Can You Tell a Good Story?

It took me a long time to accept that merely being good at something was not enough to garner the attention, the respect, or the dollars of other people. The truth is that people’s actions are not affected by what is. They are affected by what they can see, and how they think it will affect them. So while the essence of business may be the creation of specific value, you can never expect a business to succeed on the virtue of its good ideas alone. It has to be presented in a way that answers questions people are asking, solves problems they are aware of, and is easily digestible.

This might sound obvious, but think of how many times you’ve been held back from getting what you wanted in life because people could not see the value you knew you had.

In my early twenties, I struggled to understand why I was considered virtually unemployable in conventional corporate environments. While I did pretty well for myself innovating independent ways to make money – from teaching music lessons locally, to helping retirees sell antiques on Ebay, to fixing up old violins and flipping them for a profit – I could never seem to stand out as someone worth hiring in a real company with a salaried position.

My own internal logic was flawless to me. I knew that, all other things being equal, I was a smarter-than-average person. From my point of view, if you assigned a task to me I would quickly figure out whatever pattern would lead to it getting done as efficiently as possible, making the optimal amount of money for myself and whomever had the privilege of adding me to their staff. So why did I continue to see myself passed over for jobs, which were given to people I was sure I could outperform?

It wouldn’t be until I accidentally stumbled upon my first corporate role as a copywriter that I would finally put the pieces together and see the bigger picture of how the hiring process worked. A music student of mine was thoroughly impressed with my teaching skills and my knack for clear verbal communication, and in passing she mentioned that the company she worked for was looking for writers to fill a temporary position as a content creator for their website. Because she personally knew me, she was able to get her foot in the door on my behalf, and after I passed the standard interview and skill assessment process, the job was mine.

What I gained from those two months working at a desk in a cubicle, surrounded by other desks in other cubicles, was a new perspective of business culture in America. The reason I had had so much trouble attracting the attention I wanted from the world of “real” jobs was I had not learned how to present my value in a way that matched what they were specifically looking for. Their job description was not “bright young man who’s good at figuring things out and putting down words”. It was a specific series of qualities combined with real working experiences which conformed to their work environment.

The irony is that as soon as I figured out how the corporate world worked, I had gotten over my interest in joining it. As of today, I’ve helped quite a few other people prepare their own résumés and cover letters to better match specific positions they had their heart set on. I can do this for them because it finally clicked to talk about the concept of value in a way that fit what others were looking for. I finally learned how to answer the questions people were actually asking.