Revisit the “career stories” you tell yourself. Are they holding you back?

Positioning yourself for opportunity is all about storytelling. But before you get wrapped up in how you tell your story to others, revisit the “career stories” you tell yourself.

Make sure you evaluate the narratives you’ve developed about your interests and goals, your work history, your failures and capabilities, and determine whether those serve you before you try to sell someone else on it. Because if the career stories you tell yourself are holding you back, you’ll need to do a little work on recrafting those first.

Don’t conflate the stories you create around your job or career with neutral facts.

Facts aren’t emotional. Facts don’t cause elation or frustration or make you cringe. But the interpretations you lay over the facts can certainly trigger lots of feelings. Your career stories may be so imbedded in your mind and in your professional identity that they might not feel like stories at all!

You gave a presentation in front of the leadership team.
You didn’t have all the answers to their questions in the Q&A portion.

Your career stories about this event:
It showed that I didn’t master the content.
Maybe I’m not ready for more responsibility.
I *should* know all the answers but don’t.
I missed a great opportunity here.
Even though I thought I prepared well, I was wrong.

When you are trying to position yourself for an opportunity in the future, these career stories can be very disruptive to your efforts being successful. The limiting beliefs and negative interpretations of inadequacy or failure on the job may color how strongly you advocate for yourself. If the question of doing presentations or collaborating with leadership comes up in the future, you may confirm that you have, in fact, presented in front of leadership teams.


But maybe you still lose out on the opportunity, and you wonder why. After all, you DID confirm that you HAVE presented to leadership before! Why wouldn’t you get that chance to do so again (…and hopefully do a better job)?

Could it be that the career stories you tell yourself are hobbling you, silently, in the background?

You appear confident – you may even *feel* confident. You are taking action, and you are putting yourself out there! Yet you are not getting the results you expect or hope for. Why is that?

Maybe you’ve tried to land a new job for 3 months, and you have a great resume and interview skills, so you’re confused about the lack of offers.

Perhaps you are trying to work closely with a new manager to ensure your anticipated promotion is not at risk, but no matter which great strategy you use, you can’t seem to build rapport.

Or maybe, despite all your greatest attempts, you still can’t find a work-life balance that works for you.

The narratives we create about our work experiences and future prospects impact us significantly, even if it isn’t obvious superficially. These stories influence how we talk about ourselves, how we show up, and how we interact with others. If you believe the limiting career stories you’ve created and accept them as fact, they will not serve you when you are trying to level up… despite “doing all the right things” and taking the actions you’re supposed to be taking.

The good news is: you can adjust your internal narratives to serve you better.

You don’t have to go 180 degrees in the opposite direction to solve this problem. In fact, doing so often doesn’t work. “I totally nailed it! It isn’t that important in the long run that I couldn’t answer every question.” This isn’t going to help you, primarily because you’re unlikely to believe that story.

But what career stories could be valid interpretations that you would believe *and* serve you in achieving your career goals?

It’s a good idea to remember that you are capable of anything, even though one event didn’t pan out. In other words, the outcome of one event doesn’t dictate something fundamental about you as a professional. Can you think of an alternative career story about the event described above? “Although they asked questions I did not anticipate, I did prepare heavily for the Q&A. The questions I used during practice helped me deliver the original content better.”

You either win or you learn, right? “Wow, that threw me for a loop. The outcome was different than I expected. Next time I’ll share some data with stakeholders in advance to unveil questions so I’m not caught off-guard.”

Are you concerned that you are not “expert” enough for a task? It turns out expertise is not an either-you-are-or-you-aren’t proposition. “My manager chose me to do that presentation because I was best positioned to deliver the information. I didn’t have all the answers, but neither would anyone else.”

What opportunities underlie each shortcoming? If you have your sights on the bigger picture, then you’ll appreciate that challenges are part of the roadmap toward meeting your objectives. “Those were fantastic questions, and I’m excited to lead the charge to fill in the blanks for everyone.”

These alternate career stories will buoy you instead of hold you back.

The next time someone asks you about interaction with leadership, you can speak more eloquently about the topic. You might mention the nature of unanticipated questions, or the important strategy of getting buy-in early. You can describe being the best authority on a topic in a group still struggling to find all the answers, or your commitment to solve outstanding issues for the leadership group.

Now, that’s a much better response to an inquiry about doing presentations than simply confirming – out of inadequacy or negativity – that you’ve done it before.

Explore alternate narratives to reduce the chance that interpretations of past events or future prospects will impede your advancement. Sign up for the email list below, and you’ll get a link to drop something into my calendar to brainstorm on this topic.

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1 thought on “Revisit the “career stories” you tell yourself. Are they holding you back?”

  1. Pingback: Behind my brand: the company name and logo | Strategic Career Coaching

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