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What's Your Story?: A Journal for Everyday Evolution

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These emotions are fed by our story. They do not care if the story we are telling is true, helpful, or even based on what is currently happening.

Can you think of an early part of your life when you felt strong and happy? If you had a difficult childhood or other challenges that prevent you from identifying this starting place, try thinking of the time when you were still cradled in the womb. You’ll know you’ve honed your story when it feels both comfortable and true to you. But you cannot get there until you put yourself in front of others — ultimately, in front of strangers — and watch their faces and body language as you speak. For one woman we know, June Prescott, it was not simply that practice made for polished presentation — although her early efforts to explain herself were provisional, even clumsy. (She was attempting a big career change, from academe to Wall Street.) Each time she wrote a cover letter, interviewed, or updated friends and family on her progress, she better defined what was exciting to her; and in each public declaration of her intent to change careers, she committed herself further. What might you startdoing differently to enhance your wellbeing, boost personal growth and improve your professional satisfaction?Certain forms — love stories, war stories, epics — are as old as narrative itself. There are stories of being tested and stories of being punished. When it comes to describing transition and reinvention, it can be helpful to present the story in a vessel familiar to most listeners. Of the time-honored approaches, two to consider are the maturation (or coming-of-age) plot and the education plot.

For starters, keep in mind that, in a job interview, you don’t establish trust by getting everything off your chest or being completely open about the several possibilities you are exploring. In the early stages of a transition, it is important to identify and actively consider multiple alternatives. But you will explore each option, or type of option, with a different audience.

All good stories have a characteristic so basic and necessary it’s often assumed. That quality is coherence, and it’s crucial to life stories of transition.

Opening - Start your story with an interesting main character and decide where the story is going to take place. It was only when Sophie’s husband accused her of giving birth to another man’s baby that she went for paternity tests and discovered that her husband was right (sort of). The baby, then aged 10, wasn’t his, but she wasn’t Sophie’s either. She belonged to another set of parents, who had been raising Sophie’s biological daughter in a town several miles away. But she felt no connection to this other girl. It was Manon she had nursed, Manon whose nightmares she’d soothed, and Manon whose stories she knew. This other daughter looked just like Sophie—but what did that even mean, when she didn’t know her stories? The other mother felt the same way.

You can practice your stories in many ways and places. Any context will do in which you’re likely to be asked, ‘What can you tell me about yourself?’ or ‘What do you do?’ or ‘What are you looking for?’. Start with family and friends. You may even want to designate a small circle of friends and close colleagues, with their knowledge and approval, your ‘board of advisers’. Their primary function would be to listen and react again and again to your evolving stories. Many of the people we have studied or coached through the transition process have created or joined networking groups for just this purpose. Everyone these days is on a journey, which can lend some provisional shape to lives without much sense of direction. Humanity was also on a journey in medieval times, but it was a collective expedition with an origin, well signposted stages and a distinct destination. The Enlightenment notion of progress was more open-ended: to imagine an end to human self-perfecting was to deny our infinite potential. This creed was inherited by some 19th-century thinkers – ironically, since the dominant model of development at the time was evolution, which is random, littered with blind alleys and lengthy digressions and heads nowhere in particular.

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