If you’ve worked with me, you already know that I consider myself a storyteller first. It’s the foundation of my marketing methodology and rationale for a career in building brands. And OwnTrail is a platform centered on stories — womxn sharing their authentic stories of the milestones and experiences of her life as micro acts of mentorship, and exploring the trails (the stories!) of others to find inspiration, insight and solidarity. Belief in the power of our personal stories is intrinsic to what I do and what OwnTrail can accomplish. As such, I went into this new adventure with a clear idea and focus on the potential of storytelling. But as it goes with building a company, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
When I added my trail, I quickly learned how valuable reclaiming our own story really is.
Let me back up a few steps. As a founder who deeply believes in what I’m helping build, I of course needed to have my trail visible when we launched in beta in February 2020. At the time, I was still fulltime CMO at Seed&Spark and working on OwnTrail semi-fulltime on nights and weekends while parenting a toddler — my plate was full enough that I waited until late one weeknight about a week prior to launch to create my trail.
By design, you can start at any point in your life journey to build your trail. I began with my graduation from undergrad and built from there by adding a milestone for roles at each company I’d worked at across my career. I added each of my volunteer experiences, relocating for work, getting married, having a kid. I clicked publish, saw the winding colors of my trail and carried on with my to-do list. Story told, right?
As I explored the trails of dozens and dozens of women over the next few weeks as we launched and gained momentum, I was moved. I felt like I got to know who they were as full people, like I read the abridged novelization of their lives thus far. I saw their point-of-view, their insights and feelings and, of course, their experiences. I saw them by seeing their story. And mine? It wasn’t me. It was true and accurate and honest, but it read more like a CV or LinkedIn profile.
I’d inadvertently architected my story in someone else’s structure, despite being on a platform (that I very actively shape) to remove the existing structures.
So I edited my trail, coming back over the next month or so as I continued to reflect on my real journey — the moments that were truly powerful for me, the experiences I wished I’d have seen other women sharing. I edited things to be fully in my voice, not a version of it. Just me, fully and wholly.
The experience and the result — seeing my story visualized as a whole rather than compartmentalized into career, family, friends, geographic versions of me — had me feeling the true power of what we’re building precisely because it had me feeling the true power of my story. In acknowledging this power and taking the action to tell my story, I reclaimed it. I took the telling of my story back from the formats and profiles and arcs it had been squished into or shaved down to fit, and in the freeform telling of it, I reminded myself that I was the author here.
In a world and a time when so much is out of our hands, it’s paramount that we recognize and harness what is in our realm of power, what tools available, what assets we possess. You are the constant across all the choices, conditions and course corrections. Yes, external forces certainly shape us along our journeys —so many of our accomplishments and the challenges we overcome are directly related to the systems and circumstances. But what I realized is that the strongest force in our respective narratives is us, the protagonists.
While you may have only a little (or a lot) of a direct hand in any pivotal moment in your life, what happens with and after that milestone is fully your decision to make.
As a storyteller, the seed of this realization had been planted within me long ago, but the dust of busy-ness and business fell upon it, layer on layer. While roots were able to form, it had yet to break the surface and become a full conscious thought. It needed cultivating. Enter a moment during an OwnTrail Solidarity Sessions — free virtual group events centered on topics sourced from our community— toward the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The session was about telling your story during a job search. Admittedly, I was expecting the conversation to be mostly about personal branding and best practices for resumes and interviews. But as Erin of WholeStory spoke about the power of bringing your whole self to the HR process, I felt this seed get watered.
The job search and hiring process is rife with uncontrollables— you version a resume and cover letter based on a job description and maybe a company website, submit it to a (usually) one-directional destination, and wait to be picked. You want to be picked. Sometimes, you hear back that you’re not a fit, but you don’t hear why. Sometimes, you never hear anything at all. Repeat, repeat, repeat. It’s discouraging and, in my personal experience, it can leave you feeling professionally powerless.
Those feelings are totally valid, but the thinking is all wrong. When you own the power of your story and claim it as a valuable asset you have to offer in the job hunt, for example, you come to the situation with power. You aren’t a passive player waiting on the company or hiring manager to see your potential. You are a decision-maker as well, someone who is offering a prospective employer something of great value — your experience, perspective and skills. The same is true for founders raising a round: you aren’t asking for money; you are offering something of value.
To operate from this place of power, you first have to own the power of your story.
So brush off your pitch deck. Crack open that resume. Look at your bios on social media. Are you owning your story or letting the format filter it for you? Do you know what your narrative is? Women, create your trail and see if you are happy with the way you tell the tale of you. What milestones and superpowers are you leaving out? Which are you including by default that don’t really matter? Reacquaint yourself with your story, and reclaim it. In a world where the lack of control can be dizzying, we’re still the writers of our own stories and the blazers of our own trails.