What Marie Kondo can teach you about your career.

Marie Kondo convinced the world that tidying your physical environment could bring peace, clarity and presence. By the simple act of asking ‘does it bring joy?’ she became one of the queens of Netflix, and transformed the houses and perhaps minds of millions of people. I believe her tidying philosophies extend beyond the messy sock drawer and can be applied to another potentially messy domain – How you make sense of and tell your career story.

Careers today can be a messy business. With the average worker now experiencing 7-15 different employers in over 5 separate industries, it’s hard to imagine that people used to join companies and stay there for life. Linear career paths, where you move from one promotion to the next logical position, are now the stories of a small minority. What you are more likely to see is skills across a range of areas, passions in another and networks all over the place. Alongside your professional experiences you are also likely to have an even bigger collection of skills from the roles you’ve taken on as a daughter, son, mother, father, carer, volunteer and community member.

We’re lucky today that we have the chance to make our lives rich with different experiences. This tapestry of choice can, however, make it a little difficult when it comes to the challenge of sharing your career story with others (and sometimes believing it yourself). It might be how you tailor your bio on LinkedIn, what you tell that random person at the party or how you answer questions about yourself in a job interview, but all of these contexts require a clarity in story that is often hard to find. Similar to Marie’s philosophy on the physical environment, clarity in your own career story can help you the confidence and peace of mind to share who you are, and to believe the words coming out of your mouth.

So, let’s imagine you’re looking at a cluttered wardrobe full of lots of different things all packed in together. This is often what it feels like when we try to think about our lives and careers as a whole. While family life, big achievements, and perhaps the war scars of some tougher years of life will be sticking out of the mess, it’s likely that a coherent and easy to recognise theme of how things fit together will be difficult to find. So now we’re going to hand it over to the pro and ask Marie Kondo what she would do to streamline your career story?

What would Marie Kondo do?

  1. Commit to tidying your career story

Her first rule is to commit to tidying. It is a process that requires some time and TLC. Put aside a block over the weekend where you can have the luxury of time to yourself, or consider booking some time with a coach or a friend who also wants to tidy up their career story. Time together, listening and challenging, can be really helpful.

  1. Bring together your success experiences

For the true fans out there, I have taken some creative licence on this second step. Marie’s original second step is to spend time imagining your ideal lifestyle, but we’re instead going to focus on the things you have already done that you are really proud of. What this step looks like will depend on your working style. You could be a spreadsheet warrior or a mood board visionary – the documentation method is up to you. What is important is that you take the time – perhaps 30 minutes to one hour – to write down or collect pictures of the things that you are proud of that you have achieved and of the things that spark joy in you.

Start with the big stuff. Family life. Big jobs. Degrees. Moving cities. Then once you’ve finished exploring the big-ticket items, start to dig deeper. What other smaller tasks or roles have you played that you’ve been proud of? This might be supporting a loved one through a hard time, volunteering in a summer job or navigating a challenging work assignment. Once you feel like you’ve finished detailing things at this level, now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty day-to-day stuff. What tasks bring you joy at work? What topics bring you energy? What day-to-day things are really important to you?

Once you’ve done this, I hope that sitting in front of you is a big collection of experiences, tasks and roles you’ve played over the years, that have all made you proud, brought joy (although some probably required a lot of effort) and that you feel reflect your career and life to date.

  1. Finish discarding first

Now we’ve actually outsmarted Marie a little by doing the above exercise, as you will have already discarded a range of experiences that didn’t come to mind. If you now look at your success experiences list or vision board and feel like some of the things you mentioned don’t actually spark joy or pride, then you can just take them off the list. This is after all your career story and how you tell it is your choice.

  1. Tidy by category and follow the right order

Marie believes that one of the most common mistakes people make is to tidy room by room as they tend to just shuffle their mess around instead of culling and clarifying. This can be similar with how we tell our career story. It’s easy to just shuffle the jobs and experiences around a little, all the while providing little clarity around what really matters and what is consistent throughout the breadth of experiences you’ve had.

So to help, we are going to spring clean your career story through two categories. The first by your values and the second is by your skills.

The values spring clean

The first category through which to streamline and simplify the collections of success experiences you brought together in step 2, is through the perspective of your values. Your values are the attitudes and beliefs that are important to you in how you work and live. These are also the indicators that you are likely to judge a life well lived by and will shape the career that you choose to pursue and how you tell your story.

Examples of values that can often shape peoples’ working lives include, the importance of community, excellence, justice, service, practicality, creativity and equality, to name just a few examples. Your first spring clean is to look at the diversity of experiences you have bought together and to name the values that those experiences reflect. Look at each of the events, roles or tasks you’ve noted and reflect on what value that significant experience represented for you.

Once you’ve gone through and made a list of the values that were reflected in those success experiences, note down the four or five that really stick out or kept appearing.

The final step is to streamline this list into one sentence that share your values succinctly. This is your values spring clean sentence and it will form the first half of your career story.

Why is creating this list helpful? Because with this list in hand and it’s connection to all of your previous experiences, you now have a method for threading together your outlook on the world and what drives you to do the work that you do. This is powerful in almost any context and can help to clarify seemingly disparate parts of your life fit together.

The skills spring clean

The second category for the spring clean is to take a similar approach to above, but to think about your success experiences in terms of the skills you demonstrated. Go back through each of the experiences and begin noting down the key skills that you needed in order to complete that task. For example, if you’ve been a parent it’s likely that you’ve developed strong organisational skills, stress management skills and interpersonal skills. As you look through all of the different activities you listed you will be likely to find a huge range of skills, from technical industry-specific skills such as coding or using specific programs, through to broader soft skills like managing teams, demonstrating resilience and communication skills.

Forming this list and noticing which skills keep appearing is a powerful way to understand not just your career story, but to appreciate the unique collection of skills you’ve crafted over your career and how much you have to offer an employer. It’s the value you add to others. Once you’ve collected a full list of the skills note down four or five skills or clusters of skills that kept appearing. Now the final challenge is to streamline this collection of core skills and into one sentence that you can share. The sentence is the second half of your career story.

Sharing your career story spring clean

Thanks to Marie Kondo you have now gone on a journey to create your own clarified career story by streamlining all of your experiences into two sentences that capture your core values and skills. The final step is to join your values sentence to your skills sentence, and you will have a succinct way to share the themes and threads of your career.

Your values sentence forms the why to your career story, including what makes you tick and what you care about.

Your skills sentence shares how you go about working and what your unique value proposition is.

Sharing your story can be challenging, but this strategy is a simple way to conceive of the diversity of experiences you’ve had into a coherent whole and to streamline how you share your story with others. While I am not sure about my old jeans bringing joy, I am sure that this activity can provide a level of clarity and simplicity to how you view and share your career story.