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The False Linear Story That Hurts Us

Source | LinkedIn : By Prakash Venkataraman

Have you ever noticed that when you ask people how they came to do what they do for a living, you always get an answer that seems so polished, so purposeful, and so linear? Doesn’t the same hold true when you read or watch biographies of presidents, corporate titans, or famous philanthropists? It is as if we have created mythological superheroes out of these stories. At best you may hear about a failure, or rather a “fail-forward,” but you never hear about the inner demons and insecurities those individuals struggled with, and in many cases still do.

When I am asked about my role at LinkedIn, I too find myself speaking to my journey as a series of wonderfully planned occurrences. I started in the analyst program at an investment bank in New York, then joined a nonprofit to bring my new technical skills to an application I believed to be good for the world. With the addition of skills gained from leading nonprofit programs, I set off to learn how to run a business. To do so, I went to business school and learned what it may take to run a P&L and then I found myself in brand management in order to own a P&L. The checklist goes on, but by the end of my story, one would think that I had mapped it out beautifully from finance to brand management to executive development here at LinkedIn, not to mention a core focus on mindfulness.

To say the least, such an assumption is preposterous.

Why do we create such linear stories when asked about our past? Personally, I do so because I believe a linear story exudes an image of focus, intelligence, and purpose.

But that is not real. The truth is, I don’t have a linear story. I don’t believe anyone has a single linear story. In fact, what makes each of us unique and strong are the twists and turns behind our tale. When reality is littered with insecurities and self doubts, we do a disservice to others by speaking to a calm and always inviting personal journey.

More specifically, I believe one thing to be increasingly missing in our understanding of those around us. Whether it be an entry level college grad or the CEO of a large company, we often overlook the fact that we all share in the same human experience. We all have hopes, dreams, and a desire to contribute to society. We all aim to provide for our families, care for our friends, and look out for our loved ones. Yet the future remains unpredictable and linear stories mythical as we work through insecurities and self doubts.

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