reflecting on the future of my work

I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about narrative listening techniques over the past few months. In my previous experiences with career-driven discussion, there seems to be an overwhelming focus on skills, qualifications and assertiveness. Although this is great for many ambitious, go-getter types, it can be discouraging for many less-so individuals. Be it a feeling of anxiety, uncertainty, a lack of direction or passion, self-doubt, or frustrated feelings, we all feel like we have shortcomings in the workforce. Not to mention difficulties with social identity that discourage us from being assertive, confident workers. Narrative therapy techniques take these various feelings, experiences and emotions to focus on professional values and assets, making a meaningful analysis of perceived shortcomings and significant stories. It helped me to find out areas of myself I need to work on improving, but also highlighted many perhaps covert strengths in a workplace environment that I hadn’t yet acknowledged. It also allowed me to link my own qualities and skills as an employee to real, meaningful moments and experiences throughout my life. This puts into perspective just how much knowledge and invaluable experience I have gained over the years, putting to rest a fear of stagnation. Through various moments of disruption, challenges and learning I have began shaping my own professional values and gaining important insight into my career path when leaving university. Watching my peers’ narrative interviews with various individuals has shown the many different paths we can take in employment, and both the commonly shared and unique experiences these entail.

The most valuable take away for me has been interviewing my narrative subject about their professional experiences. This discussion made me consider the possibility of working freelance in the near future, something I hadn’t considered previously as it seemed too difficult to pull off successfully. I felt encouraged and inspired by the stories they shared with me about becoming a freelance worker after their internship. This also informed my creative essay topic, as I looked further into freelance work and flexible workplaces as they relate to the digital and social media management/marketing role.

Narrative Interview with Mel: Working Freelance in the Live Music Industry

When searching for an interview subject, I wanted to choose a person with experience relevant to my desired career so that I could gain meaningful insight into that field of work. With this information, I can start developing my own professional values in preparation for transitioning from my university to full-time work. Mel works in the live music industry as a freelance manager for creative projects. I am passionate about Wollongong’s local creative arts scene. My long-term partner is a musician, plus I have many friends and family members are also keenly involved in live music. Mel’s job combines this field of interest with an array of digital media and marketing skills that are relevant to my studies, meaning she was a perfect candidate for this interview. Mel and I connected through a mutual friend whose band she is currently managing as one of her clients.

I prepared a list of four questions for Mel. Firstly, I asked her about her professional journey so far including her qualifications, training and previous work experience. Next, I asked Mel to share a key learning moment in her career, followed by a time she dealt with disruption in the workplace. Finally, I asked Mel for some insight into the future of work as it relates to her industry. When approaching Mel with my questions, I explained to her where and how her responses would be used and encouraged her to give detailed, narrative-focused answers for each question.

Once I had Mel’s answers, I used narrative listening techniques based on Michael White’s practices to try and uncover any implied professional values she may have gained from each recounted experience. I utilised the double listening method to determine Mel’s preferred experience of confidence, assertiveness, and control over her professional boundaries. This indicated that Mel values her autonomy as a freelancer and strives for confidence in her own abilities.

If we listen closely as people describe their problems, using what Michael has called ‘double listening’ (listening for the ground as well as the figure) we can hear the implications of the preferred, valued experiences that are the contrasting background for the present problematic and less valued experiences.

Jill Freedman, ‘Explorations of the absent but implicit’

I also approached Mel’s second story about disruption from the perspective of an outsider witness. I listened carefully to her experience and focused on what this recount told me about Mel from my third-party perspective. I determined that Mel cares about maintaining a level of professionalism with her clients and separating her role as a friend from her role in management.

Within narrative practice, an outsider witness is an invited audience to a therapy conversation – a third party who is invited to listen to and acknowledge the preferred stories and identity claims of the person consulting the therapist.

Maggie Carey & Shona Russell, ‘Outsider-witness practices: some answers to
commonly asked questions’

Interviewing Mel has inspired me to consider freelance work a viable option for the future of my own career, as the autonomy of being your own boss seems very appealing. When asked about the future of her industry, Mel noted the importance of digital and social media platforms in finding creative solutions to obstacles in live music. I believe that digital media and marketing is an area of work well-suited to freelance work, as the workplace is fluid and not tied down to physical space or limitations. In the face of the recent global pandemic, businesses will now more than ever want to be moving some aspects of their operation online and into digitised forms.

References

Freedman, J., 2012. ‘Explorations of the absent but implicit.’ THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF NARRATIVE THERAPY AND COMMUNITY WORK, (4), p.2.

Carey, M. and Russell, S. Outsider-Witness Practices: Some Answers To Commonly Asked Questions. p.1.

Absent but Implicit: Wanting to be Independent

Michael White was an Australian social worker and family therapist known for his legacy in psychotherapy. Most notably, Michael developed the practices of narrative therapy (Carey et al., 2009) and contributed significantly to his field through rigorous discussions and the sharing of therapeutic concepts such as ‘externalising’ and ‘the absent but implicit’ (Carey & Russell, 2002).

“Externalising locates problems, not within individuals, but as products of culture and history. Problems are understood to have been socially constructed and created over time.”

— Maggie Carey & Shona Russell, 2002. ‘Externalising – commonly asked questions’.

‘The absent but implicit’ describes a desired outcome, or “preferred story”, indicating what people want for their lives and what matters to them (Carey et al., 2009). This story can be inferred by listening to people describe their problems and identifying the absent but implicit alternative story that contrasts the present problematic experience. Uncovering these implications is done through a therapeutic technique Michael White has called ‘double listening’ (Freedman, 2012).

“Applied to therapeutic practice, these understandings offer a range of possibilities for identifying and exploring preferred stories that are alternative to the problem story.”

— Jill Freedman, 2012. ‘Explorations of the absent but implicit’.

In reflecting upon a particular experience of disruption and frustration related to my work life, I can apply Michael White’s narrative practices and concept of ‘the absent but implicit’ to better understand the situation and gain some insight about myself.

I am fortunate enough to have been working since I was 14 years and 9 months old, as early as I possibly could. Because of this, I’m very comfortable and confident in my own abilities as an employee. It also helps that I’ve been working in the same industry, hospitality, since starting all those years ago. I’ve been at three different workplaces with four different bosses and countless managers above me, and I’ve learnt my fair share about conflict resolution and dealing with disruption from each job. In fact, I’d say that problems associated with my work life have occurred less and less as I’ve grown older. Although this may be the case, unfortunately there has been a recently frustrating and disruptive experience related to my work.

For most of last year, I had been living away from home for the first time in a sharehouse with some close friends. The initial move was intimidating but once I had settled in I felt the happiest I’d been since commencing my tertiary studies. Paying rent was a new expense for me to deal with though I was sure that my income was stable and my savings sensible enough to not have to worry about that.

However, when the time to renew our lease rolled around during the summer holidays, my work hours dropped off dramatically and almost inexplicably. I hadn’t been spoken to about my performance, so I could only wonder, “why?” until I asked and was told that there weren’t enough hours to go around at the time. At first I accepted this answer, but later became anxious when I realised I’d have to make a decision: should I renew my lease? What if I don’t ever get back these hours? After more consecutive weeks of sparse rosters piled up, I again asked my manager why I was getting less shifts than usual when other employees in the same role as myself were getting almost double my hours. I explained my frustrations further, bringing awareness to my living situation, asking why the hours weren’t being distributed among employees fairly. I was foolish enough let my frustration show when talking about the issue, feeling hopeless after enduring vague answers and being scolded for my attitude. Ultimately my hours stayed the same and I moved back home in November to much dismay.

I’d been working at this job for around two and a half years at the time and had never experienced this much friction before when dealing with management. By externalising these feelings of frustration and hopelessness and reflecting upon them through narrative practice, I’m able to infer an implicit “preferred story” in this situation. This story confirms how much I value being independent and in control of my own life.

Thinking back to my formative years, I was (and in many ways still am) someone who keeps to myself. I never wanted to accept help from my mum with schoolwork, or almost any other task where she offered a hand. I also would feel especially guilty when I did need her help and had to ask. As well as this, I often took it upon myself to deal with my own feelings and problems internally. Rarely did I feel comfortable asking others for help or advice. I’d say that I’m to still like this to some degree. Even now I feel ashamed about being on my leaner driver’s license and try to get myself around without inconveniencing others for a lift best I can. That said, at least now there are a few people in my life that I’m comfortable asking for help in various situations.

When I felt threatened by potentially having to move back home, I was scared of losing my valued independent living situation. This caused me to react in an adverse way to the change and disruption experienced at work. I responded by taking the path of least resistance: I didn’t look for new work, I moved back home, I did not take the perceived risk that I should have taken to live my preferred story. By reflecting upon this situation through narrative thinking, I was able to learn something new from my experience of disruption that I hadn’t previously considered. With this knowledge I can work towards my preferred story by confidently taking the difficult but necessary steps needed to be happily independent. At the same time, I can hopefully work on being less hard on myself by asking for and accepting help whenever I need it.

References
Maggie Carey & Shona Russell, 2002. ‘Externalising – commonly asked questions’. The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community.
Maggie Carey, Sarah Walther, & Shona Russell, 2009. ‘The Absent but Implicit: A Map to Support
Therapeutic Enquiry’. Family Process.
Jill Freedman, 2012. Explorations of the absent but implicit. The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work.