As a third-year student, I am plagued by anxieties about internships, entry-level jobs and post-graduate study. As a result, I am constantly dogged by intrusive thoughts. They tumble through my head, muttering questions I fear, yet have no answers to… Do I have enough experience? Do I have what it takes to survive in the corporate world? Will I hate my job for the rest of my life?
These doubts ate away at me as I prepared to conduct a narrative interview with Jasmyn Connell.
For this narrative interview, I was to be an outsider witness, as defined by Carey and Russell (2003), to Jasmyn’s career story. An outsider witness is an additional party who listens for and gives agency to the preferred values and identity claims of an individual (Carey & Russell 2003). These value and identity claims frequently reside in the subjugated meanings or, as Michael White (2006) terms it, the absent, but implicit messages in the problem stories of an individual.
I knew that to simply hear Jasmyn speak would be too passive and too inadequate to fulfil the demands of a narrative interview. Instead, I readied myself to engage with the visible and invisible layers of her story, and adapt the conversation around the subjugated meanings we surfaced together.
However, what eventuated was something that ran much deeper for me. I did not expect her narrative to resonate so powerfully with my concerns.
Jasmyn Connell is the president of the UOW Digital Media Society. She juggles this role with a massive lineup of responsibilities: a part-time social media management job, running her own graphic design business, and study at university.
As expected, through the interview we explored her tumultuous career journey. She showed me along the twisting path that she travelled to get to her current point, signposting each challenge of skill and personal mettle.
I found the most memorable stories of work shared by Jasmyn to be the ones where she demonstrated vulnerability and perseverance in the same stride. I was taken aback when she told me that, upon receiving harsh feedback on an impossible task, she burst into tears in the middle of the office. I was surprised because this was something that I too would have done, and hearing this helped me to feel seen.
As someone who often finds shame in my sensitivity, I was pleasantly shocked by how this moment in Jasmyn’s story ended. One of the editors who made the comments came to her and helped her understand what she describes to me as “one of the most important lessons” that she learnt on the job…
“You are not your work.”
Until this point in Jasmyn’s career, she had been hinging her value as a person on the quality of her work. She thought of criticism on her work as comments on her self-worth. Upon hearing this realisation, I recognised that I think of my work and personal value as intrinsically linked in the same way that Jasmyn once did.
With one small story, my eyes were suddenly wide open to one of the driving forces behind my anxieties.
In the remainder of the interview, we delved deeply into the values that underpinned various events in Jasmyn’s career. She showed me how she learnt that having the confidence to sometimes say no is more important than saying yes to everything. She revealed to me the times when she threw her caution and perfectionism to the wind and just worked unapologetically with what she had.
‘As an outsider witness to Jasmyn’s story, I noted how she developed this quiet assertion and advocacy for herself in challenging and unfamiliar situations. I also noticed how, over time, she began to develop her tenacity by having trust in herself and by pushing through the obstacles she faced. When I asked her about a value that might underlie this truth she identified the idea of “resilience.”’— an excerpt from my presentation
I wish I had her resilience
As I reflect on Jasmyn’s interview, I realise that she transformed from someone very similar to myself to someone whom I have always wished I could be, but thought was impossible to achieve. That someone is confident enough to back themselves and isn’t weighed down by criticism.
By exploring the nuances of Jasmyn’s career story as an outsider witness, I have become equipped with the reflective tools to re-author my own narrative. No longer will I validate the thoughts of inadequacy and panic that cling to me like a parasite. I will try to meet challenges with courage, and embrace each low moment as an exciting opportunity to learn.
Carey, M and Russell, S 2003 ‘Outsider-witness practices: some answers to commonly asked questions’, The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, no. 1, <https://narrativepractices.com.au/attach/pdf/Outsider_Witness_Common_Questions.pdf>
Workshop notes, 2006, Small group intensive with Michael White, Adelaide, viewed 31 August, <https://dulwichcentre.com.au/michael-white-archive/writings-by-michael-white/>
All images are sourced from the Canva library. The license does not require credit.