Your professional story is an aspirational story about where you’ve come from and where you want to go in your professional life. It’s a story on a large scale that you can use to tell people about yourself.
The thing is that your professional story is usually long. The story I tell about how academics can learn to use story in their presentations for massive impact and joy is long for a conversation. Your professional story is like a TED talk, it includes several episodes or mini-stories that fill in a larger story structure.
When I talk about StoryCraft, there are three different narratives I draw on, all of which are part of the full story. There’s the “how I ended up starting a story business” story. There’s the “academics should tell stories” story. There’s also a “you must include personal stories in your professional stories” story. Any one of these, told from beginning to end with all the details I like to include, might take 5-7 minutes.
If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that no one who asks me “what do you do” wants a 15-minute lecture on what I do and how I use it for different target groups. Nope.
So, what I actually do when I tell my professional story is I pick that one part of the story that I think will be most interesting for the person I am talking to and I tell them that story. If I’m talking to an academic, out comes the “academics should tell their stories” story. That story is itself a combination of three anecdotes that show a transformation in one academic storyteller.
Professional stories are complicated, gears of different sizes working in sync to make a whole story happen.
Think about it this way. When someone makes a film, they first make sure there’s a broad story arc that makes sense. In the first Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter learns he is a witch, goes to Hogwarts, finds out he’s famous, has a death-defying adventure with new friends, and embraces his new life.
Then they have to think about breaking that story into episodes: Harry goes along to the zoo on his cousin Dudley’s birthday. Then it has to be broken down into scenes: Harry accidentally frees a snake.
You can see it at the synopsis level, which is your professional story super short. That’s the fact that you have an education or an interest and learned a lot about it then tried a few things and had a number of successes and now want to take on the next challenge.
That larger professional story is made up of a bunch of episodes that you can see as particular jobs, trips, courses, conferences, volunteer opportunities, or whatever. And within those episodes are scenes that you may want to describe in detail.
When someone asks about your professional story, you have a huge bulk of material to choose from. If you’ve got a professional story ready to go, you can satisfy or create their curiosity by picking just the right scenes or episodes to tell them about in order to get them interested.
Practice with your favorite movie in mind. If my dad asked me about the movie, I’d likely tell him about Quidditch and cool special effects that show people flying through the air, not to mention three-headed dogs. If a 10-year-old asked me about it, I would emphasize boarding school, feasts, and magic.
You’ll do the same thing when you tell your professional story.
The key is to think about the message you want to convey and make sure you pick that episode or scene to share.
If you want to get started on your Professional Story, download a free Story Library Cheat Sheet and start cataloging the stories from your life that you could be telling!