In many ways, learning how to tell your story can feel backwards. You look at the past to think about the future, you read job ads to see if you are a fit for the organization by listening for what they DON’T say (the “noisy nots”), and as you do research within the organization, you are trying to identify where they are lacking to see where you can pitch yourself as being of most use. In my own searching, one of the most helpful “opposites” in the process, is learning what you want by thinking about what you have learned about what you don’t want. Every job has its plusses and minuses, and in doing the retrospective job math, I think that we can learn just as much from summing up the cumulative minuses. This can be helpful at any stage of career development, even if you are in the perfect job, sometimes it is helpful to remember exactly why it is that it suits you so well. Or, what is more likely, for how your job can be further grown and developed to become more of what you want it to be, this exercise can help you find some landmarks on the map.
We think about this in writing your resume: highlighting the activities that you liked the best and would want to do again. But I would like to also find a way to hang on to the activities that you did not like to see there as a reminder. I have had friends tell me that they keep an anti-resume. This could be jobs that you quit, jobs that you turned down, and she wanted to keep a record so that she could celebrate her continued ability to say “no” to some things so that she could say “yes” to more and more things that she really wanted.
In my case, one of the biggest “no”s came from my time at Goldman.
I need to work in an organization that asks questions
Many observers have noted this about wall street culture: Karen Ho explores it in her brilliant ethnography Liquidated, noting the built-in lack of time for reflection in the recruiting process, where students are recruited long before they ever have the space to think: what do I want to do with my life?” Greg Smith noted it in his NYTime Op-Ed piece as one of the elements contributing to what he describes as the “toxic” culture of Goldman:
I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.
I love his use of the “alien from Mars” trope! That strangemaking is what we are all about in this process, and as we all continue making strange that which has been our experience, I hope that we can attend to the NOs just as much as the YESSES!