Conversations are vital for every career shifter. But how do you talk about yourself when what you do feels so unlike you? How do you distance yourself from a job you no longer want? Louise FitzBaxter shares how owning your story can set you free from your CV or resume, and help you create your new career.
We've all been there. That dreaded moment in a conversation where the topic turns to work. For some reason it's socially acceptable and often considered polite conversation to ask: "And what do you do?"
We are defined by our work, it seems.
Trouble is, when you're unhappy in your job, this is the last thing you want to talk about. But this is the exact time when you need to be having conversations with others – lots of conversations – to help you get unstuck.
We're regularly told on my High Flyers Programme to look for people, not for jobs. Connecting with and building your network is essential to give you ideas, open up new opportunities and ultimately help you move forward in your career shift.
And yet so much of the world seems to be fixed on a job title or a career history, instead of really getting to know the person and their potential.
Each of us is a unique human with skills, interests, tastes, relationships and experiences like no one else on this planet. Isn't it time, then, that we stopped talking about what we do – or did – and start talking about who we are instead?
Developing, sharing and owning your story can help you to create the career and life you dream of. In the words of Bobette Buster, in her book How To Tell Your Story So The World Listens:
"It is through the act of telling and hearing stories that we become inspired. We can envisage a better life for ourselves. The end result is, in fact, that we become courageous."
It's taken me time, tenacity and, to be completely honest, quite a few tears to get to the point where I can share my story. I may still be in the middle of my career shift but I've already seen and experienced the impact that talking about the whole, real, work-in-progress version of me can have.
It's my story, and I'm now telling it my way. By doing so, I'm moving away from being defined by my CV, I'm building meaningful connections, finding new opportunities and moving closer to the future I want.
So, if you're struggling with the same old conversations about work, it's time to get courageous, get out there, and own your story too.
Understand your 'why'
Instead of focusing on what you do, or have done, start to think about why you do it.
Organisations have been doing this for years. Instead of purely selling you a product, more and more companies are communicating why they exist, sharing an ideal or a lifestyle that makes you want to get involved.
Simon Sinek uses Apple as his example: "They don't tell you they make computers or phones. They show you that they challenge the status quo and create experiences you want to be part of."
But it's not just about selling yourself, like a product, to others (although we'll talk more about this later). It's also about finding the meaning in what you do.
In Okinawa, Japan, they have no word for 'work' or 'retirement'. Instead they have 'ikigai', which translates as 'the reason I get out of bed in the morning'. In his Blue Zones study, Dan Buettner found that this mindset reduced stress, gave purpose and ultimately helped Okinawans to live happier, healthier, longer lives than almost any other community in the world.
I learnt about 'ikigai' around the same time that I started my Careershifters course and I've spent a lot of time trying to understand and communicate my purpose since then. It's an evolving process, but I can now proudly talk about my desire to make the world a kinder place and how that links everything I do, from writing to mentoring to cooking.
You don't have to be aiming for world peace, but having an understanding of what makes you tick and the key values that underpin this can help you find work that fits and is a meaningful part of your story.
Perhaps you live to be outdoors, or to help others, or to fix cars. Maybe you want to be a millionaire. Whatever motivates you, use this to talk about you. Bring the real you to life, instead of hiding behind a label or, worse, letting others assume they know your story because of what you do.
Next time you meet someone new, take control and start the conversation in the right way. Explore how that person can connect with your story and, perhaps, help you develop it further.
Have your story prepared and ready to go. Practise your pitch. Try out different ways of talking about yourself as you progress your career change and you'll soon know when it feels right.
Be the whole you
A hangover from the old way of working seems to be the idea that you're 'professional you' at work and 'personal you' outside of that. Sometimes there's a little overlap, but if you follow this rule, your CV and Linked In profile are all about business.
This is a dilemma for those of us who are seeking to make changes in our work. Especially if you need to continue in your job while you train to do something else, or to freelance in your old area of expertise to pay the bills while you build up your next venture.
Often we also do things we love outside of work but keep hidden from colleagues, for fear of somehow getting the sack for having a life. We end up with different stories for the different parts of our life. Living with this kind of split personality can be exhausting.
Every single career changer in my High Flyers Group has struggled with the fear of somehow ruining their prospects by telling their own, authentic story more openly.
Even after I left full-time work and could, in theory, be open about where I was heading, I was still paralysed by the fear of not being taken seriously for sharing things that don't fit on a standard CV.
Even in the last few weeks, as I've struggled to get a job to keep me going on my career change path, I've flitted between being open about who I am and reverting to the comfort zone of just listing my experience and only giving a nod to the rest of my life at the end of my CV.
The irony is that I know from experience now that owning my story and proudly and consistently sharing it actually works.
As soon as I changed my LinkedIn profile, encouraged by my fellow career shifters, I was approached by new contacts who wanted to know more.
Even recruiters, the ones who want you to keep ticking the boxes on your career history, have told me that my CV now stands out from the crowd because it tells the reader who I am first, and what I've done second.
While it still might not be appropriate to share every personal detail, if you have rich and varied experiences they can only be a plus. The details of all of your interests and areas of expertise will create a compelling picture of who you are and leave people wanting to find out more.
Whether you're an accountant who is also a yoga teacher, a marketer who is studying nutrition or a teacher who plays in a heavy metal band, your full story will make people sit up and listen, and understand you more. It will also help you to find work that's right for you.
As Seth Godin says, "If you need to conceal your true nature to get in the door, understand that you'll probably have to conceal your true nature to keep that job."
Be real, not perfect
When you look around at other people who are successful and happy in their chosen careers, it can be an easy mistake to think they're perfect and that you have to be too.
But telling your story shouldn't be about polishing up the reality for others to see. You're a person, not a robot. And so too is every prospective contact, employer or client that you'll meet.
I'm very good at comparing, finding the fault in me versus what I 'see' in others. I've slowly come to learn though that perfectionism isn't about self-improvement. It's not about you at all. It's based on fear of what other people might think. And this fear stops you from being real, prevents you from making those connections that are so important for your career change.
Your story should only ever be about you. Not about what you think other people want to hear. And whilst creating your story is key to shifting your career, it can only be authentic - and therefore viable for the long term - if you are you.
It's OK if you tried teaching, but it just wasn't for you. It's OK if you took some time off and have a gap in your CV. It's OK if your first business idea didn't work out. These are all important experiences that got you to where you are today. Talk about what you've learnt from them and how they've made you who you are now. They're an important part of your story.
Too many high profile people proclaiming to do work they love only focus on the positives. Some, however, talk about failure and how important that is on the path to change. Others talk about hang-ups they've had, like not having gone to university.
I know which ones I'm more inspired by, the ones I trust and want to hear more from. How about you?
Own your story
So, you've worked on your story and you can talk about your 'why'. You've included all of the diverse skills, interests and experiences that create the whole you. And you've been honest about what has got you this point, rather than trying to be someone you're not. Your story is complete.
And that's job done, right?
Through this process of developing your story, you'll grow to understand and be able to articulate your value. The next step is to put that out into the world.
Sending out a few CVs or updating your Linked In profile is not enough. You now need to engage in conversations with people from all areas of work and life, as often as you can, to tell them your story and demonstrate the value you can add.
This wasn't something that came easily to me, but I've grown to love making these connections. When I reach out to people now to ask them for their time, I share my why, and the response is overwhelmingly positive. Something in my story resonates with people and leaves them wanting to know more.
I've spoken to almost 40 people in this way, none of whom I knew well beforehand. Each conversation has helped me make progress in some way, from new contacts to resources to potential jobs or clients to new ideas to explore.
Only by continuing to build and share your story in this way can you ultimately change your career. This is all too important to leave in someone else's hands.
As a career changer you're also a change maker. You're forging a new path that not everyone will be comfortable with. Don't let others give you a label or decide what your story should be.
This is your story. Create, it, share it, sell it, own it.
By putting your story out there, you'll build more authentic relationships with others that could be just what you need to help with the next step in your career change.
As Seth Godin says, "The only way to get what you're worth is to stand out."
So, what's your story and what can you do today to get it out into the world? Start by sharing it with us in the comments below!