Melissa Wells Q&A
Melissa Wells, who is, I believe, another one of my discoveries through Twitter, is one of those rare breeds kind of like me who combines fascinations with career development/management with storytelling. In addition, she’s a nature videographer who has adventures in Africa and other places. I’m delighted to bring you this Q&A with her.
Bio: Melissa Wells is a career consultant who works with individual and corporate clients at the cutting edge of their fields whether business, science, or the arts. Blending inspired travel with experience as a consultant, she guides clients through the process of precisely defining and creating success, defined their way. A world-traveler and videographer, her video work is currently featured at Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, DC, as part of the “Farmers, Warriors, Builders” exhibit. Prior to career coaching, Melissa was a director at Huron Consulting Group and also consulted with PricewaterhouseCoopers and Accenture, in the US and overseas. Melissa hold a B.A. from Smith College in psychology. She can be found at email@example.com or through her take on career through an explorer’s lens, Amazon Coaching.
Q&A with Melissa Wells:
Q: When you say “Your Career, Your Story,”” as your tagline, or more specifically, “It’s your career, write your own story,” and “creating a narrative that makes you distinctive,” can you explain a little about what you mean by that and how that process works?
A: The heart of my work is helping people clearly articulate what they want and why. I chose “Your Career, Your Story” as a way to inspire and encourage clients to choose their work. In short, if you cannot articulate what you want, why, and how you are different from others in your field, then finding a satisfying job or anything else in life, becomes less likely.
Clients find I make the process fun by letting them express what brings them happiness and what experiences make their skin crawl, and building from there. When someone is enthusiastic, or shares their worst experiences, I get a vivid picture of who they are and the role of work in their life. Once I’ve established trust, I’m able to guide them to craft a narrative they can use to persuade, influence or soothe.
Q: How did you initially become involved with story/storytelling/narrative? What attracted you to this field? What do you love about it?
A: Life is about stories, whether you choose to express your stories through the arts, the sciences, or helping people. Whatever it is, your talent in turning your experiences into a narrative is what is important to me. That includes your whole life, in an important way. As a career coach, I guide talented people to create lives that represent their best stories. Life itself is can be a splendid story, if done with flair.
As for my own story, another part of my life is that I work in rainforests and deserts, documenting new species and behavior of animals around the world. I am just back from Botswana where an elephant charged me from only a few yards away-now that, at least for my life, is a wonderful story. I ask people, “What experiences make you proud or do you love to remember?” The key to creating a self-determined work-life lies in the stories of our past and the experiences we hope for. I extrude those stories from clients. The magic is in the real-world planning and execution. I was a management consultant for more than 12 years. Clients love to be escorted over that threshold from idea to reality. That’s what I love, clients realizing the most powerful stories of their careers.
Q: What people or entities have been most influential to you in your story work and why?
A: As a career coach, my purpose with story work is to teach people how to imagine, communicate and allow a different story about themselves into their lives. I’m most influenced by those who are not only good storytellers, but also passionate about another subject in life. One without the other is useless. Too often a speaker has something brilliant to say, but cannot express it (lack of storytelling skills). Or someone is an engaging storyteller, but doesn’t know enough about the subject matter to create a lasting impact or establish credibility.
I’m influenced by variety. The scientist Gary Strobel tells stories about his discoveries, such as a microbe whose byproduct is the equivalent to diesel fuel. Al Gore took on a mammoth story-telling project to communicate his knowledge and passion. JetBlue and VirginAmerica created new stories about domestic air travel (for a frequent flier like me, this is no small feat, where US air travel is often less pleasant than the Madison Avenue bus at 6 o’clock). Conferences such as the EG and Adventures of the Mind feed me. I believe some of the most powerful storytellers are talented psychotherapists who get mentally ill clients to disengage from beliefs (stories) that cause debilitating pain. The truth is that my partner and husband, Mark Moffett, is my favorite storyteller. He uses the stories of his experiences in the wild to get people to fall in love with the little known in nature.
Q: What future aspirations do you personally have for your own story work? What would you like to do in the story world that you haven’t yet done?
A: Currently I am organizing groups of creative people in business and other fields to meet at remotes spots way out in the bush where no one else is going, to help them break from entrenched habits and to create space for imagination and new ideas. I define “creative people” broadly; entrepreneurs, scientists, CEOs, artists, writers, actors are all creatives to me. Maybe an encounter with a tiger or lemurs can work its way into their life narrative! And not to worry — stories need not feature pain; we eat and travel well.
Q: If you could share just one piece of advice or wisdom about story/storytelling/narrative with readers, what would it be?
A: A gripping story has changes and growth. You must realize this, and not be afraid to change, even when others see you as a success. Stagnation is not good, not for your mind and not for your story.
Q: On your blog, you say you draw inspiration from “explor[ing] remote areas to find unexpected stories about cool creatures.” In what ways do these unexpected stories inspire you, and how do you pass on that inspiration to your clients?
A: I spend a considerable amount of time in nature looking at things that most people never have the chance to observe or simply ignore. There are illuminating parallels between human behaviors and the actions of glaciers, leafcutter ants, howler monkeys, elephants. I am inspired when I stop and experience these creatures and environments, which can be powerful inspirations for people-totems, if you like. My job in the field, too, is to capture stories. I have video camera in hand and work with scientists to understand the unique behaviors of creatures. Then I craft a story on film.
Ultimately the stories that inspire me are unexpected. Did you know that a glacier is not, in fact, slow, but noisy and constantly in flux? How similar is that to the human experience of identity shift? Often I find humor in creatures. All of it serves to entertain, inspire and make clients know they are not alone.
The most important aspect of my transition from consultant to career coach and videographer is credibility. I spent over 12 years as a management consultant. I experienced much of what my clients go through each day — long hours, lots of airports, managing difficult projects, politically complex situations, struggling for balance. Because I changed my life so dramatically, my clients look at me and gain confidence and hope. They see that the leap they want to make is less dramatic and that I have the experience to guide them in creating something new in their life, to pursue their own definition of success.