Rob McLoughlin is the COO/cofounder of The Narrative Playbook, a narrative design lab. He has spent the last 20+ years working remotely to uncover insights and trends in consumer behavior for leading digital publishers. He has authored hundreds of thought leadership studies, helping companies such as PopSugar, AOL, and DoubleClick use pioneering research to shape their products, content, commerce, and corporate strategies.
I’m not sure about you, but when I set out to work on my own more than 20 years ago, working remotely felt simultaneously empowering and terrifying.
After years of success at the height of the dot-com boom, I was more than ready to lead companies to discover the emerging world of data and consumer insights. But I knew I needed some direction if I was going to attract the caliber of clients and achieve the degree of success I wanted.
Today, I have realized my dream of success by asking myself a few key questions and developing a clear and concise personal narrative that has driven me forward all these years.
As cofounder and COO of The Narrative Playbook, I’m sharing my insights on success with company leaders, remote workers, and solo and digital entrepreneurs across the country as part of my ongoing effort to transform my original solo entrepreneurship venture into an enterprise for helping others find their own versions of success.
What Is a Personal Narrative?
You may be wondering exactly what a narrative is and how it could possibly change an entire life and career. Don’t worry, I get those questions all the time.
A narrative is a framework—the glue that connects your personal stories and gives them context and meaning. A narrative builds clarity and context, interweaving your past, your present, and your goals and dreams for the future into a cohesive structure. Within this structure, you outline your beliefs, determine your values, assess your challenges, and chart your course to overcome the resistance that blocks you from pending success. A narrative helps you sharpen your perspective, amplify your strengths, and fortify the confidence you need to define your ambition and share your stories.
Crafting my personal narrative helped me to recognize my resistance, uncover the reasons why I wasn’t getting the opportunities I desired, determine my core strengths, develop stronger storytelling skills, and take actions that were more aligned with who I wanted to become.
What I’ve found in working with others is that this approach can serve as a guiding compass for people making decisions, building skills, embracing self-assurance, and mastering success.
How Can a Narrative Help You as a Remote Worker?
When I began to work remotely, I knew that my work often required deep thinking and thoughtful analysis, both of which I found difficult to accomplish in a traditional office setting. Working on my own, I was able to stay focused, be more effective, and make a larger overall impact. The key was, I had to stand out as an efficient, productive, and critical team member in the organizations I worked with in order for them to overcome any skepticism about my ability to avoid distraction while working outside the office.
Because I often had to present my research via teleconference or video call, I focused on sharpening my communication, presentation, and leadership skills. All these efforts paid off because I remained focused on my success.
If you are interested in building your strengths as a remote worker, consider your ideal work environment and situation.
Does your work require deep thought? Do you need to connect with clients and customers? Are you a team leader or an individual contributor? The answers to these questions will help you find your own sense of balance.
Next, consider the skills that you want to obtain or improve. Do you want to stand out as a great speaker or fit in as an expert project manager? Think about the requirements of your role and what skills will help you make the most progress in your career ambitions.
When I work with individuals who are developing their personal narratives, understanding their ideal role, recognizing their preferred work environment, and defining the skills they wish to strengthen helps them to develop a unique framework that defines their path forward.
How Can You Design Your Own Narrative?
Have you ever heard the phrase “What you resist persists”? It means that resistance to change is what often keeps us stuck in the same patterns and pathways that keep us from achieving full-on success.
Many people I have worked with are challenged by fear, uncertainty, or self-doubt. Before any of them could shape their narrative around success, they had to acknowledge their resistance and create a strategy for overcoming it.
When I set out to design my narrative, I concentrated on the things I could control: my experiences, abilities, and core strengths. I relied on a series of thought-provoking questions to help me break beyond my boundaries and articulate my value. Each of these thought exercises allowed me to unpack the complex feelings and emotions that were holding me back.
If you feel ready to step forward and start to design your own narrative, I suggest you ask yourself these central questions and answer honestly. The rationale behind this thought exercise is to identify your resistance, explore the reasons you have it, and begin to unearth the particular characteristics you possess that will enable you to overcome it.
- Do you feel a sense of resistance?
- Can you define your resistance?
- How is your resistance holding you back?
- What makes you uniquely qualified to overcome your resistance?
- How do you define success?
- What would have to occur to overcome your resistance and achieve success?
What Is the Benefit of a Narrative?
Alignment is a vital element of anyone’s personal narrative. What you do must be in sync with your goals, values, and ambitions.
After my son was born, I was spending most of my time flying from San Diego to New York for work, doing my best to keep up with the pace I’d become accustomed to during the dot-com boom. Though these sacrifices were helping me achieve career success, I realized I had begun to drift from my narrative and was out of alignment with my new life priorities as a husband and father. Ultimately, I decided that despite the lure of promotions, bonuses, and my solid reputation as a leader in the organization, it was no longer a good fit for me. I left the company so I could be more present in my family life.
At The Narrative Playbook, I have connected with a number of individuals facing similar challenges with work-life balance. Others are struggling to transition into a new area of work. Each of them found the greatest success when they looked at the big picture and aligned their personal goals with their career goals to build a sense of harmony in their lives.
The notion of alignment is especially relevant to remote workers and newly hybrid workers, as defining what alignment means to you will help you be more comfortable, more productive, and more accomplished, regardless of where you work.
When I work with individuals to design their narratives, I advise them to define their personal values and identify specific words that frame their stories. These perspectives help align their overall narrative. By defining their “lenses” and “pillars,” as we call them at The Narrative Playbook, individuals sharpen their identity, add power to their purpose, and craft stories that support their beliefs and goals.
As a remote-first employee for nearly two decades, I have relied on my narrative to help me design my future, decide when it’s best to stand out or fit in, and gain alignment in my life. I have seen in my own life and in those of others I’ve worked with that if you take the time to design and develop your personal narrative, you are investing in your future, augmenting your strengths, and charting a course for your success.