of belonging in the classroom, which in turn facilitates a sense of engagement in an institution, a community, cultural and civic life. From just this moment, you get a sense for how this educator approaches student engagement, inclusion, and retention.

Career Camp is my way of actioning awareness of the stories that surround us to be more appreciative of the ways they structure our engagement with the world (of work). If you or someone you know is wanting to take stock of where you are, where you have been, and where you are going with your career through a story approach — come join us for the Fall 2020 edition of Career Camp — designed by Career Linguist.