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I met Amanda Hirsch when I spoke at SXSW in 2011, and we immediately bonded over our mutual actor-ish backgrounds. I’m thrilled to have her here to talk about her forte: storytelling – and why it’s important to your career.
Image by Olivia Allison (available to use under the Creative Commons licence)
Sometimes, telling your story online can help you figure out the story you want to tell. If that sounds like a paradox, it is. In the same way that you live your way into the answers to some of life’s trickiest questions, you can narrate your way into the person you want to be, or the business you want to run.
Let me explain.
Sharing ideas gives them legs; sharing them online gives them wings. Online, your networks of friends and followers (and their friends and followers) help ideas travel faster; the networked nature of the web also increases the chances that the people in the universe most interested in your ideas will find them. What’s more, the web is interactive, meaning you can get instant feedback on your ideas in a way that’s much harder to achieve offline.
What does all this mean for defining your story?
It means you have a ready-made lab for trying out new identities and new ways of articulating those identities. Let’s say you’ve been working as an office manager by day, and making jewelry by night, most of which you’ve given away as gifts to friends and family members. Now, thanks to your work with Michelle, you’ve decided to pursue your passion for jewelry making full-time within the next six months.
Up till now, your Twitter profile hasn’t mentioned what you do for a living, because your job hasn’t been a real reflection of who you are. Now, you can start describing yourself as a jewelry maker immediately. “Oh,” you might think, “but no one’s bought my stuff. I’m not really ‘official’ just yet.” It doesn’t matter. You make jewelry; so tell people you make jewelry. Psychologically, the more you describe yourself as the thing you want to be, the more you move toward becoming that thing.
“Oh, but I don’t even have a website or an online shop set up.” It doesn’t matter. When you do launch your website, go ahead and add the URL to your Twitter profile, and begin mentioning it in tweets; but for now, start describing yourself as a jewelry-maker, because you are one. Tweet about the projects you’re working on, and maybe start a Pinterest board showcasing jewelry you admire from other artists, as well as other miscellaneous images that inspire your designs (photos of nature, urban landscapes, whatever it is that captures your imagination).
See how suddenly, you’re living out loud, by making your passion (and your burgeoning business) an explicit part of your online presence? Plus, the more you talk about an area of your life online, the more you attract kindred spirits and potential supporters, and that community can prove invaluable to achieving your goals. You’ll also get feedback that might inform the direction you take – maybe people are really interested in a series of rings you’re designing with buttons from your grandmother’s attic; that might help you decide to make these items the first ones you list for sale online.
Consider including a “before and after” component to your narrative. “I had a job I hated, and now I’m pursuing my passion.” If that feels hackneyed, know this: To some extent, all of the world’s best stories (in film, literature and otherwise) are really the same core stories dressed up with different details, and shared through the filter of the storyteller’s perspective and personality. So, yes, “before and after” is a familiar trope; but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. We all know what it’s like to hate your job, and to crave the deeper meaning that comes from finding the right thing. Now that you’ve found that thing, we’re rooting for you. We want you to succeed on your new path. We want you to thrive, because if you thrive, maybe it means we can thrive, too.
When you speak from the heart, people can tell, and it attracts them to you. As a teacher and consultant, I help people figure out how to be strategic about the stories they tell online, in order to help them meet their goals. And I’d encourage you to take that next step – getting really strategic about the story you’re telling – once you’re in a position to clearly outline your goals and target audience. But in the meantime, without a foundation of authenticity, all the strategy in the world won’t get you anywhere. Share (and live) from the heart, and the rest will come.
It’s a lifelong process to align our work with our values. It’s also a dynamic process that requires constant mindfulness and a willingness to change course as necessary. The web lets us change the story we tell over time, with our online presence evolving right alongside us – and sometimes, ahead of us, leading us in the direction of our dreams.
Amanda Hirsch is a writer and performer who runs Good Things Consulting (@getgoodthings), which helps people build support for good products, good art, good causes and other good things online. The former director of PBS.org and a SXSW audience favorite, she teaches an e-course on telling your story online. Amanda lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Jordan, their 1-year-old daughter, their 14-year-old dog, and a lot of people with mustaches.Meaningful Mindsets