Self-authoring is a writing exercise and psychological tool that helps you make sense of the past, gain a realistic perspective of your present situation, and plan for the future. It’s a way of adding narrative to your life – turning it into a coherent story. Have you ever really sat down and just written in detail about your life? If you haven’t, it’s something worth considering doing, especially if you’re intent on improving your career development.
Analysing the Present
The self-authoring suite includes the Present Authoring programme, in which you carry out “an in-depth analysis of your own personality, including its negative (Faults) and positive (Virtues) elements.”
You begin this programme with an introduction to the idea that your personality can be broken down into five parts (known as the Big Five personality traits): extraversion (how outgoing and sociable you are), openness (lack of restriction), conscientiousness (doing one’s work well and thoroughly), neuroticism (not responding well to stress), and agreeableness (being kind, warm, sympathetic, cooperative, and considerate).
You then select statements in each category that you feel apply to you the most. The statements about your personality will be either positive or negative, depending on whether you’re completing the Faults or Virtues part of the programme. For example, in the extraversion category, there are statements such as, ‘Do not dominate conversations’ and ‘Can listen well’, which are positive, whereas ‘Keep in the background’ and ‘Lose opportunities because I am too isolated’ may be areas that require improvement.
This programme can help you to see, in a palpable and balanced way, the virtues which are enhancing your career development and the weaknesses which are hindering you. After completing this programme, if you’re ever asked in a job interview, ‘What is your greatest weakness?’ not only could you answer this question honestly, but you would be able to state exactly what you’re doing to improve yourself so that it benefits your work.
Revisiting the Past
Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, who developed the self-authoring suite, notes that you may feel worse after writing about your past. This is because revisiting acutely painful events is, of course, a painful thing to do. However, Peterson stresses that while there may be some initial discomfort in these writing exercises; overall, it will leave you feeling relief and calm, as you learn and digest the lessons of the past.
The Past Authoring (autobiography) exercise includes questions which encourage the user to write about the effects that significant experiences had in their life. And this certainly has relevance in terms of one’s career path. If you think deeply about the effects that a particular job had on your life, you may realise what kind of work is (or isn’t) suited to you.
All three programmes inter-relate. As a case in point, if you score highly in terms of neuroticism, this may help to explain why, when you took on a highly stressful job, that it impacted your mental health so profoundly. Different personality types suit different careers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Self-authoring can instigate, catalyse and bolster self-awareness and, in turn, help you to alter your career path in a way that is in accordance with these self-realisations.
Planning for the Future
The Future Authoring programme may be the most important aspect of the self-authoring suite for someone who is interested in career development. In a job interview, when you’re asked, ‘So, where do you see yourself in five years?’ how seriously have you actually thought about this question? It’s a cliché interview question that a lot of people find annoying. I don’t know where I’ll be in five years, but I know I’ll still need money, so can I have this job, please?
Nevertheless, as the writer and lecturer Terence McKenna emphasised: “If you don’t have a plan, you become part of somebody else’s plan.” If you don’t know where you want to be in the future, various influences (e.g. teachers, parents, friends, the media, TV, social media, and society at large) will push you in certain directions, leading you on a career path that may not only be unfulfilling, but which may grind you down and chew away at your soul.
This programme asks you to imagine what your ideal future would look like. Where would you honestly like to be in five years? In this writing exercise, you also examine your habits, set main goals and sub-goals, prioritise your goals, and analyse these goals in terms of the motives behind them, their broad personal and social impact, strategies for achieving them, potential obstacles and solutions, and how to monitor progress along the way.
If you don’t describe, concretely, what your goals are, you won’t accidentally stumble upon the ideal career path. Without a clear plan, a satisfying life will always be absent – stuck as a potentiality. Untapped and wasted potential can eventually become a source of deep regret. This is why self-authoring should be part of anyone’s career development toolkit. Your life can change drastically, if you clarify the narrative of your story, and imbue it with meaning.