“Tell us about yourself.”
Can you think of a more anxiety-provoking question? On one hand, it’s a softball question, right? Who else knows more about your own life than you? But, rarely does anyone answer this question in a clear, concise, or interesting way. Most people drag on for too long, telling way too many insignificant details. Others skip the most important, relevant parts (remember Seinfeld’s “yada, yada, yada”?). Rarely, if ever, do we get to hear someone talk about their life story that has an integrated narrative thread- a fancy way of saying it all makes sense. Why is it so rare to hear someone talk about themselves in an effective, memorable way?
I once heard a 20 year veteran Navy SEAL say, “I’d way rather be in combat getting shot at than to have to talk about myself in an interview.”
On one hand, we get the message while growing up that it’s not appropriate to talk about ourselves and grab the limelight. We can all think of someone who talks about themselves too much and is always trying to be the center of attention. Nobody wants to be ‘that guy’. Also, in our core, we all want to avoid humiliation, embarrassment, or shame at all costs. If we provoke attention, people will look at us, and we might be overwhelmed by their rejection.
But mostly, none of us get taught how to talk about ourselves in an effective way that doesn’t make us come across as self-indulgent or narcissistic. We don’t get the opportunity to reflect on and understand our past, to process through to find or make meaning from our backstory, or the chance to practice telling our own story in a safe environment.
Whether in a job interview, first date, cocktail party or in the stands at a Little League game, we all get asked to talk about who we are. The question comes in different forms, like "Where are you from?" Or, “So, what do you do?” No matter how it’s asked, the direction is the same- they want to hear about who you are and where you come from. Of course, you can answer with the town you were born in or the details about how you moved around a lot- but what do those answers really say about you?
People want to know who you are. They want to get a sense of where you come from, and how it's shaped your life. They want to understand the key events and moments that have had a lasting impact on who you are, and who you’re becoming. They want to hear about obstacles you’ve overcome, and failures you’ve pushed through.
For most people, it takes time to figure out how to talk about yourself. There’s no formula, and no one else can script the answer for you. You have to do the process first.
Also, you can’t start writing a meaningful story with your life until you make sense of where you come from and how it’s shaped you. Even the most boring backstory is still complex. If you explore your past and get to know your backstory, a few important things happen:
Doing a deep dive into your backstory will help you on many levels. You’ll be able to talk about yourself in a clear, compelling way. Other people will know who you are and know how to interact with you. You will integrate some divergent experiences and ideas from your past. You’ll have greater clarity for how to make better choices for your life. You’ll feel more confident in your own agency.
[How do you guide a kid to more self-awareness? Check out this article]
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