AVM

The Story of You (an introduction)

- 231022
or how to communicate your value(s) to the world

A NOTE OF GRATITUDE TO START 

I’m so grateful for those who’ve trusted me, whether as their coach or communications consultant, whether you are a client or a mentee. Every time I work with you, I become a better person. I am grateful for your trust and I hope this ‘story’ serves you too. 

I am so grateful for the eleven friends and friends of friends who came to my experimental salon on Saturday and indulged me in talking about ‘The Story of You’. Your attention and engagement were meaningful and I feel incredibly motivated to build on this work, thank you! I’m grateful to my brother for his thoughtful metaphor, it really gave life to what I was writing. 

I’d also like to thank the people who’ve turned me to ‘story’ as a space of exploration for my work. Starting with Seth Godin, my cohort on the altMBA14 (we told each other a lot of stories), Bernadette Jiwa, Robert McKee, Dr Andrea Wojnicki of Talk about Talk. I’m grateful for all my teachers in recent years, and god knows I’ve done a lot of courses and workshops, so I can’t name them all. A big thank you to Solwazi Johnson, my MMTCP mentor, who always led our group with intention. I hope I’ll remember every day to connect with my intention before I put any work out into the world. A word of gratitude for the London Writer’s Salon and A Very Important Meeting, two welcoming and supportive spaces for ‘story’ exploration. 

Finally, I’m grateful to Freddie and Sheila for helping me correct my grammar and help me shape the stories I publish on Substack. I would never dare press the publish button without your help. 

Oh, and I’m grateful to you, reader (and listener). May this inspire you, even a tiny bit, to create a new Story of You. 

“I’m writing my story so that others might see fragments of themselves.”
Lena Waithe
“Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution - more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to.”
Lisa Cron, Wired for Story

Minting for stories

Over a gorgeous birthday lunch (lucky me!) I shared with my brother Guillaume the topic of a presentation I was preparing for a new event format I was trialling at home. 

To my surprise, exploring ‘the Story of You’, meaning how to communicate our value(s) to the world, resonated with him strongly. He brought up a recent example from his own life, fittingly illustrating the importance of the subject matter.  

For someone who can be occasionally socially awkward, an introverted, shy type, attending large events like a wedding feels like an ordeal. 

Sweetly, he revealed to me that he has been investing time in finding the right metaphors to better convey to his friends and partner how he feels. Because, indeed, his is a radically different experience than that of the average extravert attempting to chat with strangers at a party. 

“To explain how hard it is for me to connect with someone, I like to use the example of currency,” he explained. 

“It’s really hard for me to do small talk if I feel I have no idea of how to connect to a person I don’t know. 
But let’s say they like cars, I’ll be okay, because I know I have ‘car currency’ in my pockets (*my brother is a VW nerd FYI). So I’ll reach for that currency and put that out to the other person. The currency becomes the basis for our exchange. But when there isn’t anything I can reach for, no currency I can grab to offer to the other person, it's near impossible for me to do small talk and to make a connection.”

Of course, currency, exchange, connection. What a way to express the importance of having something we can reach for to connect!

My brother was one of several people to respond strongly to the topic. Great news for me, but why?

Was I making the case so eloquently, or is it simply because the topic is universal? 

Who doesn’t need to learn to talk about themselves more effectively, eloquently and authentically? 

Who doesn’t want to communicate their value(s) to the world?

Who doesn’t want to connect with meaningful others more easily, whether it’s at work or elsewhere?

What we do isn't who we are

According to bestselling author Bruce Feiler, we are living through the fourth biggest change in the history of work. More and more of us seek meaning in our jobs and when we don’t find it, we either quit or create a path to find that sense of purpose.

Feiler believes this marks the end of the ‘linear career,’ which he argues in his new book, The Search: Finding Meaningful Work in a Post-Career World. 

What we do tends to be what we talk about. Our careers, or jobs, tend to be our ‘main currency’. 

When I first started to explore the topic of The Story of You, I centred on my clients’ experiences, my own, my storytelling and PR expertise. But presenting ourselves authentically to the world around us goes beyond talking about what we do. 

Spoiler alert: we are more than what we ‘do’ for work. We are more than our job titles, or our elevator pitches. 

We are more than our activity. We are inherently worthy of attention, consideration and respect. 

While what we do cannot sum up who we are, who we are very much affects what we do. 

Our beliefs, values, our dreams and aspirations, our intentions, they permeate and transform our lives, our relationships, and our work. 

Yet in our Western society (the only one I can speak about), our identities are easily reduced to our jobs, the easiest common denominator, sadly, used to describe who we ARE (not what we DO) to others. 

This feels problematic. Don’t you agree?

Once a PR, always a PR

New clients, including friends and former colleagues, have reached out for my support this year. There was a surprising red thread between them.

They each needed help communicating who they are and what they do. 

Once I noticed the trend in the requests, I decided to investigate. 

Upon examination, it turns out that they were all asking for the expertise that I used back at Christian Louboutin, when I was doing PR. Or rather, an evolved version of that expertise. The building blocks however reflect the way I’ve always worked: 

Leaning on the truth of who we are to tell stories that resonate. 

Christian was very clever about how to build his business. One decision he made early on was to have an in-house PR. So few people understand this but Malou, his first Parisian press contact, was a story amplifier (and a buffer to an extent) between him and the world. 

So was I, when I took the job and became his PR in London. 

Christian knew this to be true: it’s incredibly hard to talk about ourselves. 

Between self-doubt and bigging ourselves up too much, it is hard to strike the right balance. Many of us refuse to teeter and prefer to ignore the challenge altogether. For a long time, I was one of those people.

Christian delegated this role (as many smart people do) and the rest is history (okay there were a few other things to his success story but for the sake of my story, we’ll leave it at that).

Writing a bio, a business pitch, updating a CV or creating an online profile (for dates or work), these are daunting and uncomfortable tasks. 

I’m sure you’ve been there. I have certainly been there. Upon feeling discomfort, humans mostly freeze, and choose to distract themselves, ignoring the issue and indulging in procrastination. 

Why is it so hard?

First, talking about who we are is a high stakes effort. 

Depending on how well we do, whether talking or writing, online or IRL, we face rejection at every turn.

For some of us, our deepest, primal needs, like safety and security, are affected by our results: our livelihood is literally on the line if we don’t do a good enough job of presenting ourselves. 

Second, in order to make sure we are ‘doing it right’, we tend to look at how others are doing it. We want to both stand out and fit in. A hard balance to hit. 

We peer on LinkedIn, finding those who are great at reporting on their skills and achievements. We get very critical about our words, our tone, our style. So we borrow, we copy and paste, we build within the margins of what’s acceptable to help tell people who we are. 

The result often feels not quite right, and comes with a whiff of imposter syndrome, like we have handed over an assignment, while knowing we cheated using someone else’s answers.

Le cordonnier est toujours le plus mal chaussé.

I am a prime example of the above. For many years, I was lucky to receive a lot of people’s CVs, good ones too, so when I last had to put mine together, don’t think I didn’t heavily borrow from the slick industry lingo that I saw on mostly US execs resumes in the fashion industry (pitching for roles in my department).

It’s not like what I said was wrong, there was no lie, but it equally didn’t feel true. It felt embellished; that I was more than the sum of those entries on my CV. 

Kind of like a bad make-up appointment, when you come out looking scary and immediately need to wipe your face, taking off the goo that was covering your prime features. 

I did get help. Synchronicity was at play when I found myself enrolled in Seth Godin’s altMBA, right after I left my last job and launched into a life of consulting and freelance work. 

One extra prompt we were given was to get creative and write a short biography, and to do it with a partner (for the much needed support). I figured yes, right on! And I knew who to call, my friend Jack! 

Here is what came out of this project, and bear in mind I would have never dared write that about myself, so this was a lot of Jack’s work.

‘Singer and musician, aspiring yogi, avid reader, sun seeker, business and communications strategist. In order of importance, these are some of the things that might define Anne.

Moving forward in life with an open heart, Anne continually seeks to interact with people who inspire her and share her values, and when she finds those people, she thrives in supporting and inspiring them in their vision.

Also, Anne is the fixer. She knows how to get things done, and she does that with passion and kindness.

And above all, she likes to make magic happen.’

Some things have changed. I’m no longer an aspiring yogi, I am a certified yoga teacher. I wouldn’t use the word musician - I abandoned my piano last year (it’s still here, there’s a story there), but yes to being a singer. 

I’d say that I am someone who loves to use (stretch, exercise) my voice and amplify the voices of others through varied platforms like my podcast, the writing I publish via my newsletters, and my new salon series.

I still like to read this bio. It feels like me. 

Guess what happened next?

What I failed to do is use this biography. What I forgot is to adapt so I could actually use it. I don’t even remember putting it out online anywhere meaningful. 

It gets worse. 

For the following years, I offered a laconic ‘I'm a consultant’ with no context to juice it up to the poor souls who asked the dreaded question. 

Right. That’s not vague at all. I completely missed the point of the work I’d done. Why was that?

It was a steep transition, parallel yet far from my previous roles and my previous work identities. My earlier job titles combined with the company name brought up rich images in a few words. Instead of trying to create something as powerful, I left this short bio in a corner of my computer and got on with my life. 

Did my line ‘Oh I’m a consultant’ help me connect with clients and like-minded people in my industry? What do you think? 

Luckily for me, the work came by word of mouth. Though what people said about me I’m not sure about - I was certainly not owning the narrative [more on that in a following post].

In the end, the magic remains

The line ‘likes to make magic happen’ however, I still use. It’s in my IG bio, I even include it in my work presentations. It’s a small line, and it certainly feels far from corporate jargon, which is probably also why it sticks. It also represents something true about the work I do and the ‘magic’ I yield. 

You know, when you are doing really good work and your whole body feels it: that magic sense of alignment and flow. This brings to mind an old article in The Times where this designer who really ‘got me’ compared me to Tinkerbell. 

It's not just me

“For a growing number of people, work is no longer about the numbers; it's about finding meaning in their story.” Bruce Feiler explained in his interview with the Big Think, adding:

“Work is not exclusively about salary or benefits or hours. It’s not just productivity, profit, and loss. It’s also about meaning. It’s about purpose, identity, exhaustion, renewal, and happiness.” 

“Today, a person will go through 20 “workquakes” — moments of instability when you are forced or choose to rethink and reimagine what you do — throughout their lives. That’s one every 2.85 years, and that’s just the average. [Generation] X-ers will go through more [workquakes] than boomers, and millennials more than X-ers. The idea of coherency is no longer the most important thing.”

Writing is one of the ways I use to make sense of the world. I cut and paste and edit and draft, I rework until it’s there in front of me: structure, clarity. 

Despite having dropped out of university, I am a pretty diligent student. I wish someone had assigned me the task of continuing to craft my bio. 

I know now that The Story of You (or The Story of Me) is an exercise in sense-making that connects us not just to others, but to ourselves. It cements our identity, helps us create meaning out of the disparate threads of our past and our hopes for the future. 

As I posited publicly later that week, perched on my piano stool facing a dozen friends in my living room (the setting for my presentation):

Most of us are bad (or terrible) at talking about ourselves, unless we learn to. 

They all seemed to agree.

All but one. But then again she said she never talks about her work and her favourite question when she meets someone new is: “What’s your story?” 

Some brought up some big caveats. What if we reveal too much? What if our trust gets abused? Who do we trust with telling what about ourselves? 

When the first question people ask each other is “what do you do?”, not “how do you do?”, what do we want to convey about ourselves? 

Can we go beyond the job title? 

What’s appropriate, and what’s not? 

What is worth exploring? 

What are the stakes if we choose the status quo? 

Creating a new currency exchange

Building on my brother’s metaphor, I feel like I’ve found THE angle for this topic. And if you doubted we need this now, remember that given the way work has evolved, we’ll all need help to make sense of our “workquakes”.

So what if we could unlock the power of story to shine a light on what matters to us?

“Stories are a communal currency of humanity,” offers author Tahir Shah.

What if we decided to MINT FOR STORIES?  

Then we’d have pocket-full of the precious currency we need to power our social connections. 

I’m convinced the world would be a better place if we all learned to express ourselves better. I’m convinced that we’d solve the loneliness epidemic if we normalised that kind of work, from childhood onwards. 

After all, we are all born loving stories. 

Stories are how we connect. 

Stories are what bind us and what can separate us. 

I suggest we all get creative and get to work. 

What do you say?

Let’s mint for stories!

WANT MORE?

If you’re inspired by the above and feel like getting started on this work, sign up for upcoming workshops and further articles on the topic. 

Thank you!

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The Story of You (an introduction)
 
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