By Meg Myers Morgan
In this series, Dr. Meg Myers Morgan, best-selling author and professor at University of Oklahoma, shares three rules every woman should remember as she lives her life story. Meg shares these excerpts from her upcoming book, Counter Offer: Negotiating the Life You Want, “a work and life guide for women.”
The final rule: Don’t Recycle Plot Lines
My husband and I stream a lot of Netflix. And Hulu, and Amazon Prime. We’ve instituted two minutes of uninterrupted eye contact between episodes, so it’s fine. Sometimes, a few minutes into a new show, we’ll turn to each other and say, “Have we seen this? This seems familiar.” Now, whether or not we have actually seen it before, the seeming familiarity has already weakened our interest.
Our own plot lines should be compelling. Unique. And keep us on the edge of our seats as we progress in the story. If it feels familiar, you’re gonna be bored. And yet we often get caught up in the common plot points we’ve heard about. I’m not talking about big major life milestones, like school, marriage, kids, and the like. I’m talking about the small points of plot we think are necessary for our character to experience.
For the first two years recruiting for our graduate program I got the exact same question from every prospective student: “What can I do with this degree?” For two years I showed them statistics on what other students had gone on to do. I showed them income reporting from alumni across the region. I showed them the most common jobs that look for someone with this degree. But after two years, I had a young woman in my office who asked that same question and I snapped (I apologized, we’re good) and said: “What can’t you do with this degree?” I was just so tired of recycling plot lines to students.
Look, I get that people don’t want to take unnecessary risks. But there’s also a point at which we have to stop thinking that if we follow the same path as someone else, it will lead to the same outcome. Or that we can only get to point B if we go through point A. I’m guessing going through C is way more fun anyway. Very few things in life have a replication model of success. There is no direct path to anything.
But I see my students, especially my female students, get caught up in the tiniest points of plot when they don’t follow the prescribed order. I recently had a student in my office upset that she wasn’t going to be able to fulfill the requirements in our program for a “concentration,” which is three courses in a specialized area. She bemoaned the fact that she hadn’t realized there was a concentration option until she had already taken all of her electives. She was very worried this would impact her success on the job market.
So I explained to her that there won’t be a hiring manager who has her resume sitting next to someone else’s identical resume, and one more line on that other resume will be the deciding factor. I reminded her that she is more than just tiny plot points that other people have already experienced (concentrations, degrees, trainings). She’s a character, and a narrator. And she can easily get into an interview and tell her own story of why she’s the best candidate. Very rarely, if ever, does a transcript or a resume do that.
Don’t get swept up in recycled plot points. They are simply experiences other people have used in their story. And if you insist they have to be in your story, you’re going to get that sinking feeling of familiarity that causes people to stop streaming.
The story of your life can be as dramatic, or mysterious, or romantic, or adventurous, or as funny as you choose to make it. You own your story. You pick the plot points; you choose the cast of characters. And while you are in the middle of composing your story, remember how little it matters how anyone else perceives it. Don’t worry about what others think of your choices or your life. You can only write your story; you can’t tell others how to read it. So, the only thing standing between you and a great story is simply your own ability to narrate it.
So tell it well.
Dr. Meg Myers Morgan is an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma and is the author of Harebrained: It seemed like a good idea at the time. Her upcoming book Counter Offer: How to Negotiate for the Life You Want—a work and life guide for women—comes out 2018 from Seal Press. Meg may be contacted at megmyersmorgan.com.