An article appeared recently addressing the question ‘What should I include in my personal bio?’. I struggled for days with the ‘About’ page on my website and once took more time to write a 50-word bio than the 1200-word story attached to it. So I read the article from tip to toe, seeking enlightenment.
It was published by a professional development forum for women so, understandably, was aimed at readers who are mid-career. But I wonder, why give this advice to people who are already in full stride? It’s doubtful those readers need any help.
It’s people struggling to get a toe-hold who need boosting; those who might have found themselves stuck in a rut, tyres flat and paintwork rusting. I’m one such reader, and I devoured the article looking for a pep talk. Instead, I finished it crestfallen, cynical and none-the-wiser about how to sell my prodigious talents and unique experiences to a prospective audience, publisher or employer.
Let me show you how ridiculous my life appears when cherry-picked to fit the template.
Career highlights – Awards, media exposure, a string of successful businesses, a tipping point in your career that catapulted you to ‘success’ or notability
Hmmm… Let’s give this one a crack…
In 1985 I was the joint recipient of my high school’s Principal’s Award. From memory it was awarded for overall achievement and contribution. (Coincidentally I later married the other recipient.) Since then, my only other award has been Volunteer of the Year for a local sporting association. I ran the canteen.
The tipping point in my career came in 1999, five years after it started and had already begun to falter, hobbled by two children and their workaholic father, when I resigned and catapulted my young family to the United States so my co-Principal’s Awardee could further his. While there, I had another baby, successfully sealing my fate.
In 2001, home again, I attempted a career re-entry. At the same time I supported the other Principal’s Awardee establish a business; negotiating leases, hiring staff, obtaining finance and fitting out an office suite. My career tapered away but my co-Awardee went on to build a wildly successful practice with a glowing national and international reputation. I’m not sure if my contribution counts as running a successful business. I’m fairly sure it doesn’t qualify as a string.
My media game is strong, however, particularly after some recent reskilling. I don’t operate with a view to being ‘exposed’ by legacy media. That’s so last century. Instead, I’ve taken charge of my public profile, controlling the message, regularly Tweeting, publishing to Facebook and sharing my day via Instagram Stories. My children’s friends all follow me. I believe I’m a minor celebrity.
I’ve worked closely with some of the best schools in Brisbane, negotiating with PE teachers to excuse children from swimming in winter, navigating assessment timetables, securing scarce school concert tickets, and learning to read between the lines of generic student report cards.
I’ve been a force in junior sports clubs around Brisbane, having coached, umpired, and managed netball teams, wrangled soccer players (and their parents), run the water polo shot clock and managed canteens at swimming clubs and fencing associations. I’ve been the complete dance mum, coordinating hair, makeup and lightning backstage costume changes. I can sew ballet ribbons and elastics to pointe shoes in 30 minutes and mend a fencing glove in 20. I’m also handy with a glue gun.
My primary clients are three feisty young women. I’ve nursed them all through various surgeries – wisdom teeth extractions, shoulder reconstructions, portacath insertions. I’ve taught them to drive and how to make scrambled eggs and how to buy a bra that fits. I’m proud to be associated with them and I promote their respective brands regularly #notsponsored.
I have a long history with large retail chains and small, independent trade contractors, advising them on how to improve their customer service, quality assurance, billing processes and supply chains. (Refer Tweet below.)
I’m also well-versed in real estate, having rented four properties and purchased five. I’ve built two houses.
Playing the @DavidJonesStore game, standing at an unattended counter waiting for someone to notice me. Still waiting. Still.
— Angela Bensted (@twothumbswriter) November 4, 2017
Where did you get your education?
My school tie was teal and its crest a fish. There was no Latin motto to inspire me. Does the name really matter?
My school and university friends are now doctors, scaffolding riggers, engineers, professors, hair dressers, writers, receptionists, nurses, electricians, call-centre telephonists, optometrists and priests.
Some committed suicide in their twenties. Some are grandparents. I’m not sure how much credit or blame can be attributed to a school for its alumni, no matter when they graduated.
I do have formal university qualifications. But what I know about photography I’ve learned from YouTube and my writing skills, such as they are, come from reading books and working with mentors.
What change are you trying to bring to your industry?
I’d like to kill the internet and revert to a time when advertisers paid for space in printed media, thereby supporting thousands of writers with a living wage to produce stories for abundant daily newspapers and weekly and monthly magazines.
Alternatively, I’d like to see the word ‘dadpreneur’ used widely in the same indulgent, patronising tone reserved for its female counterpart.
At a bare minimum, I’d like to belong to an industry.
What do you like to do for fun?
I like stories. Sometimes I find them in books. Other times in movies and art galleries and museums. I love exploring new places and I fly regularly to find them. I like to grow things and cook things. But right now, mostly I photograph things.
See? This framework doesn’t help me. It’s good for a giggle but hardly promotes my cause. The author was right about one thing though; writing a bio is hard. It forces us to examine the existential question ‘who am I?’, to distil our very essence into one or two pithy pars.
Still, don’t be tempted to do that by addressing the questions above. We are more than a brag sheet, a collection of trophies and triumphs, of alma maters and client lists and faded newspaper clippings. These questions will produce a reductive whitewash of our souls, moulding us according to stale corporate models of interest, value and employability.
Instead, I offer the following questions to guide you on a journey of self-awareness, where the destination might be a few sentences you can use on your resume, About Page, Instagram profile or headstone. Your choice.
- What are your talents?
- What brought you to where you are today? (Influential episodes in your life, inspirational people, challenges you’ve overcome)
- What are your hopes for your future? (This might not work on a headstone)
- What is your idea of the perfect Sunday?
There you go. Done. Big, broad questions respecting the rich gamut of life experiences that shape who we are. Answer these and I guarantee you’ll be well equipped to write pars that are pithy AND illuminating. The world should know about the real you. Show them.