THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Storytelling: The way to manage your image

The way you talk about yourself is very powerful. Whether you're conscious of it, the way you tell stories of your life frames how people see you, and how you see yourself. So you may as well do this consciously, and be aware that people get tripped up in their storytelling most when they're talking about uncertain moments in their career.

"The stories we tell make an enormous difference in how we cope with change," writes Herminia Ibarra in the Harvard Business Review. Crafting a good story is essential for making a successful transition to your next point. Yet most of us do it badly– we can't figure out a story arc, so we just start listing the facts. But if you can't tell people why your previous path and your new path are part of one story, then you probably can't see it yourself, and that leads to feelings of being confused, lost and insecure– all the typical feelings of an uncertain life.

"Creating a story that resonates helps us believe in ourselves," says Ibarra. "We need a good story to reassure us that our plans make sense– that, in [making our next step], we're not discarding everything we've worked to accomplish. A story provides motivation to help us endure frustration, suffering and hard work."

When someone says, "How can I trust you to stay at this company when you've changed your mind before?" reply with a story. Don't hide things. Coherence is the key to making the listener trust you. If you can make your story of change and self-discovery "seem coherent," writes Ibrarra, "you will have explained how the change makes sense for you– and that you're trustworthy."

Most importantly, coherence goes a long way in convincing yourself. "Think of the cartoon character who's run off the edge of a cliff, legs still churning. He doesn't realize he's over the abyss until he looks down. Each of us in transition feels like that character. Coherence is the solid ground under our feet."

The best reasons for wanting to change what you're doing are grounded in character– they talk about who you are, what you're good at, what you like. Bad reasons are external, like getting fired. Giving external reasons for changng make you look like a fatalist. You need to show you're taking charge of your life, not just reacting to what comes along.

More is good, though: The more detailed and more varied your reasons are, the more acceptable your next steps will seem to others.

You feel comfortable telling it and the other person gives you positive feedback in nonverbal cues. The best people to practice on are those who don't know you. They don't have any preconceived notions of who you are, so you can tell them whatever you want. In the conversation with a stranger you can try out being your new self, and you can tell if you ruin your clean slate with a terrible story.

Storytelling takes practice, but everyone who's making a big change in life has everything a good story needs. You're the protagonist, and there's intrinsic conflict in that something changed in your world to make you want to change jobs. The journey of your story is your search for your next job.

If you're feeling lost, read John Gardner's book, The Art of Fiction. Maybe you think it's totally over the top to read 200 pages about story telling so you can tell a one-minute story. But this is your life. You're going to get through all the tough parts of it by telling stories, intentionally or not. So why not take control of things and get good at talking to yourself about yourself?