George Dutch Q&A
It took me a long time to realize that I was not the only “story guru” in the professional organization of which I serve on the executive board, the Career Management Alliance. Story also figures prominently in the practice of Alliance member George Dutch. Unlike the way previous Q&A subjects Rob Sullivan and Judy Rosemarin deploy storytelling in the job search, though, George analyzes written stories from his clients then writes reports that help them fashion a new work identity that they then use to make radical or significant career transitions.
Bio: George is the founder and president of JobJoy, a career transition company. As a certified career professional with almost 20 years experience working one-on-one with 3000+ clients, he specializes in Personal Story Analysis and Creative Positioning to help his clients find their right work. His blog, vlog, and podcasts all focus on storytelling the details of successful transitions. He is the author of a series of books, including JobJoy: Finding Your Right Work Through the Power of Your Personal Story, now available as an eBook for $15.
Q&A with George Dutch:
Q: You write in your book Find Your Right Work, “Writing your life story helps you understand your own life in terms of the forces that have defined and changed you over the years. The facts, people and events of your life have formed a seamless web of meaning that help you to answer the questions, “Who am I?” and “What am I trying to accomplish with my life?” How did you come to realize that having clients and readers write their life stories could accomplish these and more insights?
A: The world of work is a hard taskmaster. At some point in a life story, reality breaks everyone. Even though we live in one of the most affluent places in the world in one of the most affluent times in history, the No. 1 workplace disability in North America is depression (according to the World Health Organization). I think narrative counseling is inextricably tied to this sad phenomenon. When we construct a story for ourselves, we construct a thread that we follow daily. If individuals lose the thread of their story and how it relates to the bigger Story that shapes our worldview, our deepest values, our culture … then we put our lives in danger at many levels.
For example, our personal sense of identity might disintegrate and leave us with empty, haunting questions: Who am I? Where am I? Why am I? What’s the point? Even worse, to believe we have no story is to acknowledge that our existence is meaningless. This is an unbearable idea. When stories take such a drastically dark turn, we may find ourselves terrifyingly alone, spiritually blind, psychologically or physically broken. But it’s not just us as individuals who suffer; the rest of society is deprived of our contribution.
Fortunately, our personal stories have the power to help us heal from the inevitable trials and tragedies of life. It certainly helped me, and that’s when I came to realize how journaling, autobiography, morning pages, and other writing exercises could provide deep insights to the unconscious patterns of strength and weaknesses that operate below the radar screen of life. Certain activities and events in our lives — during childhood, teen years, and in each decade of adulthood — are particularly enjoyable and consistently satisfying. These are things we choose to do because we discover them as satisfying; or, we choose to do them in our discretionary time because they energize rather than drain us. So, I give my clients a simple format around which to organize those stories so that they can be easily analyzed for their key success factors. Like mining for gold, the format helps to separate the ore from the gold to get to the relevant material in an efficient and effective manner.
Q: How did you initially become involved with story/storytelling/narrative? What attracted you to this field? What do you love about it?
A: Like most children, I was steeped in stories, and found them fascinating. By the time I was 8 years old, I was writing and presenting my own stories in school. In a world made of atoms and stories, I decided early in life to study stories. I traveled, and exposed myself to other cultures, worldviews, lifestyles, as I studied English literature and communications at university. I am consciously focused on Story, its profound beauty, and its usefulness for doing life. Story is life. We are immersed in plot, character, and theme on a daily basis as we watch tv, DVDs, movies, read the news or blogs, listen to radio or podcasts, join a book club, or gossip at the water cooler. Story is what we do in order to deal with the haphazardness and randomness of existence. That is what fascinates me about story. If life is a mystery, story helps to find patterns, plots, and meanings. If life is a puzzle, story is the solution to understanding so much about life that is not atoms.
Q: The storytelling movement seems to be growing explosively. Why now? What is it about this moment in human history and culture that makes storytelling so resonant with so many people right now?
A: In the beginning was an empty void. Then came story. Storytelling was central to society long before cultures learned to write. The history of civilization is the history of story. The world has become increasingly complex and conflicted in this postmodern age (even the word postmodern is part of a huge story). We are unable to live easily, happily, joyfully in a world we cannot understand. We cannot bear to think there is no meaningful structure to the way we develop. Story provides that structure of meaning. The stories we choose to tell, to live by, get us into trouble, and they can get us out of trouble. It is important not only to tell stories but also to think deeply about the stories that drive our behavior as individuals and as societies. The best stories will save us from the consequences of our worst behaviors.
Q: What’s your favorite story about a transformation that came about through a story or storytelling act?
A: We are all inspired by stories of people who overcome tremendous odds to succeed in accomplishing a goal—the archetype of the hero’s quest. But I have a bias for quests in which I am engaged on behalf of my clients. I feature Success Stories on my JobJoy website. These are stories of ordinary individuals who realized significant career transitions through my process. These are my favorite stories because each one honors the uniqueness of a person that plucked up the courage to leverage their authentic self into the world of work. Each of them wanted both vitality and security in their lives, and each one was able to attain it. Each time that miracle happens, it makes the world a better place.
Q:You provide readers of your book with the downloadable exercise, Enjoyable Achievements and Autobiographical Events and offer a resulting “personalized, customized written JobJoy Report.” You also talk in the book about your passion and skill for “analyz[ing] complex subjects, then boil[ing] them down to a theme.” How did you develop this process and determine that the components that go into the exercises would enable you to “identify the specific details that are the essence of an Individual’s Passion Pattern?”
A: Each life has integrity; that is, each life has a holistic pattern of meaning to it, one that is consistent with plot, character, and theme if you will. There are many literary, psychological and spiritual tools that can be used in a scientific way to delve into the meaning of stories through an understanding of thoughts, feelings, moods, dreams, hopes, faith, love, memories, and so on. I learned about some of the tools that are used in literary criticism, in the writing of biographies, in the narration of case studies. Our stories can be mapped. We can identify and define landmarks in the terrain of meaning. These landmarks have been fashioned by career practitioners over the past 50 years into a lexicon of key success factors relevant to work, such as talents and strengths, preferred subject matter, motivating situations, natural relating styles, and others. I studied these practitioners and undertook many career assessments to develop a methodology that made sense to me, as I tried to distinguish between similar concepts, such as aptitudes, skills, talents, strengths, traits, values, and so on.
Like plot and character in a story, these factors serve a central theme or Individual Passion Pattern — the key route to a destination of right work or jobfit. I bring my talents and passion for story analysis to this process. This is not a generic report that puts individuals into categories and boxes. Human beings are more complex than simple labels that cannot capture the complexities, nuances, and subtleties of a life. I love the uniqueness of each individual, and I have a passion for leveraging their motivational pattern into the world of work. Their unique pattern can be identified and defined in simple but profound terms, then matched to specific jobs in specific work settings that will recognize and reward an individual for what they do naturally and effortlessly. After all, there are over 60,000 job titles operating in our world of work, with new ones being created daily. We are so fortunate to live in a part of the world that offers so much opportunity. My clients use their customized reports to navigate through career decisions. Like a map, my report gives clients a clear route to a new destination of employment, or self-employment, or business building; and, it provides them with a vocabulary to communicate with clarity and confidence to others along the way. Career decisions are made easier. The journey becomes the adventure it is meant to be!