Last week I wrote about the importance of telling your today story before answering the question, What is Your Tomorrow Story?

One of the challenges I observe in my work as an executive life coach is we are often an unreliable narrator of our own story. Successful people tend to focus on what is next. They become accustomed to asking themselves, “what could I do better?” “What could my company do better?”  

While this approach is perceived to drive results, it also leads to negative feelings and perceptions, judging ourselves, others, and our circumstances. This judgment then shows up when we tell our story.

I recently began work with a CEO who had spent the last seven years transforming a founder-led, founder-dependent company into a steady, stable, independent profitable growth company—the result: a company that couldn’t find a buyer, sold for multiples of EBITDA.

Yet, when I asked him to tell me his story as he prepares for his next gig, I heard a story that went something like this. “I am good at team building and creating order out of chaos, but I am not a charismatic leader. I expanded a local company and turned it into a national company, but it wasn’t growing at 10x multiples of earnings. The company had up and down years before I took over, and under my leadership, results were consistent, but not double-digit.” 

With all these “buts,” he was an unreliable narrator of his own story.

The unreliable narrator is a storyteller who withholds information, lies to, or misleads the reader, casting doubt on the narrative. Authors use this device to engage readers on a deeper level, forcing them to come to their own conclusions when the narrator’s point of view can’t be trusted. 

While this is a useful device to keep our attention in a novel, when we tell the story of our lives and our career, it can send us down a rabbit hole of self-doubt and lies we tell ourselves.

What to do? Here are two approaches that I have found helpful:

  • Try telling your today story and your tomorrow story in the third person; write it as though you are talking about someone else.
  • Find a friend, a family member, a coach, someone that either knows you well, or is good at asking questions to draw out the real story. In short, find an editor to become the reliable narrator of your real story. 
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