One of my favourite quotes is from American poet Muriel RukeyserThe world is made of stories, not atoms.

Stories aren’t just for children, or indulgent afternoons on the sofa. They are are equally important in the world of work. I work with all my career change clients on their personal career stories – looking at the ways in which their training, passions, jobs and interests weave into a timeline or tell a tale.

It’s really useful in seeing patterns and making sense of what might have previously seemed to be a hodge-podge of work experiences. It’s a great preparation for serious career change work.

Here are three different ways of playing with your story – you can pick one, all three, or forge a story by combining the elements from different techniques that appeal to you.

The Story Map
Draw a map of your jobs, education, training, talents, skills, passions and interests, from childhood to the present day. First, draw a road or path (a timeline) to represent your life from birth to the present. Mark off the years by drawing, say, 5 year milestones at the side of the path.

Next, moving along the path, draw symbols or pictures or jot down words to represent the birth of a particular talent, skill, passions or interest. Record your jobs, education, training. Find a way to mark changes in direction (a fork in the road, maybe?) and any ‘aha’ moments or other significant events.

For each milestone, jot down the age you were as close as you can – if you don’t know exactly when it first emerged, make a guess.


If you keep a journal, or enjoy ‘free form’ writing, you can try telling your career story as a narrative, either a first person (‘I’) story, or as if it was a tale told by another person (‘he’ or ‘she’). Are you a hero(ine), a victim or a hapless traveller on storm-tossed seas? You can tell it in a particular style, such as melodrama, comedy, serious philosophical rave, whatever seems right. Start when you were young and move chronologically through your life, or write a series of episodes focusing on milestones or turning points.

Your Other Hand
Psychologically, it seems the non-dominant hand (whether right or left) carries a lot of the disowned, buried, rejected, vulnerable parts of us. This ‘other hand’ expresses things that you may have judged as wrong…awkward, child like, vulnerable, raw emotions perhaps. It often expresses what you really feel and think (not what the ‘socialised’ you thinks you feel…). It can be a great relief to express these things safely (to yourself), it can be extremely liberating and creative.

Find a quiet place and some uninterrupted time. Grab some paper and pens (try a few, e.g. texta, crayon, pencils, whatever) and play with writing / drawing with your non-dominant hand (if you are right handed, this is your left hand, and vice versa).

Now, ask yourself about the story of your working life, and write what comes, using your non-dominant hand. You can also do the journalling narrative in the section above, in your other hand. Or do it in your usual hand, then comment on it while writing with the non-dominant hand.

After you’ve written your story, have a look at it to see if you can find any patterns, clues or common threads. Were you always interested in clothes, or self-sufficient, or into learning about stuff?

Four great questions to ask as you reflect:

  1. Are there any skills, talents or strengths that keep cropping up?
  2. What gets you up in the morning? What parts of your working life have you really loved?
  3. What challenges have you overcome?
  4. What have you learned about yourself in the years you have been in the workforce?

So, what’s your career story?

Joanna Maxwell


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