The Power Of Owning Your Story (and why it matters to your career)
Today’s post is a guest post from the wonderful Sabrina Ali
You took time away from work to travel.
You wanted to start a family and left your profession for a little while.
You quit your work because you didn’t like it and wanted some perspective, so you read great literature in your garage for a year.
You volunteered abroad in a tropical country away from the domestic job market (all your friends think that you were on a really long vacation).
You needed to take care of some personal priorities (like an ill family member who passed) and left work to do so.
You have a long-standing pattern of working and “taking time off” because you’re not sure what you really want to do.
You were fired and got depressed and took time to heal your pain.
Gaps On Your Resume
Whatever the scenario, you’re nervous about how the gaps look on your resume. And you’re afraid that an employer isn’t going to take you seriously as a candidate.
You’re afraid that they’ll think you’re lazy, uncommitted or worse, that if they hire you, you’re going to ditch ‘em because you weren’t willing to suffer for consistency in your work history.
Not on this planet. No one is going to just pick a candidate because they got a perfect attendance score at work.
The problem here isn’t the gaps or the varied experience; it’s that you don’t know how to own and articulate your story.
Human beings hire human beings when all is said and done. And the stories that we tell to one another are what bind us to one another even in a work context.
Yes, in the midst of that ultra-professional, ultra-choreographed meeting called an interview, the employer is asking you to tell them compelling stories so that they can see how you make sense for the job.
Stories are an incredible form of data because they are the only form of data with a soul. They have this unique quality and ability to create connection and understanding – achievable in no other way for as long as human beings have existed.
The better you are at owning your story, the easier connection happens, and the more peaceful your experience of finding meaningful work is.
To remedy the inner anxiety, get into the now. You need not feel shame for the timeline gaps that your choices resulted in because of your fears that someone will judge you for how you live.
Get Your Story Straight
First things first, let’s just get your story straight.
Look into your heart to understand the very good reasons that you did what you did or what growth, passion or insight the experience brought you.
Shift your perspective to look for the higher viewpoint, or the soul-centred learning from your choices and the experience. When you do this, you’ll see that a ‘so-called gap’ isn’t really a gap at all.
It’s just an experience that you have yet to honor so that you can express it in a way that makes sense to yourself and others.
A clear story also has the added function of serving as a navigation tool to help on your career and life path.
I worked with a dad that left his career for a few years to be at home with his two daughters while they finished high school.
While the corporate world may not see the value in that (especially said that way) this was his opportunity to share:
“You know how a lot of people grow old and look back wishing that they’d seen their children grow up especially at those significant moments? Well, I didn’t want to do that and it was the best decision I ever made. I’ve got at least 15 years of work left in me still and being involved in my girl’s lives when I was means that I won’t live with regrets. I’m more committed to my work now more than ever because I’m fully here to do what I do.”
I also once worked with a young professional that lived in Columbia with his girlfriend and her parents for a couple of years after graduating. He volunteered in the local hospitals and was afraid prospective employers would view him as flakey for being away from the domestic job market for so long.
After reflecting and articulating why this time was so meaningful, he parlayed that experience into his introduction for a new career direction. In his words:
“I know how good we have it because I’ve seen the alternative to what we have. It’s not perfect here, but I want to work in health care from a place of gratitude for it, not as something that we constantly criticize.”
It made for an incredibly compelling reason to hire him. In less time than it took him to finish a university degree he’d become the public relations figure head of a health care organization.
Owning your story means that you name how the experience that you are most fearful of sharing made you grow and how that growth is directly applicable to the job that you’re looking to get.
You may need to sit down and write it out for it to make sense to you first, trying out a variety of angles on the subject (yes definitely do this) and complement the writing with talking to someone in person.
Here’s what happens in person: The more often you engage with people hearing your story, the more responses you get to it.
Use the responses on people’s faces and in their voice to recognize when your story has its soul without the shame.
It happens when you experience human connection. Look for the really good reasons that you did what you did and I promise they will appear. And you can always hire Tim or I to help you out with that if you need help. Right, Tim?
Tims Note: If this post struck a chord with you then I highly recommend The Power of Story by Jim Loehr (al) a truly excellent read on using stories for a better life. Oh and yes, you can hire me or Sabrina!
Sabrina Ali is a Career Counselor and the author of the Bliss Kit: a digital guide to authentic career creation. She works with young professionals who want to manage their careers with confidence and clarity while being true to themselves.