Every time I’ve prepared for a job interview I’ve practiced my story – a short summary of my life that frames all of my past choices as essential to a well thought out, long range plan and all of the unexpected events I’ve encountered as formative life experiences. That sounds like I’m making my story up. I’m not – really. I do think all of my past choices, at the time I made them, were essential to a larger plan, and I learned a lot from having to cope with life’s side swipes. During interviews I’m telling the truth, but it’s an abbreviated one to two minute version – personal but not too personal.
No one is really interested in the version that involves why you, this unemployed person (among the many), are reading books from the used bookstore on Saturday nights in front of the stove to keep warm in your fog chilled San Francisco apartment. No one wants to know that you worry about money all the time, and so reading used books has become your greatest entertainment. No one wants to know exactly how long you’ve been unemployed. That is until you’re a great success. Then everyone wants to know everything.
If you become a Supreme Court Justice, like Sonia Sotomayor, by pulling yourself up from a traumatic home life, then you can write a book and talk about growing up with an alcoholic father. Or if you become the COO of a major tech company, like Sheryl Sandberg, who suffered morning sickness for the duration of her entire first pregnancy, then you can write a book and talk about staring at the bottom of a toilet.
Until you become a major success, discussing the more intimate details of life – though we all experience them – will earn us the reputation of being unprofessional. Grit is most admired in retrospect.