Crossing the gulf from just another fill-in-the-blank to utterly compelling means discovering the threads that tie together the intricate (and sometimes seemingly unrelated) events of your life.
And weaving them into THE story that dovetails perfectly into what you’re doing right now.
It’s the about page on your website. Your summary on LinkedIn. Your intro to future clients.
The second you have your story—your narrative—you have clarity.
Clarity that gives you confidence that you’re on the right track, serving the right audience and doing the work only you can do.
Kierkegaard got it right when he said life could only be understood backwards.
And that’s where you want to start. With your very first pivotal memories.
Get out your writing gear and make a list of your pivotal life and career experiences starting from your earliest conscious memories.
It can be simple—as in the first time you played soccer you knew it would always be a key part of your life. Or profound—how the loss of your dream job translated into starting your own business.
Don’t edit yourself. I like to write a sentence or two about each incident and then move on to the next one. But you might prefer to write mini-stories about your experiences to help you recapture the feelings of the time.
And keep your list open for at least a couple of weeks as memories—once they start flowing—will tend to sneak up on you at odd times.
I once worked with a commercial contractor who was frustrated by his clients’ need to always get the lowest deal. He felt exhausted from never-ending price negotiations and was ready to close his doors on his (former) dream and go find a job instead.
When “Jake” did this exercise, his earliest memory was tagging along with his dad who made artisan bread in a bakery. That triggered other stories about learning to be an artisan himself—and doing intricate woodwork that had fallen by the wayside working with price-conscious clients. When we connected the dots, he realized in a nanosecond that he was working the wrong way for his talents. By telling his story differently, he began to attract clients who wanted a master rather than the cheapest deal.
Here’s the thing. You want to own your past, warts and all. That doesn’t mean over-sharing (please don’t), but being proud of how you’ve risen from humble beginnings or a pile of ashes. We’ve all been through the fire. And we will connect with you when you show us you’re a real human being who understands his/her own story.
I once tried mightily (and failed) to convince a financial advisor to share his “rags-to-riches” tale. He had a poignant back-story on the streets of the Bronx but had yet to embrace the power of his financial rise from his working-poor family. The problem? He was convinced his wealthy clientele would look down on him. Even though most of them were entrepreneurs themselves who would completely identify with his journey.
His misplaced shame meant he couldn’t see the power of his own story.
Don’t let that be you.
If you’re ready to embrace your story, here’s your assignment: finish your list of your pivotal career and life experiences. And then look for the threads that tie them together.
Ideally, do this with a partner. It’s hard to be objective about your own life—but someone who cares for you will help you to see the unique beauty in your most heart-breaking and “ordinary” (to you) experiences.
And then channel your essence—picking the most powerful, pivotal pieces—into your business story. Let it take 10 drafts or 20 if that’s what it takes to truly own your hard-won fight to get right where you are right now.
Sharing your humanity will attract exactly the right clients to you.