Let your story be a work in progress

Here at Mighty Forces, I help women write tag lines that declare what they're up to with their careers — not just their titles, but what they stand for. For example: "I'm a technology executive who helps people bring their best selves to work," or "I'm a life coach who helps mothers be imperfect out loud." I’ve found myself giving a similar pep talk to a lot of my clients lately, so I thought I’d share it with all of you.

Fear of commitment and getting it “wrong”

Many women who come to me are nervous to commit to "the" language they'll use to describe themselves. And I get it — I do. Commitment is hard. It can feel like stepping off a cliff. "But what if...?" Our fear of being wrong rears its ugly (I mean really, really ugly) head.

Looking for help clarifying and articulating your vision? Learn more about my  Jumpstart Your Vision  program, offered in partnership with the tremendous Catherine Wood of Unbounded Potential.

Looking for help clarifying and articulating your vision? Learn more about my Jumpstart Your Vision program, offered in partnership with the tremendous Catherine Wood of Unbounded Potential.

But here's the thing: Our identities are always evolving; therefore, the language we use to describe ourselves — our "stories" — must always evolve, as well. What story is static, anyway? Stories HAPPEN. You HAPPEN. So choosing the language with which to describe yourself is an iterative process. You choose and then you choose again.

I’ve certainly done this in my own life. I’ve had an active online presence since the early aughts, and you can believe that the way I describe myself today is not the same way I described myself nearly 20 years ago! I’ve been happier with the language I use to describe myself at some points than others, but I’ve never wavered in my commitment to describing myself in the most authentic and powerful way possible, online and beyond.

(If this sounds suspiciously like self-promotion to you, stay tuned: I'm about to publish some original research on women and self-promotion. Sign up for my newsletter to be alerted when it launches!)

Telling your story is an ongoing practice

On the one hand, learning that telling your story is an ongoing practice is hard news: It means you can’t just come up with a tag line for yourself and then cross “tell my story” off your to-do list, forever. But the good news is, no one iteration of your story needs to be “perfect.”

That doesn’t mean you half-ass the writing of your LinkedIn headline or homepage copy. Nor does it mean you agonize over it. You find, with practice, the happy middle point, where you’re tending to your story like you might tend to a garden. You get into a rhythm. And then you harvest what you’ve grown.

I’ve gotten clients, and made friends, and booked speaking engagements, even emceed an awards ceremony, all because people found, and connected with me, online. For all of its foibles, the Internet is a POWERFUL tool, and it's there for you to use. I truly believe that having a thoughtful online presence is an essential form of power.

Start somewhere, then iterate

I said earlier that when it comes to choosing language with which to describe yourself, you can be iterative: you choose, and then you choose again. But here’s the thing: you have to choose. Debating options in your head is just a slow exercise in torture. Again, my point isn’t that you should half-ass it, but at some point, you do have to put something out there. It’s a leap of courage and faith, and it’s something anyone who hopes to have an impact beyond their immediate sphere must, eventually, do.

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I like to use the analogy of website development. When I worked at PBS back in the day, we used to hunker down and work on website redesigns for a year or year and a half. Then we’d have a big (proverbial) ribbon-cutting ceremony when the site launched: ta-da! And we’d flagellate ourselves for any (inevitable, because we were human beings) mistakes: WHY DIDN’T WE CATCH THESE IN QA TESTING?

These days, it’s far more common to take a page from something called agile software development, and approach a website redesign in a more iterative way. The goal isn’t to create a perfect product that does every single thing you want it to do, perfectly; it’s to work iteratively to launch a “minimum viable product,” or MVP, and then another, and another — improving the user experience and adding functionality in increments.

In other words, most teams creating effective websites today realize that “redesigning” is a constant state of being — it’s the daily job, not an occasional, torturous, endeavor. If you’re paying attention, and committed to creating something of value, then you’re noticing opportunities for improvement, and you’re making them, to the extent that you’re able, with the resources available to you.

The same goes for telling your story.

So, when you’re thinking about what to write at the top of your LinkedIn profile, or how to introduce yourself at a networking event: Come up with your MVP, a tag line that represents the best expression of yourself at that moment in time, knowing you can (and will) change it down the line. See how it goes over. Does it get the results you wanted? Does it feel good, and true? Pay attention to this inner and outer feedback and use it to guide you forward.

(Related: How a new LinkedIn profile generated immediate results for Caitlin)

Get started

There’s no way to start other than to start. I invite you, urge you, to choose the words that feel like the best way to describe what you’re up to in this big, crazy world. And then share them online, where they have exponential power to reach exactly whoever it is you hope to reach. If you’re ready, and want a partner to guide you through the process and help you shape your language and online presence in powerful ways, then by all means, that is exactly what I am here for. — just drop me a line.

Remember: You gain nothing from holding back. So many blowhards take up our mental space, every single day. We are dying to discover someone like you.

Amanda Hirsch