4 min read

Define Your Own Narrative

I share my career advice to others on why they should define their narrative and not let others write it for them.
Define Your Own Narrative

If you do not define your own narrative, you can never achieve why you are who you are, who you want to be, where you want to be.

One of the things that I dislike most is whenever anyone tries to stereotype, label or pigeonhole me into their own narrative of who they think I am. The one thing I learn from such situations is that you should never allow them to define your narrative and instead you should be the one deciding who you are, even if there are misconceptions out there.

Why do I not like that? First of all, this has nothing to do with arrogance and ego that made me feel this way. I have also learned that it’s not personal from the other person’s perspective. Everyone has his or her own aspirations. I have my own dreams and aspirations and I may not reach them by the end of my life. I do not want to be talk down nor be shouted at. Sometimes, people do that to put you down in your place. If I am working for someone, I understand that I have to toe the line till the day I leave the job but in no way, I should stop believing who I want to be or where I want to be. In daily interactions, I often do my best consciously not to judge anyone based on his or her initial set of skills or specialization or place them under this or that bucket during a job hire.

The second reason is about growth. We all have a choice to how we want to grow and who we want to be. Yes, everyone can start off with an initial job or responsibility based on their initial configuration for example, a university degree in engineering or accounting. However, they gradually learn and build upon their skills and then shift towards where their career trajectories lead them. It may be that they might be very good at something but sometimes, depending on your financial situation, you might decide that it is the right job for you but not the right career for your life.

What does one mean by defining your own narrative? It means that you define who you are, why you are here, what you believe and you want to do and where you want to go. You just have to write a set of narratives what you want others to know about you. It’s simple and you just need to create a new document and type it in, and then keep it for yourself as a reference on days when you feel like giving up or stop believing what you set out to do.

There will be people who will choose their narrative to write your story. They will judge you and they will write things that defy your narratives. We do not have a choice to how history or people will judge us, but what we can do to our best efforts, is to do what we love and be principled and honest even if the present moment might judge us unfairly for the short term but for a future moment that offer us a fair hearing in the long term.

Here are some samples of what people have told me in the past and how I have defied them and still continue to build my own story every day of my life:

“You are not in the top schools within Singapore that will guarantee you to go to Cambridge University and study theoretical physics. Besides, you are not even in the physics or mathematics olympiads or involved in science research programs instituted by the Singapore universities which means that you have no aptitude for the subject.”

“You should not do a podcast because you do not have the looks or the voice to get one going.”

“You cannot be a business leader given that you have been a technologist for most of your life. You are better off being a head of engineering.”

“You have not worked in <name your industry> and you are not suitable for this job.”

It turns out that in life, the only way to make it work is grit and perseverance. Sometimes, luck plays a part too. My surprise is that I have met people who I know that they are far more talented than I am in the area which I work in, and they ended up achieving far less. I have also suffered failures in the process, but I have learned that when it’s not working out, I should admit it honestly, fire myself and move on.

What are the steps that you have to do towards defining your narrative?

First, focus on your work and passion and not think about what others are doing that seek to compare you against them. I do not mean that you should ignore your competition. Yes, peer pressure and publicity are tempting and my first instinct is to suppress them continuously one day at a time. Believe me, I am doing that every day and doubt that it will not end until I succeed or give up.

Second, work for and work with people with the following features: one, people who give you autonomy and space to maximize your talent and potential; two, people who are open minded and have a knack for learning new ideas; three, people who are optimistic and achieves through successive quick wins towards a bigger goal. As long as it does not change who you are and who you want to me, you can be your own boss or work for someone who you share their ideals and beliefs. Sometime the best people to talk to are the people who are your biggest critics, and there must be a respect shared between you and the other person.

To summarize, you should learn to write your own narrative, otherwise, someone will write it for you. Here’s a saying which I hope that you can walk out with, “When writing your own story, do not let someone hold the pen.”