We Are the Stories We Sell Ourselves

By Wendy Terwelp, Author, Speaker, Executive Coach

“Who are we but the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, and believe?” —Scott Turow, “Ordinary Heroes.”

In fact, we sell ourselves on these stories, even when they are not true, are outdated, unfounded, and easily rewritten. And these negative stories can be tremendously detrimental to our careers.

What do these stories sound like?

I’m too… busy, overqualified, under-qualified, old, young, shy, ashamed I lost my job…

I can’t because… it’s not the right time, I’m not ready, I won’t know anyone, my childhood was terrible, I have health issues, I can’t afford it, I’m a CEO and it’s uncomfortable for me to ask for help…

They… won’t let me, won’t reimburse me, said I couldn’t, said so, said it’s not in the budget, said I’m too…

Do any of these phrases resonate with you?

Take a closer look at what’s impeding your progress. How real are these stories you’re selling yourself? Are they still relevant? What is the real truth?

Break them down and kick these stories you’ve sold yourself to the curb.

Uncover the truth.

One executive told me she couldn’t get advanced training because “they won’t let me.”

“What’s the real truth?” I asked her. “They won’t let me” was not the truth because, as I’d coached others at her company who had earned advanced degrees.

“I don’t have the time and they won’t reimburse me,” she said.

“How bad do you want it?” I asked. This training would benefit my client’s ultimate career goal and add leverage toward a promotion.

She thought about things for a while and said, “You’re right. I really do want it. I guess I can make the time and I can write off the training on my taxes, so I’m really not out that much.”

Bottom line, my client made the choice to earn the new designation and, through our coaching work, won a promotion and salary bump with her current employer.

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our stories, and how we believe in them, can hold us back or drive us forward.

An engineer was downsized after 20+ years. It was devastating and he was angry about the situation. Additionally, relatives told him he was too old and shouldn’t have too high of expectations in getting another management job at his age.

Through our coaching work, he decided it was best to move forward, leaving anger and resentment behind.

He was less concerned than his relatives were about his age, and the action step was to see those relatives less often, while in career search mode. His new attitude and proactive approach enabled him to dive in and learn new ways to search for a new gig. He got more comfortable with social media and made many connections on LinkedIn. He also picked up the phone and revived his network.

Result? He landed several interviews — and offers. He could choose which offer to accept. He chose a role that was not only a higher-level position and salary than before, but the new employer, a global company, offered him more opportunities for ongoing career growth.

Despite what happened to us in our past, we are still here.

We can rewrite our stories.

In “How to Rewire Your Brain for Success,” author Geoffrey James wrote, “Rather than video playback, human memory is more like video editing. When you remember something you are recreating, changing, and re-memorizing. The memory is subject to change every time you remember it.”

That means you can edit your bad memories and strengthen your good memories. You can rewrite your stories.

Two ways to start building your new stories: 1) Keep a career success journal or “Me File.” Start tracking your hits – both personal and professional. 2) Track what you are thankful and grateful for each day. Some days it might be as simple as, “I’m thankful I woke up on time today – High Five! No snooze button.” Other days it might be, “Wow! I am so grateful I got rave reviews after my Zoom presentation today!” Identify and document at least one hit/success and one grateful/thankful-for item each day. (More is better.)

Work on creating your new story, a story that reflects how you wish to be known now. You’ve got this!


© 2014 – 2021 Wendy Terwelp | All rights reserved. | Wendy Terwelp is the founder of Opportunity Knocks and author of Rock Your Network®. She was named one of Quintessential Careers’ Top 15 Career Masterminds and her Infoline, “Jumpstart Your Job Search and Get Hired Faster” was included in the Association for Talent Development’s “Best on Career Development” anthology. Wendy was also named in Inc. magazine’s “Top 10 Career Helps.” Are you ready for your next big gig? Want to up-level your career? Reach out to Wendy at www.knocks.com/coaching today!

A version of this article first appeared in Quintessential Career’s 2014 Job Action Day.