Nothing gives me more anxiety than filling out a form detailing my career past.
Length at position?
None of these fit for me. Worse yet, when I’ve tried to retrofit my creative life to a standard trajectory, I end up sounding, well . . . scattered. Explaining how every piece of my career past has magically (and yet intentionally) woven together into a perfect and evolving tapestry takes a lot of work and words. Lucky for me, I’m a writer.
So, when I recently filled out an application for a professional organization, you can imagine how it went: Start application. Stare at screen for thirty minutes. Send a pleading e-mail to my mentor and friend, explaining how I’ll never be able to explain to 9-to-5-ers why I deserve to be recognized as part of their organization. Receive a long, humbling response back from said friend, giving me the clarity I needed to sort through the mess of my thoughts and put words to application.
The application process probably should have taken a few hours. Instead, it took nearly two weeks. I returned to it every couple of days, trying to wrap my brain around how to give language to my past and path in a way people would understand. I knew simply filling out their form would not work. Instead, I needed to create a narrative.
This was more than an application for professional recognition (something I actually care little about, to be honest). It became a challenge in telling my story.
Here’s the thing: When you begin to craft a life of your desire, things get messy.
What looks like a gap is actually growth. What seems like a failure is really a necessary foundational piece by which you build your entire life’s work. What appears like an incongruous pivot or change is truly a moment of startling clarity in which you say, “I’ve done this thing I set out to do. Now it’s time for the next great endeavor.”
Life is a constant shift in clarity. It’s a continual adjustment to do the thing you set out to do (and that thing changes many, many times for most people). And let’s be real, if you can fill out a standard career application without some creativity, it’s probably time to shake things up a bit.
You can’t retrofit a creative life. Instead, you have to tell your own story.
I finished my application, sent it in, and waited. I doubted the ability of a panel of professionals to understand the life I’ve led: a career that has spanned states and countries, and taken me to so many varied and seemingly disconnected endeavors (that are actually scarily entwined).
My application, to my surprise, passed the review panel. That, my friends, is the power of story.
How about you? Do you ever feel so internally connected and yet externally disconnected—you see the interweave of the pieces but haven’t taken the time to sort them through so others can understand it, too?
In the next two weeks, here’s my challenge to you: Write a 750-word personal philosophy and testimonial that tells your story. Weave the seemingly disjointed pieces into a narrative that expresses the essence of who you are but leaves the future open and unwritten. In doing so, pick one word that is the theme of your life. What drives you? How have you changed in the course of your career? Where is the pattern in the pieces? Then, if you’re up to it, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to read your story.
Coming up, I’ll share the personal philosophy and testimonial I wrote as part of the application process. It’s highly personal but the activity was so powerful I can’t help but share it.
Here’s to a creative life.