James Carville, the very successful political strategist, articulated what it takes to make a good candidate become a compelling one. It’s not just about skills, ability, or record of accomplishment. It’s about connecting with another person’s humanity. And that is accomplished by attaching someone to his or her “story.”
By story, I am referring more to life experiences than to accomplishments, although those may be embedded in the story.
Consider one of Carville’s clients, Bill Clinton.
A very short bio of Clinton could go like this.
William Jefferson Clinton was born in Arkansas, received his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. Upon completion of his program at Oxford, he returned to the U.S. and graduated from Yale Law School before returning to Arkansas to begin his career in politics. He served two terms as Governor of Arkansas before running and winning two terms as the 42nd President of the United States.
A very short “story” about Clinton could go like this.
Bill Clinton was born in a small town called Hope, Arkansas. His father, a traveling salesman, died in a car crash three months before Bill was born. To support her new child, Bill’s mother traveled to New Orleans to study nursing while Bill was left under the care of his grandparents. Bill’s mother later remarried a man name Roger Clinton, who adopted Bill. But Roger turned out to be a gambler and an alcoholic, and he was abusive towards both Bill’s mother and his half-brother. On more than one occasion, Bill stood up for his mother and brother and threatened his father with violence if he did not leave them alone. Despite his difficult childhood and upbringing, Bill excelled in school, and developed a deep desire to take a stand for people, especially those in need. This quality led to his career in public service. Even after he became President, Clinton was known to say, “I am just a kid from Hope, Arkansas.”
Think about it. Regardless of your personal opinion of Bill Clinton, the short “story” is far more interesting and compelling than the bio, although both are accurate accounts of how Clinton’s life led him to become President. And his personal story, gives some underlying understanding of what compels him to have accomplished what is on his resume.
Everyone has a story. Properly told, most are even quite compelling.
And I would venture to say most people don’t recognize their story as compelling. Because we have lived within our own story, it seems ordinary and maybe even mundane. But that is because we view our own stories from the inside out.
One of the most gratifying things I get to do in the course of my work is share with candidates the “Profile Summary” that I create that gets sent along with their resumes when presenting their background to clients. Essentially, this is my assessment on who the candidate is, how s/he has navigated school, relevant personal experiences and professional experiences. Not infrequently, after hearing me read my account of their story, I hear, “Wow, you really made me sound good!” My reply is always the same, “Did I get anything wrong?” And the answer invariably is, “Well no, you just really got me and said it in such an interesting way.” Candidates often ask me to send them a copy of my summary. I believe they want to inculcate it and I am gratified that I generally leave them feeling more in touch with themselves, interesting and competent.
People have compelling lives. All people!
Mr. Carville is right. We connect emotionally with “stories” which creates a more meaningful bond than an intellectual account of someone’s work experience.
It’s an asset to explore and uncover your personal narrative.