I often come up against fear in my work with both students and clients, that all too familiar look in someone’s eyes when asked the question: What is your true story?
In both our personal and business lives, there is a conditioning at work that has a long tail: The notion that we have to contrive a story that suits what someone expects from us–our family, our co-workers, our partners, our boss, our ‘community’; a surefire way to kill creativity and limit our potential. Yet, the current media landscape asks us to navigate seamlessly between these ‘worlds’ without contriving any kind of false persona or fabricated character. It is a tricky time to tell a true story.
How do you converge your professional and personal stories without selling one out for the other in some way?
The most frequently asked question I hear when I teach digital literacy is “If I tell my story online, will it hurt my career?” I usually respond by saying do you want to be in a world, a profession or corporate work environment, where you can’t tell your own story? I would question, more importantly, why your story would be offensive if told with clarity, authenticity, and a genuine intent to remain true to your self? Yes, this may be idealism at work here, but if you are one of those people with fear in their eyes, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
The fact is, Gen Y’s are going to be making Gen X’ers and Boomers very uncomfortable in the coming years in the workplace as they live confessionally, totally at ease in their digital, personal, and professional selves, allowing their personal and business boundaries to blend, and converge with little care if you ‘like’ their true story. It can be problematic, sure, their ‘living out loud’ approach might make some corporate suits bristle, but there is no returning to a siloed world where our personal lives are perfectly compartmentalized and separate from our business life like it was in the Mad Men days. For some, stepping into social media can feel scary because it feels quite threatening to be exposing ourselves and sharing so personally in such a public way.
That is where fear sets in for many people. And sometimes anger. I’ve had students feel really sad and incredibly angry about how media has changed and they miss the silos. They miss the way it was. I often say I am a ‘hand-holder’ at the edge of digital creativity. I know it’s hard, and I know it’s scary sometimes but I want those fearful folks to just take a boo over the edge–more often than not they end up jumping with me and it’s a very rewarding moment when that happens.
Brian Solis nailed it when he posited in an interview with Bazaarvoice.com that ”Social networks are emotional landscapes.” The separation of personal and business has disappeared in a media landscape that weaves relationship into the living narrative: Your personal story is also your business story.
But aren’t there millions, in fact billions, of people using social media? Is this even an issue anymore? Yes and no. In my work, I still run into business’ unwilling to drop the fourth wall, to allow their consumers inside their story in order to participate and co-create. They want to keep up the brand image, to ensure they look like they are in control at all times, that they appear as not just an authority but the only authority on the subject. What they don’t see is their fractured story, their archaic relics of promotion: brochures that lie in recycling bins, their bounce rates that soar because people can’t find their true story within their manicured mission statement, their stiff CEO’s interview sitting on YouTube with 7 views, their static reporting of company trivia simultaneously updated on their Twitter and Facebook channels.
As we tell increasingly come to tell our own stories, we in turn expect it from the brands that we buy from and the media we consume. The consumer of today wants to know, to feel, to hear, to experience a true story. It might feel a little naked at first, a little uncomfortable for business’, but there is an exciting freedom that comes with tearing down the fourth wall. Far better to risk converging personal with business than have a lunar-like landscape full of abandoned ideas that had tremendous potential a decade ago but lost their way as the human landscape changed at the speed of light.
It is no wonder when I first sit down with people and ask them: What is your true story? they look fearful. It is a complex process to begin at the very beginning of figuring out your narrative. It can be demanding. It can also can transform your company, your life, your (story)world.
So, what is your true story?