When people hear that I am a sociology student-turned nurse-turned healthcare change specialist, they often have questions about my professional journey. Out of necessity, I have gotten a lot of practice concisely explaining my path to others.
Unconventional career paths like mine are becoming more and more common. As our world and its challenges become more complex, industries blend and professional trajectories become less obvious. As a systems thinker and firm proponent of transdisciplinary engagement, I find this trend exciting. However, it presents a challenge for those of us who want to share our story with others.
Unlike a professional mission statement, a professional narrative does not follow an exact formula. However, there are some guidelines that can help make your narrative most impactful:
#1 Develop your narrative with your professional mission statement in mind.
You want your story to lead the reader (or listener) somewhere – and that somewhere is likely your mission. For a step-by-step guide to developing your own PMS, check out the free Professional Mission Statement Blueprint.
#2 Highlight your key experiences and skills in your narrative.
Tell the story of who you are and how you came to be here, in your current professional role or in a specific context (i.e. an interview). Don't be afraid to pull in life experiences that aren't strictly 'professional'. Your life is an integrated system of all kinds of experiences and skills that influence the work you do.
Carefully select the 3-5 (total!) elements that are most meaningful to your story. Of course, your life has been far richer than a few paragraphs could ever describe. But practically speaking, we only have so long to share our story, so let’s make the words we choose count.
#3 Your professional narrative is not a specific script to memorize.
Rather, it is a collection of plot points that you want to share. How you deliver it will shift a bit every time. Begin by writing out your narrative (aim for 8-12 sentences). Once you have a story representative of your experience that points to your professional mission, practice saying it a few times throughout your day. Try out different words and cadences. Let the story settle into your brain over time. Then, when it’s time to share it with someone, let it emerge naturally and comfortably in the moment.
If you find yourself thinking, “I don’t know if I really have a story to share,” I assure you that you do. As a person who intends to use their career to make a difference in the world, it is your responsibility to craft a professional narrative that pulls people in and gets you where you need to go to make an impact. This is a crucial step of the Change Maker Journey - and thus a main focus inside of Interview with Intention.
CHANGE MAKER EXAMPLAR: Tara's Professional Narrative
Tara Ryan Kosmas is a nurse change maker if ever there were one. In 2022, Tara came to me for support developing a professional narrative. What emerged from our hour together is an incredible story that still brings me chills.
Below, we hear from Tara, a year later.
Hi, Tara. Thanks so much for letting us into your process. I’m curious: What initially attracted you to the idea of a professional narrative?
As nonprofit Executive Director of Debriefing the Front Lines I was searching for a way to confidently and concisely answer the question “What do you do?” while also expressing my authentic personality.
What made you reach out for support developing your professional narrative?
As a burn survivor, I acknowledge my lived and professional experience is unique and shaped much of my narrative and because of this I found it challenging to articulate its magnitude.
I firmly believe that alone is no longer enough - be it in personal and professional life. With this being said, one of my greatest strengths is knowing when to reach out for help. After following NTS on Instagram and hearing Claire reciting her narrative with such ease and confidence, I booked a coaching call to do the same.
How was the experience of developing your professional narrative? Did anything surprise you?
10/10. I was surprised at how much we accomplished during the coaching session.
In an hour's time, Claire listened to my story, asked questions related to my experience, validated the unique components surrounding my work in the burn unit, academia and founding Debriefing the Front Lines. Claire helped me articulate the journey and magnitude of my 19 year nursing career. It was a powerful and humbling experience to look back on my career and view the hard work and growth.
When and where have you used your professional narrative?
Where haven’t I? I have used my professional narrative when writing my bio for marketing, collaborations, in casual and professional conversations with colleagues and potential nonprofit donors and when pitching for professional awards and grants.
How has having a PN supported your goals?
One of my personal goals has been to continue seeking out speaking engagements and to reach out more in search of collegial collaborations. Having a concise professional narrative that captures my experience has enabled me to clearly articulate my experience and gifts with others.
And now, here is Tara’s professional narrative, in its entirety:
Life as a pediatric burn survivor shaped my experience and led me to the nursing profession.
At age 20 I began my nursing career at West Penn Burn Unit in Pittsburgh, PA. Despite my lived experience, I felt grossly underprepared for what I would see. I began to dive deeper into the world of trauma informed care and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Through this interest, I became certified in Debriefing and Peer Support.
I developed a passion for education - preparing nurses for the emotional complexity of the profession. I had several mentors in my life who identified me as a natural educator and encouraged me to obtain a MSN - this is where I learned the power of simulation, the art of debriefing.
Very quickly I began working at the local community college. From here, I relocated to FL and began my full time academic career. Over the next 8 years, I would build a simulation curriculum in two baccalaureate nursing programs at Florida Gulf Coast University and Towson University in Maryland.
I was working as an Assistant Professor when the pandemic began. I began receiving an alarming number of calls from former students and colleagues, overwhelmed with the weight of what they were seeing.. Just 16 days after a global pandemic was declared, I facilitated our first debriefing session. One by one, I began Debriefing the Front Lines.
Debriefing the Front Lines delivers psychological first aid through structured debriefings surrounding single incident and cumulative care taking traumas, sustained emotional wellness offerings by board certified nurse coaches (NC-BC), and continuing nursing education workshops to nurses working the bedside and beyond.
If you would like support developing YOUR professional narrative, check out Interview with Intention, my professional development course that prepares you to have career conversations for the rest of your life. Or, like Tara, you can apply for a Power Hour.