Scientific research shows the words in our head, and more specifically, the emotions we attach to them have the ability to change our brains - and the actions we take on its behalf. What does this have to do with your career prospects? Based on this research, we now know learning to build a better "career narrative" for yourself in 2019 could be just the thing you need to take your career to the next level. Here's why...

What's A 'Career Narrative' Exactly?

How you've interpreted life events that have shaped your career essentially has become a story you tell yourself on a daily basis. This interpretation playing over and over again in your head is your career narrative. It plays a pivotal role in your ability to realize your professional aspirations. For the last decade and a half, I've worked with thousands of people unpacking their career narratives and learned there's a clear distinction between those who achieve big goals and those who do not. It all comes down to how negative or positive their career narratives are.

Signs Your Career Narrative Is Negatively Charged

The easiest way to tell if your career narrative is working against you is to actually write it out and have the emotions tied to certain words in the text analyzed. For example, I often see these words in the stories:

  • fired
  • unemployed
  • wrong
  • failed 
  • lost
  • mistake

For most people, the terms above evoke powerful negative emotions. Science shows associating ourselves with these words put our brains and bodies into a reactive, weaker physical state, limiting our ability to see and take advantage of new career opportunities. Therefore, identifying and eliminating negative words from your career narrative is the single best way to change your mindset and achieve your goals. 

Rewrite Your Career Narrative = Set Yourself Free

When you change the wording around past events in your career, you set yourself free from negative emotions and their bad side effects. When I work with frustrated, stressed out job seekers, the first thing I do is give them new terms to replace the negative ones in their career narratives. For example:

  • unemployed = "between jobs" i.e. I'm between jobs right now.
  • failed = "powerful experience" i.e. I had a powerful experience at my last job.
  • wrong = "not right" i.e. My approach to the job was not right.

By having them incorporate emotionally neutral phrases like the ones above, they're able to relax and be less hard on themselves. Learning to look at your situation with objectivity helps to shift the career narrative to something more positive and useful.

Accountability Is Not The Same As Culpability

Besides rewriting your career narrative to be more positive, it's also important to take accountability for what has happened in your career to date. Many people avoid this step because they fear it means taking the blame for things they feel were out of their control. i.e. having a boss who was a bully. In my work, I've found many people mistakenly assume everything good that's happened in their careers is a result of their hard work. If that's true, then logic would stand that everything that's gone wrong in their careers is their fault too. See the flaw in this thought process? Your boss bullying you is not your fault. But, allowing the experience to crush your career confidence is.

P.S. - Successful professionals take accountability for their actions
because it sets them free.

When you can objectively recognize an action that produced an outcome you didn't like, you're learning and growing from it. By taking ownership of your actions, you stop focusing on the pain of the experience (a/k/a negative career narrative) and shift the storyline to how you used it to make yourself better. Using accountability, successful professionals are better at taking bad experiences and turning them into powerful learning opportunities.

Published on: Nov 27, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.