The best way to express what brings us meaning and purpose — really, who we are — is by sharing stories of life. Stories are the foundation of everything we do here... so, what's the big deal?
Picture yourself on the first date you had with your significant other. What did you talk about? How did you get to know each other?
Did you tell him/her about a bunch of specific details about your life: your shoe size, your high school exam results or what you ate for breakfast? … Of course not!
What you did tell them about was: that time that you starred in the school drama play… when you travelled to South America after graduation… how you decided to pick the job that you are in.
We do this because the best way to express what brings us meaning and purpose — really, who we are — is by sharing stories of life.
At my alma mater, Regent College, teachers would often share this quote from the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre:
“I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’”
MacIntyre was commenting on a meta level about the stories of the world (religious, secular, political, consumerist); what stories is our culture telling? And, what ideas from those stories do we believe, adopt and live out? The answer to this will reveal where we going as a society and the individuals within.
What can be said about the story of the world can also be said of ourselves. We each have a story that we are trying to tell. But, we often do not know our own story very well.
So, for a client who is confused about their career, the good news is: they do not need to go travelling the world to ‘find’ themselves! All the data they need to figure out what direction to head is already there in the form of the stories of their own life.
Now when I say stories, what does that mean? You might think of stories from your family or, since we’re in the subject of career: how you behaved in a certain workplace situation. All of these stories are good, but there is a different type of story that I’m talking about; they are what I call, for the lack of a better term: “achievement stories”.
Achievement stories are stories in your life that you feel that you did well AND enjoyed. If you received an accolade like “graduated with honours and such-and-such awards,” but you barely think of it, except to list on your resume: this is not an impactful achievement story of your life.
It wouldn’t be a simple experience like: I travelled to Europe and the Alps were beautiful. But, it would be an achievement story if it was a personal, memorable accomplishment such as: I spent 6 months planning a trip to Europe on a tight budget; I still went to all the places I had wanted to see and even returned with extra money in my pocket.
We can start to see features emerge from these stories: what excites you, what is important for you to highlight, what made it memorable. The way we tell our stories varies immensely, even if relaying very objectively similar events.
An amazing thing happens when one person’s seemingly random achievement stories are placed side-by-side: we can see patterns in their life emerge about what brings them meaning and purpose. Furthermore, we can get highly practical and detailed information about a person in five key areas:
- the subject matter they like to work with,
- the conditions they thrive in,
- how they operate with people,
- the abilities they love to use, and
- really, what makes them tick.
Furthermore, a person’s past achievement stories are predictive of how they will operate in the future. We can, as MacIntyre pointed out, learn from what story they are living, and this makes it so much easier to know what direction they should head. Using narratives about people gives the true representation of who somebody actually is versus using typical online assessments, which are comparisons to a group norm.
Practically applying someone’s narratives to a job context, we can answer the question of what problems someone is great at solving, and then look for jobs that actually require those problems to be solved.
I have already seen countless times that people become so energized when they see the pattern of what motivates them, what problems they naturally are drawn to solve. It instantly gets them moving forward to place themselves in spots (within work as well as the rest of life) where they can do just that.
When I have been explaining the practical results of the work I have done with people, I sometimes feel like I sound like a charlatan — but the truth is, there have been such great outcomes from this process!
Have SOMW alumni instantly fallen into a spot that is a better fit for them? No. However, if they work out of these insights and do get into better job fits, not only does their work become more productive and satisfying, but it also has a positive impact on their health, relationships, sleep, pay-grade and sense of well-being.
It is a simple but full statement: with job-fit, there is a lot at stake. And, your own stories are the best place to begin figuring that out.
What are your achievement stories? What stories in your past come up when you think: this is what I did well and enjoyed?
You may be amazed at the beginnings of insights that you can glean from this self-directed exercise, and how it can direct your choices in spending your time & efforts — both in career and in your extracurricular time, too.