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The Stories We Tell (Ourselves and Others)
It was December of 2021 and I was looking at my business revenues from the year. The story I kept repeating to myself was:
I worked this hard all year, and these are my results?
This is what I gave up my corporate salary for? This?
This spiraled into a whole other narrative, which I’m sure you can imagine was really harsh and certainly not the least bit helpful to anyone. I was not being my own best friend at all. It took many weeks, months even, to rewrite my story.
I had to go back and remember how I defined success, the least of which was financial. I had to go back and remember what I did that year, what I overcame and oh right, the pandemic thing was still a huge factor in everything.
The story I was telling myself was absolute crap. And so how could I expect amazing things to happen, if this was the foundation of my narrative etched into every cell in my body?
You know what happened? Business came to a standstill. Talk about spiraling… I started putting my energy into all kinds of things, sending all kinds of mixed messages to the universe about what I truly wanted to attract. The truth I had to face was… I had work to do. Not the work of more doing, more selling, more social media.
I had to work on the stories I was telling myself.
I don’t care what you call it: your story, your personal brand, your narrative, or some other phrase of the moment. What I do care about is: Are you paying attention to the stories you tell yourself and others?
Whether you’re talking about how your summer was or pitching yourself for that promotion – the narrative matters. And even more so, the place you come from matters.
Let me explain it this way – if you are going after a big opportunity from a rookie mindset, well, good luck. However, if your mindset is more like: “I’m a sure-fire bet to be a rockstar in this role,” well my guess is your story, your tone, level of enthusiasm, and confidence will be entirely different – inside and out.
I can’t tell you how many clients I get that don’t even realize that the story they are telling themselves is so outdated, stale, and not up to speed with who they are today. When we’re finished getting to the real truth of it all, they become a magnet for opportunities.
Why? Because they start talking about the story of where they’re going vs the bland description of where they’ve been. We pull in the whole truth of their journey – not just from where they’ve been on their career path. And we do that because our skills, abilities, values, and strengths show up in every aspect of our life – and often we are shining in places and ways we don’t even realize.
The starting place for how we talk to others and how we share our stories begins with the story we are telling ourselves.
Because even if what we tell others is shiny and bright and in a positive light, if we don’t really believe it, if we don’t really buy our own story, then no one else will. This principle is true for individuals and organizations and every other kind of entity that has a narrative.
I love helping people rip up their stories because that’s often what has to happen. We have to rip up the old resume, narrative, 30-second pitch, etc. because it doesn’t represent who we are and it often doesn’t show us off the way it should.
So, here’s my expert advice on how to get started in writing a whole new narrative. After all, we’re stepping into a whole new season. The proverbial leaf is turning over. And my friend, so are you.
1) Say it like you feel it.
I want you to get out a voice recorder, a pen, or whatever device suits your fancy and let it all out. The truth of what you feel about your narrative. It might be really ugly. It might be disheartening. But say it the way you feel it and the way it’s internalized.
Maybe what you tell people is:
The company got restructured, but I volunteered to go – I had been planning to leave and am excited about what’s next!
Maybe what you feel (and tell yourself) is:
I was devastated. I got let go, I messed up, I made a mistake – I didn’t align with the right people.
Please honor the truth of what you feel. See it for what it truly is. We can’t heal what we refuse to feel. Which is also to say, we can’t embody a new narrative if we don’t see where we are energetically in this moment.
2) Revisit your path.
Start from the very beginning. For example, continuing the career conversation, start with your very first job. From the mindset of where you want to go, consider how that first job served you.
Ask yourself some key questions:
- Why did you make the choices you made?
- What was the context for those choices?
- What did you learn there that you are applying to this day?
- What impact did you have?
Remember what was happening in your life, in that company, and in that role. How does it serve you for where you are going?
I’ll give you an example of how at different times in my life, my narrative changed.
The first nine years of my career I worked for Wegmans Food Markets (best grocery store ever!). Alas, when I went to grad school for my MBA, the story I was telling myself was that my experience was far below that of my peers, who had worked for consulting firms or other "fancy" companies. I had to completely rip up that narrative and realize that my experience in grocery retail and understanding shopper behavior was a huge advantage for going after the brand management roles I was applying for.
Fast forward to today, and now the story I tell about that job is understanding what a good company culture looks like. I tell the story of how I learned to manage others three times my age and how I had to learn how to lead even the haters with respect and dignity. This builds my narrative for the corporate culture work I do now.
Do you see now? We have to look at our past from many angles. We can identify many different angles of our experiences to shape our narrative. The combination of having the rear view mirror, knowing the direction (not necessarily the destination) of where we are going, and having a deep understanding of who we are in the present moment is what enables us to unlock our incredible story. Because we all have one - yes, even you!
To be honest, this work is really hard to do in your own bubble – and that’s usually because you’ve spent so long telling the same stories that you can’t get out of that tunnel vision. But also because we often diminish our own experiences (present company included) and sometimes can’t see our strengths because they come so naturally and we take them for granted. I love supporting people with this work because I see how it has the power to boost confidence and enthusiasm for what’s next!
3) Find the threads.
Admittedly, this might be the most difficult part of the process. Finding the threads of that narrative can be as delicate as lifting a string with your pinky from the bottom of the ocean. But it is there!
Let me give you a great example of this. I had a client, let’s call them Shannon, and they were interested in a lot of things, and had a very windy career path. What I discovered is that they omitted so many pieces of their journey in their story-telling that the magic of her pathway and superpowers were buried.
They had a punk phase, a nonprofit phase, an entrepreneurial phase, a mom journey, a culinary phase, a relationship coaching phase (and so much more), and all of these parts and experiences told a bigger story about her purpose and her drive, her qualities like ambition and fearlessness and even her comfort in taking risks.
When she saw her narrative in a new way – and seeing the interconnectedness of her choices and why they were ALWAYS the perfect decisions in the moment – that helped her to see the right next step for her with acceptance, compassion, love, and excitement.
So, find the threads in all aspects through patterns in things like:
- Drivers of your decisions.
- Values that root you.
- What gets you excited.
- The conversations you like to be a part of.
- The kinds of problems you like solving.
I guarantee that the threads are there, and if you need help in finding those golden beauties, reach out!
All right, so looping back to where I first started this conversation. What I discovered this year is that there was some deep work I had to do to get to the bottom of the stories that I was telling myself (and therefore others) that weren’t serving my highest good. I had to rediscover my trust in myself and the bigger journey and I had to address my limiting beliefs (for like the 100th time) to be my own best friend. I had to readjust my boundaries, let go of my resistance to what things look like, and take another look at how I was self-protecting.
Needless to say, that is a lot of uncovering. But today I’m in a whole different space – in many different respects. I feel lighter and more grounded and have so much more gratitude for where I am and the journey I’ve been on. And the story I’m telling myself is – it’s gonna be a great year end, because it is!
When my clients reach out to me, they often use this popular definition of insanity:
If you do the things you’ve always done, you’ll get the things you’ve always gotten.
It’s often their rationale for getting a coach – because they don’t know how to tell a different story. These are the people that understand the importance of investing in yourself. I can tell you that beyond a shadow of a doubt, it translates into getting roles that are more in alignment with your desires AND negotiating more successfully.
So dive in, people, and take stock of the stories you are telling. And if you want support to rip up your old stories, get to the bottom of things, and do something different to get different results, just let me know. Email me at email@example.com and let’s find your golden thread!
Tosca DiMatteo supports businesses to create people-centric cultures and individuals to experience transformational change to live their truth unapologetically. For details, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started or schedule an exploratory call here.