The Importance of Having a Narrative: What’s Your Narrative?


“I don’t have a narrative at the moment – I feel lost”, said one UK SLT member who had landed herself in a job in a school and team which didn’t fit her values at all. “I’ve got to get my narrative right, then I’ll be fine.” She moved on and seems happier now, but not quite as strong as she used to be before she ‘lost’ her narrative. At least it seems that way to me. Before that she was in a school she loved, with values that matched her own, and a head she loved too. But then things changed, as sadly they can. She wanted a career move, the next rung on the ladder. So, she took the leap. It wasn’t the right move for her due to mismatching values, which can happen to anyone. And then she had to start from scratch with her narrative again.

Having a narrative made her feel strong, and it was perhaps the seat of her strength. Not having a narrative made her feel weak. Having a narrative rooted her firmly and gave her security. Being in the right place, with matching values allowed her to flourish.

My PhD, years ago, focused on the use of diaries to help managers learn and make sense (sense-making) in their day to day working lives. The act of writing a diary, as with a reflective log, got people engaged in articulating a narrative. Reflecting, articulating thoughts, reifies the self and makes you stronger. Each time you write from the ‘I’ you are defining and redefining yourself, reinforcing your own identity and making your own presence in the world stronger.

Connecting this process with knowing what values are important to you, and then being able to align that self-knowledge with the values of work and/or a workplace is very powerful. Continually expounding your narrative (your story) to yourself is also an act of invention and reinvention. Creation and recreation – a key survival tool in life in a world of constant change and instability. 

But, does your narrative always have to be public? Is it always for public consumption? The Johari Window, as with the Japanese 3 face theory, reminds us that we share only part of our narrative with the world, perhaps a little more and different shades of another narrative with personal friends and family, and then keep a larger narrative private for ourselves. It’s true that some people can benefit from hearing your public narrative, but I don’t believe you have to tell them everything. If you do share all, it’s like Samson telling Delilah that his strength came from his hair, and then while he slept she cut it off. Unfortunately, we can’t rule out that we live in a competitive world, so I don’t advocate telling everyone the full narrative all the time. You don’t have to. But it is your choice.

Some people seem to find it empowering to share everything. Some people feel strengthened by keeping it in. Te impsum nosce: know yourself. You’ve got to figure out what’s right for you.

At any rate, there IS power in developing and reflecting on your narrative often. That personal dialogue is essential. Some people bang on about ‘knowing your why’ – I guess that might be another way of putting it (fusing values with personal narrative and intent, with a view to developing bigger, soulful purpose). But you don’t have to share it all the time, do you? What do you think?

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Having a Narrative: What’s Your Narrative?

  1. Totally agree and love the idea of a personal narrative as a driving force but maybe also as a stabilising force in the life of a manager. One thing I often wonder is how many managers are consciously aware of their narrative? When interviewed you often find repeated words/phrases/ideas come up in their speech, but it sometimes seems as though managers (or I suspect anyone!) are not aware of this until confronted by it….. either via a transcript, questions, or in the case of the SLT member, a mismatch thanks to a new job. I wonder if knowing your inner narrative can create a stronger and more stable (whoops, sorry for using that phrase) approach to life and the job?

    Liked by 1 person

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