Controlling your narrative

I’ll start off this week’s theme of addressing failure with a story.

I know a woman who was top-notch in her field. It was the 1980s. Women were finding out how to work their way up and around, still navigating unchartered territory in the corporate world in many ways. This woman was an immigrant, she was petite and Asian, she was armed with a college degree and common sense. She worked her way up to be President of a mortgage company.

And she had a nickname: Barracuda. No one ever called her this to her face. But it was how she was known.

That woman is my mom.

You should hear how my dad talks about those days. He exudes pride with a chuckle and an incredulous shake of his head when he tells stories of her, the Barracuda. I grew up hearing these tales of moxie.

It wasn’t until years later when I put two and two together: Barracuda was code for a totally different B-word that was not very polite to use in the workplace. Barracuda wasn’t conferred as a badge of honor. Barracuda was intended to insult. It was used behind her back, in snide and petulant comments and complaints tainted with, “Who does she think she is?”

This is when I got my first taste of someone controlling the narrative. Despite the day to day tensions and road blocks and nastiness that my mom might have endured in the corporate world as an immigrant and woman in the early 1980s, I grew up hearing a story of a very different tone. One of endurance and commitment and triumph and command and grace.

This, I thought, was powerful.

I went to a CEO conference late last year. Nearly every panel and presenter had their own story of “that spectacular fail we had” – comparing notes on all the execution problems they had, how it all went to hell, how dumb they were and how they had no idea what they were doing “in those days.”

They took their fails and controlled the narrative. They owned every fail. They built a story around it, one they had no problem comparing notes and sharing with others.

There are other examples all around us. Politicians who lose elections and write best-selling books afterwards. People who figure out how to explain that gap in employment when they’re going into an interview. Military veterans who use narrative to help process their traumatic experiences.

So why not you? The facts are the same. Those can’t be changed. But how you tell it? Well, you tell it however you want. How are you going to change the narrative of your own career, your own fails, your own disappointments?

Because you totally can. You can tell the story however you want. It’s your fail, your story to own.



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