Life is imperfect. Trust me. It’s true. While I’ve spent a lifetime warring against this fact, it remains.
Just like life, our stories are imperfect. But, that’s what makes them magic. The mess, the conflict—that’s the good stuff. Would Romeo and Juliet have been quite the same epic if their love weren’t tortured by their feuding families? That’s not to say we should rejoice in our challenges. Because, quite frankly, dead as a teenager is not very romantic. But, I love to read it and see it performed and learn something new from it every time.
And that’s the true alchemy of a good story. It’s finding the conflict, revealing it and leaving your audience with something they can take for themselves. An insight (I’ll tell you another time all about the beauty of insights and how to spot one).
I had a reader reach out after my last letter to tell me how valuable that idea of purpose was as they consider the next step in their career (full disclosure: this reader is also a friend, but don’t let that stop you from reaching out). I thought a lot about story and career after our chat and want to share some of that thinking with you in today’s letter.
When figuring out your next step, sometimes it’s valuable to look back at your story. Tell it to yourself and don’t hold back. The good stuff and the bad stuff. What are the lessons in it? And what can it tell you about who you are and what you’re capable of? It might even be worthwhile to ask people in your life. I once did an exercise for a course where I had to ask friends to list my top three attributes. Before that, I didn’t know I was brave, at least in the eyes of my loved ones.
You’ll probably learn that you’re strong or that you’re a survivor or that you’re super creative. All of those attributes were likely forged in some sort of fire. At least a little bit. You might also see fear guiding some of your choices, this is definitely part of my story. But what do you do with it?
For me I look at the moments of joy, those moments when I felt the most filled up by life and also the moments of terror the ones that shook me to my core. Then I head in that direction. Because the hard stuff, for me, often led to the great stuff. Getting rejected by Columbia University, moving to BC alone at 17, having to face mental illness, leaving journalism, applying and actually attending an arts high school. All of those terrifying moments led to the richest experiences of my life.
“Because the hard stuff often leads to the great stuff.”
How do I honour it? By not letting a rejection letter stop me. And I have received many rejection letters lately, mostly from agents not interested in representing a story about a black woman’s experience of mental illness and grief. No longer than a brief pity party. Then I add it, if it’s significant enough, to the list of joys and terrors. Because those are key moments (short stories in themselves) and the throughline, the thing that ties them all together, is the greater story of my life. And yours too.
I honour it by telling my story. By looking at those plot points and bringing them to life in a job interview, along with the lessons and expertise that came with them. By applying them to my understanding of my clients’ customers to build marketing strategies based in empathy. And I write some of it or find stories of others that I connect to because of it and tell them.
Remember, your story is your superpower. Get close to it and practice telling it. Interviews are the easiest way, because your life experiences are part of your professional story and you should be finding those plot points and creating the throughline of your career that inspires someone to hire you. But the plot points along your business journey and creative journey are also important and you can weave those into a narrative with startling positive effect.
I hope this one helped. I don’t want to be super practical every week, we need to play with the magic of storytelling too.
On that note, have you ever heard of Bozoma Saint John? She’s the new Global Chief Marketing Officer at Netflix, but I’ve been a fan since her days at Beats By Dre. She is a woman who owns and honours her story and leverages it to build an impactful career. A beautiful, brown-skinned black woman who is unapologetically herself, I aspire to that greatness and so should you.
If you think this letter will be helpful to someone you know, please share it and encourage them to subscribe. Also, if you’re enjoying this or if there’s something you’d like me to cover, please let me know by leaving a comment. I’m here to help.