The power of storytelling for your career

I’ve loved books since I was a small child. I got immersed in the story (truth be told, I still do). There’s a beauty in storytelling; it can encapture the reader/listener and empower the teller. It’s why stories have been passed down and around for thousands of years. A good story engages our curiosity, imagination, and emotions. 

We all tell stories, every day:  from making up a fun story with the kids about a giant’s footstep to how we see our past and when we envision our future. We take in stories, through anecdotes we share with friends, to the books we read to our kids at bedtime and the films we watch.

‘Stories are the way we understand and make sense of the world we find ourselves in.’ says Clare Patey, Director of the Empathy Museum.

The power of storytelling

As humans, we like to find meaning in our day-to-day life so we create and construct a narrative and the way we tell them matters – to others and ourselves. Our stories are powerful. They give us the freedom to experiment with our values and they can help us be more authentic. They allow us to see the world in a different way than we might if we were on our own. Stories can give us hope and show us that we aren’t alone. As we listen/read others’ personal stories, we catch a glimpse of a world that might be radically different from our own. When we see the world as they see it, it can inspire empathy.   

Internal narrative

Storytelling isn’t just about the stories we tell each other but it’s also about the stories we tell ourselves. The power of storytelling can have an impact positively or negatively on our own lives. Whether we tell ourselves we can’t achieve our goals because we’re not enough and so create limiting beliefs or the stories we tell about overcoming challenges and creating success, the voice inside our head is powerful.

If your voice inside your head tends towards the negative, it is possible to change and control your narrative. You can choose the reasons you’re where you are today and frame or reframe your story in a way that empowers you rather than disempowers you. I’d start with identifying and then challenging your limiting beliefs. 

Storytelling for your career

Our stories can affect us personally but we can use our stories professionally, in our careers. Consider how we put a message across, describe a product or service, or present a pitch or presentation – these are all stories.

Storytelling can be a leadership tool. It can help you become a stronger leader by encouraging people to share your vision, solve problems, and share solutions. In short, it helps you influence the narrative within your team. On the other hand, making the time to listen to others is also beneficial for leaders. It’s a balance. 

In fact, stories are a vital part of any career, all the way through.  I think that interviews and, to a slightly lesser extent, CVs and applications are a place where we tell our stories. When I have sat in on interviews in the past it is the people who provide part of their story in their answer who I remember most. 

Your story helps you stand out

Storytelling can be part of your personal brand and a way of building a connection with others and these connections can help you boost your career. So here are five ways to tell your stories most effectively for your career: 

  • Make it authentic. Tell stories that are true, and resist the urge to embellish. You’re trying to give people a glimpse of who you are in the work world and the best way to do that is by being true to yourself and your values
  • Own it. Find the common theme in your career story this far. What are you passionate about? How has it made a difference? Remember this is your time to speak your truth, to be heard, and to be yourself. No one else can tell your story for you.  
  • Be concise. If you are preparing a story for a presentation or interview, choose one or two career-related and relevant stories. Practice telling the story and record yourself to see how long it takes and how you sound.  Focus on the highlights and then fill in more details if someone asks.
  • Show the growth. Stories have a start, middle, and end. Many, if not all of us have undergone a transition in roles or industries or simply evolved in how we approach your work. Those are the career stories worth telling.
  • Get personal.  It’s the little things that make a story come alive. Perhaps you might mention how the thank you card on your desk reminds you to ask your customers for feedback, or how you set up the work running group as a way of meeting new people. 

The importance of listening to others’ stories

Finally, I think it’s important to recognise the importance of listening to others.  Now, as I am older and wiser I’m enjoying more stories – in books, via audio/video, and in person. From fairytales to biographies; I want to listen more when others want to share their stories and to share mine with folks who want to hear it. **

**I would say that (in my opinion) it’s important when we share our stories that we choose who hears them – the recipient needs to have earned the right to hear them. Equally, when we are privileged enough to hear others’ stories we must have the space to hear them fully – to show them the respect they deserve for sharing their experience.

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