All throughout building When Life I read anything I could get my hands on about building my business and brand. I. Read. A. Lot.
One place I could always rely on insightful and relative information, was the “Harvard Business Review.” Their articles, even the ones that I found to be over a decade old, including the one I reviewed in this post, are still very much applicable to the here and now.
When I first stumbled across this article and its title, “What’s Your Story,” I had something completely different in mind than what the piece was about. In my opinion, the authors had two unique concepts of storytelling intertwined together to produce one associated report.
They take the idea of telling a compelling transition story, and applying it to not only allowing the person to understand how important and motivating it is for one to be able to connect their old self with their new (Ibarra, and Lineback, 2005, par. 47), but also how telling a coherent transition story can help with crafting a persuasive résumé (Ibarra, and Lineback, 2005, par. 34).
My focus in this piece is on creating and understanding the importance of a coherent transition story. How when fashioned correctly can help us believe in ourselves and the path we choose to follow (Ibarra, and Lineback, 2005, par. 7).
I have discussed in several posts before how important storytelling is and how stories define us, or how we choose not to allow them to define us. This article resonated with me so much because I didn’t realize how important it was that when making a significant transition in your life (in the article they discussed primarily a career change), that the story behind that transition be clear and consistent so that it persuades and motivates not only ourselves but the lucky ones who get to hear or read it (Ibarra, and Lineback, 2005, par. 47). A coherent story behind the change we are either being forced to endure or have made a leap of faith conscience decision can help us believe in ourselves and our purpose (Ibarra, and Lineback, 2005, par. 7). Transition in any form can be very frightening and confusing. “Am I making the right decision?” “I know I want to make this change, but maybe it should wait until _____?” “Am I being selfish for wanting ______ and possibly putting my family, children, finances, etc. in jeopardy?” (Ibarra, and Lineback, 2005, par. 7) These are all questions that someone may have when faced with significant change.
I think this article pulled me in with the fact that it was written with career change as the topic of choice when discussing transition. Although, I believe you can take the same train of thought and apply it to other situations, having experienced a considerable change in careers I focused on that when writing this piece. Everything the authors discussed made perfect sense and was something I could relate to especially now looking back on things. Before going any further let’s just define what exactly coherence is in relation to storytelling. In the simplest terms, coherence in a story means that all its parts work together. The story makes sense and is logical (Ibarra, and Lineback, 2005, par. 25). It’s like everything fell into place the way it did for a reason.
Now, what reason is the next question. There are always facts to the story (Ibarra, and Lineback, 2005, par. 1, 2, 8, and 29). My facts were, I lost my fulltime childcare. I could not afford childcare for two toddlers and specialized care for my oldest son with Autism. The fact was I was enjoying my new position in our outpatient clinic after about seven years in management and was not interested in moving to the inpatient setting again. I did not have the childcare to take on a Monday through Friday orientation somewhere else. Those are the relevant yet boring facts.
This is where the importance of storytelling comes in.
For some lucky people, they have what the authors describe as a “turning point” in their life where suddenly everything makes sense (Ibarra, and Lineback, 2005, par. 10, 15, and 17). They can recognize in the moment what that turning point is and use it to craft a motivating story that gives them the momentum to say, “Come on change, bring it!” They can describe in the middle of the change the moment when everything just came together and clicked (Ibarra, and Lineback, 2005, par. 12 and 17). Most of us, including myself, cannot or could not recognize that turning point in the middle of the act (Ibarra, and Lineback, 2005, par. 17). It was only after the fact, could I self-reflect, have my lightbulb moment, and begin to create the story that now drives me forward. This is the story that I end up sharing with others when discussing my career change. Not those boring facts no one cares about. The story where I’m like “AHHHHHHHHH”, everything falls into place, makes sense, and motivates myself and others. The story that has the coherency that the authors describe as, “one that suggests what we all want to believe of ourselves,” and “is the solid ground under our feet” (Ibarra, and Lineback, 2005, par. 27).
The authors discuss that one of the most compelling reasons for change is an internal reason or a “basic character trait” (Ibarra, and Lineback, 2005, par. 31). This is the reason that I felt was the most relevant to my story. Outside the facts of having to leave my job, there was also the internal struggle I was having where my career in nursing management had changed to the point that I couldn’t really tell you what my job description was. I left management hoping for positive personal change in our clinic. And while I thoroughly enjoyed the position, I always found myself gravitating to wanting to organize, improve, and manage the area. I realized how much I enjoyed the autonomy of the job, something that I had not had in management in several years. I didn’t realize these things until I had to leave because I was much too busy being a nervous wreck worrying about all the “what ifs.”
Once I walked out those doors on my last day, I suddenly felt free and everything began to make sense. Little did I know it at the time, but I immediately started to construct my transition story.
Just like the authors explain, “external reasons tend to create the impression that we simply accept our fate” (Ibarra, and Lineback, 2005, par. 31). I never settle and have much higher standards for myself than other people have for me, so this was not going to be how my story turned out. I think that is why it felt so out of character for me by the time my resignation was over that I began to feel a peace about everything. I was making a subconscious decision to not allow external factors to determine my fate.
Once I was home, and had more time to think about how everything unfolded, I realized just how unhappy I had been. It dawned on me that all the things I enjoyed had been taken from me over time in my management position. The ability to be creative and think outside the box, my autonomy, and the level in which I could coach and mentor had been severely reduced. It felt as though suddenly I was walking on eggshells all the time. Though I desperately wanted more responsibilities, I had less than ever before which made me feel like I didn’t know what to do. I gradually felt lost in a career where I once been extremely successful. I felt unsupported and without purpose. I think I would have had some of those things back if I had been able to stay in clinic, but God had other plans for me.
Fast forward and I am in a position doing all the things I enjoyed before, and even better, things I haven’t been able to do in well over a decade.
My story includes the external reasons for my shakeup such as loss of childcare and such, however the most important elements are the internal reasons that give me the reinvention story that is the most motivating (Ibarra, and Lineback, 2005, par. 46).
I am creative again and writing all the time like I used to love to do. I am in charge of myself and have the ability to set small and large goals to work toward. I have surrounded myself with such an amazing and supportive team who truly wants me to succeed, and I feel driven to help them in any way that I can in their own success. I am more like myself today than I have been in a very long time. Toward the end of the article, the authors state that, “anyone trying to make a change has to work out a story that connects the old and new selves (Ibarra, and Lineback, 2005, par. 47).
To that I say, “Hi Melinda, it is so great to see you again!”
Ibarra, Herminia. Lineback, Kent. “What’s Your Story.” Harvard Business Review Online. Harvard Business Review, January 2005. Accessed, June 2017.
A version of this article appeared in the January 2005 issue of Harvard Business Review.