Lesson #1: Guard Your Story
Why does a company's stock price rise when investors learn Warren Buffett is buying? The company's innate value does not change but because Buffett evokes a narrative—he buys a company and it becomes more valuable—investors' expectations change.
The same is true in business and personal relationships. People don't know you; they know your story. You need to be aware of what story they are telling.
A few years ago, Michael Vick's narrative was that of a prodigy. Then it became about a dog-fighting convict. Now the lines seem to be blurring, but the message is clear. People will believe the narrative, so you need to concern yourself with what people think about when they hear your name.
Lesson #2: Pick Your Plot
Over Thanksgiving dinner, listening to Philadelphia fans debate whether they supported Michael Vick or not, I came to the conclusion that whether you are pro or con depends ultimately on what plot you fit Vick into.
Pro-Vick fans usually see him as representing the story of redemption: the imperfect hero falls, realizes his mistake, and redeems himself. The anti-Vick fans see his reacceptance as representing the story of the bad guy getting away with it: the flawed villain is caught but is not punished.
We grow up hearing stories and categorizing them. This schema informs us on how we are to see the world. Therefore you want to link your career to the right plot.
A friend and client of mine has come to embody what I call the "renewal" narrative: he is known as someone who can turn a mature business into a growing one. He did it for a brand and then the company asked him to it for a region. And now, at an extremely young age, he is doing it for an entire business.
There exist several schemas of possible plots to consider. Ronald B. Tobias, for example, has identified 20 "Master Plots" from which one can build almost any narrative one wishes. These include the "quest," the "underdog," and "transformation." Click here for descriptions of these plots and exercises to practice them. Click here to read Tobias' book.
The practice will pay off and should help you craft the narrative plot that will be linked to your career.