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Passing it On: Sharing Your Career Insights in a Professional Memoir

American poet and memoirist Mary Karr, considered to be the godmother of modern memoir, has said that anyone who has ever lived can write a memoir. By extension, anyone who has ever worked can write a professional memoir. Perhaps it’s been decades since you began building your career. Perhaps it’s only been a few years. In any case, you’re sure to have a few interesting stories to tell in the form of a professional memoir.

passing it on

Sharing insights from your career

If you’re a business owner, you’ve already got an audience ready to consume your content, or at least a good foundation on which you can build an audience. A good example of this is Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, founder of Nike. The likes of Bill Gates lists Knight’s memoir among their favorite business books, thanks to the valuable startup lessons Knight offers along with the story of his journey from selling shoes out of the trunk of his car to building a globally recognized brand. Another business memoir that shows up on must-read-and-reread lists is Growing a Business by Paul Hawken. Hawken lays out the details of building the Smith & Hawken Tool Company from the ground up, discussing such topics as payroll, loans, and capital.

Providing a unique perspective

“Professional confessionals” have risen in popularity in recent years, particularly among young adults who are still contemplating careers. Having done research on occupational regret, work psychology lecturer Alexandra Budjanovcanin attributes work memoirs’ appeal to the unique perspective of day-to-day reality that they provide. Such insights have gone so far as to put off youth from a career, as in the case of Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt, which bares the ugly aspects of his former profession as a junior doctor. When Kay received angry emails from parents of disenchanted medical school students, he was unapologetic as his aim was to educate people about the discouraging hours, conditions, and salary of the field. Aside from irate messages, Kay also received messages of gratitude from doctors who felt less alone in their struggles.

Writing your professional memoir

A good memoir should have gone through several drafts where you’ve explored your theme, experimented with your tone, and so on, so don’t be too preoccupied by perfection when you start out. You can begin by writing down the milestones of your career.

Once you have a series of milestones, fill in the details by describing people, places, and events and recreating dialogue. To make your memoir engaging, make sure it has a few complications, or problems or challenges that you or others need to resolve. Explore how a complication came about, and why you and other characters reacted in certain ways. Show how you attempted to make sense of things, responded to the change, and moved forward.

Your memoir has an implied thesis, the main point of the story that you can allow readers to figure out for themselves, so end it by directly or indirectly describing what you learned from your experiences and what readers can take away from your story.

Here are a few more tips to enrich your memoir:

  • Make the most of your empirical sources.
  • Conduct interviews with the characters in your memoir to draw out details you may have missed in your reminiscence. Revisit places where your events happened, writing down observations and memories as they come.

  • Storyboard your events.
  • Sort out details better by drawing the scenes of each event. You can make do with crude illustrations since they’re only for your benefit.

  • Do online research.
  • You may be an expert in your field, but it can’t hurt to add another dimension to your expertise by exploring aspects of your story like the psychology or history of things.

There’s nothing more rewarding than articulating your life experiences in a way that could change the lives of others.

Determine how you want to use your career to shape a reader’s future and use that as a guide throughout your writing project.


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