Discover Your Personal Narrative
A piece that I wrote for harvard business review I guess about a year and a half ago along along these lines it's about discovering your narrative because it's so the guy came to me he was he was a consultant and he was having a little bit of trouble kind of figuring out how to tell his story you know what was his brand because this was a really talented guy I mean the problem wasn't like oh, he hadn't done anything the problem was that maybe this is the case for some of you I know at the beginning you mentioned this he had done almost too many things you know, he had worked in all these different countries he'd worked in all these different industries he had charitable things he was involved in and he's like well what you know like what do I pick what I focus on and that could be a really hard question and so one strategy that I talked to him about I want to give you guys a couple of ideas about ways toe start thinking about formulating your narrative but one of the ideas that I sugge...
sted to him was what I call the war story uh theory and that's that sometimes if you start from the top down if you start from like this macro picture of like what's my brand you know that is a really overwhelming question you can get paralysed pretty fast if you just you know, say, well, I don't I don't know it could be like any of these things and I have no idea and so what I suggested to him as an exercise and maybe some of you guys at home would like to try this at some point is the idea that, you know, take take a saturday, take a sunday and just go for a couple of hours to a cafe and literally right down your war stories and what I mean by that is when you think about the times in your life, you know, particularly a professional life, but any time where you really felt like you learned something important like what are the moments you keep coming back? Teo like, what was the time you really learned what leadership was like or what was the time when you had a pretty bad failure and you managed to overcome it? What was the time when you really felt a click like, oh my gosh, I am doing I am doing the thing I'm meant to be doing what are those stories? And if you write them down, if you actually literally make a kind of catalog you get you get some of those down and instead of starting from the top you're starting from the ground up you're saying what is my lived experience? And if you look at them together oftentimes that could be a hint I can provide clues to you about wow you know every single time every single story has this innit you know or you know every oh wow there's you know there's sort of this theme here you know, maybe your theme is the importance of mentorship or maybe your theme is you know wow this is all about like women's empowerment or whatever it is but that's that's part of how you can begin to excavate the clues because personal branding in a lot of ways it's a discovery process right it's not about taking some idea and then shoehorning things into it it's about really discovering and uncovering who you are and similarly another technique that all suggest as a way of kind of sparking ideas about ah about your brand and how to tell the story of your brand is this this is the past past into president exercise here which you know really basic but where you started how how your past relates to your future and then where you're going you know sort of a linear narrative because and that seems really basic but for a lot of people it could be hard for them to kind of grasp how how your past actually connects to where you're going they may say wait a minute this seems like totally unconnected and so for instance just you know I'll give you an example for me you know I do I do marketing strategy now I do teaching I do consulting and all this kind of stuff and it could seem really disjointed to some people if they weren't you know sort of thinking hard about it but so to take one thing from my past I could grab ar e you know, I did communications on a presidential campaign so I could say so as a former presidential campaign spokesperson, one of the things that I learned was the importance of being able to communicate your message in a really noisy environment where there's a lot going on and you have to find a way to break through and get noticed. And so today as a speaker and a consultant and a professor I help my students and the companies they work for break through the noise and find ways to to really distinguish themselves in the marketplace and so you know, you can kind of take that strand and explain it and that way people say, you know, they may look at this thing you know, this resume with, like seventy five different jobs but they could see okay, that kind of makes sense yeah, there is continuity because the human mind looks for continuity if you can provide a sense of that that's that's really powerful for people as a form of evidence for your skills and you know, because you know they're looking for that kind of resolution so those are a couple of ideas and you can literally take different things I could tell you know related but slightly different story of my starting point was that I had started as a newspaper journalist, so a couple of ideas to kind of get your mind working there so it actually like to shift into an exercise now for you guys uh for, uh for those of you following along at home it's now on page three of our super cool workbooks and this is the building your narrative exercise and so what? I'd love it if you guys could could tackle for me we have a few questions that you can fill out number one what's your greatest weakness number two how is that also a strength? Nothing. Nothing is an un alloy to weakness, right? We talked about how your weaknesses and your strengths are usually fairly tightly bundled together. Number three along alongside what we're just doing our kind of arrow graph here, how does what you've done in the past relate to your future? And as a result of that, you know, can you tell, you know, this is something ideally, we wanted to be a short, you know, but write out a draft narrative statement so kind, you know, kind of like what I was what I was talking about earlier, you know, start thinking about that so let you guys do that at home you can start working on this is well but as you're doing that I mean I just kind of mentioned another one so if I was if I was picking up a different strand from my past and you know, maybe depending on you know, the audience you shifted a little bit you know, I want to be clear you're not telling like wildly different stories about yourself two different people and you know you're you're not kind of presenting a totally different person it's all about facets and it's about emphasis so for instance, if I was speaking at a convention of journalists which I actually do sometimes I would want to you know, kind of create an initial blonde with them by telling them the story of being a journalist and you know how that impacted my life but if somebody said, you know, wait a minute how do you know how did you get from here to there? How does that really, um and you know, how does it help you? I would probably tell this story, you know, and I would see something like okay, if we're doing past into future and say, well, you know, my training as a journalist was really invaluable because it taught me to be able to ask really good questions and to engage deeply with people and that has been amazing for me as a consultant because one of the things you need to be able to dio is really established trust quickly with your clients so that they well feel open and telling you what the real issue is and so that you have a kind of trusting relationship so that you can have the necessary back and forth and they'll take your recommendation seriously so that the process will work and so therefore being a journalist is really great training for later career as a consultant if we want to say you know yet yet another fast there's a million ways to do this is kind of fun you could say, well, okay, being a journalist clearly you learn to write a lot to write frequently and you have tio very quickly be able to figure out in a given scenario where's the news like what's the interesting angle and be able to identify that. And so interestingly, today as I was mentioning earlier, you know, I'm not a professional journalist, but I actually probably right more than I ever have because I blogged regularly for forbes and entrepreneur and harvard business review and so the way that being a journalist has served me in that area is that I'm still doing a ton of writing and I need to do it rapidly because I'm now balancing it with a lot of other things but that that skill has enabled me to create content and build my platform is they say you know become better known in my industry which is really necessary if you're going to be a self employed professional because you want people coming to you and you want people to be familiar with who you are and what you can do so that when you meet them they say ali, I have read your thing this is great maybe we should you know hire you to do x y z for us so that's how that's tied and any of you can do that we various facets so I'm curious what's coming in over over the transom there's armory way well we do actually have a point of clarification million bern wants to know regarding past into present yes what if you know it is time to redefine yourself but you don't yet know where you're going? Is it still possible to do this exercise to figure it out? Yeah, absolutely I mean, you know, the past into president is in a lot of ways you know that's about sort of creating a narrative too, you know, to explain to others and so I would say in the past part clearly still works but you can leave the future a little bit more open so I mean let's let's say that in your past you worked you worked in marketing but now you say, you know what? I don't want to do that anymore, I want to do something more creative, but I'm not sure, you know, I like painting, I like poetry, maybe I want to be a photographer, I don't know, so you're still working it out and that's okay, what I would say is that when you tell the story, you literally are just very honest about that. I think that one of the things that we need to keep in mind when it comes to authenticity is you don't need to pretend to have all the answers, nobody has all the answers, and so you want to meet people where they are and be honest about where you are. So if you can say, you know what, I'm actually contemplating a transition, I I usedto work in marketing for a corporation. Now I want to start my own creative business, I'm still exploring what you know, what form that's going to take it might be x y or z, but I'm really excited about the possibilities, and I know that my marketing background is going to be helpful in creating a sex successful business once I focus in on where I launch, and then, you know, maybe the next transition is that you can say so I'm interested in doing informational interviews with people in this this facet versus this fast it's so I can learn more about it. Is there anyone you think I should talk? Tio and you know, that way you can actually begin to get them on board, helping you in the process? Because we had what also had said, you know, it's hard for people to pass into present if they're trying to think outside the box and across industries, but that idea of going and doing interviews when you have to be aware of the industries are, is there any other way of, like, somehow becoming aware of industries went aware of any any resource is that I would help you? Yeah. I mean, I think I think that there's, you know, there's a couple of things. I mean, obviously, you know, we learn about most things from other people, whether they're literally people in our lives or more broadly. And so I would say, if you, you know, most people probably have a kind of feeling where they want to be like, oh, I want to be doing something more creative for maybe I want to be doing something in finance, but, you know, I mean there's a million jobs, and so the two things that I would say used to number one, try to do as many informational interviews as you can hopefully getting closer and closer in so that you know, you can it's just a valuable early on to rule things out as it is, rule things in and you may know, someone who's, you know, kind of closer to being in a creative field than you are, and so, you know, they may not be exactly where you want to be, but you talked to them and then see who they know and follow the trail, the other piece of courses by reading and, you know, I'm a voracious reader. I try to read a couple books a week, and I think that that is really critical in terms of how we how we explore things if you think you're interested in finance there's a million great books, I mean, you know, like michael lewis's, moneyball or whatever oh, are, you know, liars, poker is big, you know, a book about wall street and read those things and the spark ideas. So maybe if you want to get into the creative professions it's, an autobiography of a photographer or, you know, different things like that, you could really learn autobiographies, biographies, those were great because you can get the first person perspective about what's it really like and they usually have resource is at the back of the book if you really like a book read all the books in the back of it and before long you're going to have a fairly comprehensive view of the different facets of the industry there isn't that great that's the shortcut that's the shortcut route of not wasting time in your life yeah on learning through other people's lessons I just wanted to add that moi has a comment for you really awesome class, by the way, love and dorrie think loving dorrie that's right way appreciate the love that sounds like a song doesn't also so guys you've been you've been going for a while and I'm curious here barbara, what are you coming up with? What? What he's your weaknesses and how is that also a strength? Yes, maybe my I'm not as clear as you are, but my weaknesses on station will learning I keep learning things for example photo shop well, you know what it is photoshopped illustrator in design dreamweaver now I could do him all right and that could be a weakness because maybe I need to focus on something else my marketing and not learning all the time, for example, but then I could do everything when the customer comes to me I'm like a one stop shop, right? So but it could also confuse people oh you're a designer, I didn't know you're a photographer, this kind of so and then we might have to multi fashion it but it all does stick to the same website to need photos and you need graphics you know so it could come together from the past them in addition to what I've said ice went to school for japanese and international relations wow until my boss put that mac on the desk in nineteen eighty four or three and so that took me away but so what was the question what have you done that relates to so I think maybe also I love people and having the international background I had to really pay attention to people because they're different cultures different language so I'm able to really here I think my customer when they're expressing what they hoped to create their web site what they have in mind so I can kind of hear everything and then bring it together yes that's what I hope I didn't sound is simply I just got a job and the man said to me the reason I picked you is because it was simple you had everything on one page and uh yes that's really interesting. So did you did you try to come up with a draft narrative? I wish I could put the international actually with all the other but then I moved from the big city to the small city so but you know, not yet what, so I'm here yeah exactly well, you know, I still actually think it's uh it's relevant I mean all of these pieces I mean we are the sum total of all all our past experiences and what I am hearing from you I mean, if I was I was writing a narrative for you I mean to me it actually it sounds really really fascinating some to your point some of the best feedback we get really does come from the mouths of our customers and our client it's because when we find out why did they choose us that is gold that is like information you can't even pay for, you know it's it's because it shows what is important to them and so if I was coming up with a you know sort of narrative for barbara I would say, you know, barbara is an insatiable lerner and she she's had an eclectic background working in, you know, owning ah retail store where she was able to interact and learn howto really solve the needs of customers and work closely with them she's done international work so she's comfortable working with people of all backgrounds and for the last twenty plus years thirty years her passion has been around computers and all the amazing things you could do with them from photography toe websites to design and so today barbara has a one stop shop for you and your online and graphic design needs she'll she'll work closely with you to create something amazing you don't have to go to ten different people you can go to her because she's got everything you need I mean to me that's a powerful selling statement awesome and, uh tomorrow would you mind sharing with us? You know what your strength I can kind of relate to this learning thing but for me it's the weakness because I always think that I'm not good enough I have to learn more yeah, I don't think it's my greatest my greatest weakness is that I don't have actually experience in business and marketing here in united states and I don't have experience in customer service because, uh in russia it's almost about thing yeah, so this is my weakness but I think that it can be a strength if I am I have kind of fresh look and this whole thing so maybe I can do things the way they feel, right? Yeah. And maybe that can be better then you know what? What it's supposed to look like, right? You're no baggage around. Yeah. Yeah. So, um I have experience in the horse riding and general in horse industry. I think it's huge for horse photography because you have to know horses um I'm not entirely sure about my statement yeah, so if you can help with that yeah no absolutely because it can be hard if you know something that you know to be fair of putting you guys on the spot because you're here in the studio and you know it's it's tough to do it like okay, people two minutes come up with your life statement here s o this is something that you know for all of you guys at home and you know, working with your workbooks there's something it's gonna take time like you know you could try to do it in two minutes but you know, I understand this is something you're probably gonna think about you know? You think about it in the shower think about it when you go to bed and you know over time you can kind of reflect on it and refine it but I think you know, I heard some really important points there which is that you have a ton of experience related not just literally to horse photography but to the whole shall we call it a horse ecosystem you know, you ride horses, you know, the horse culture and so you're not just coming in, you know, this really crucial because like anyone if you're professional photographer, you could say, well, yeah, I photograph things so I can photograph horses you know, normally I do baseball, but I mean horses were kind of the same and it's like, you know what you know, if I if I were a horse owner that is not who I want to hire I want someone who understands horses and who understands that it's not just like, oh let's get a good action shot with good lighting it's about the personality of the horse it's about the culture and capturing them in these special moments and the fact that you have that insight is really powerful you are part of community and know that as well as being able to captured effectively on film and so I think you know, that's a really important selling point and in terms of a weakness, you know, not knowing a time about, you know, american style marketing and whatever he first of all you're here, which is awesome you're making an investment in yourself tio do that, but I think that that you know that that actually can can be a strength because, you know, you do two things number one is you find ways to educate yourself in tow learn like you're doing, but number two, you're exactly right you don't have baggage and you're not coming in like, you know, some big sales e person you're coming in like a member of the community, you're a peer, you love horses too, you can connect and because you're taking things in and you are hopefully, you know, here in other places learning the right way to market yourself, which isn't ever about forcing yourself down somebody's throat or, you know, making some sort of hard sell, like, you know. So, do you want to start tuesday or wednesday? You know, you do it the right way, like, like, appear would as part of the community, so that you create a brand that's so powerful they want to come to you. They say, wow, you really understand this, and you create a personal brand that attracts people to you, and I think that's part of your secret sauce, so I'm really impressed. You guys have come up with great statements. I know you guys at home have been working on it, too, so I hope it's been useful.