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Writing Your About Page - Beware of Hero Or Victim Stories in Your Business Bio 

by Marcia Yudkin

Perhaps you've heard the story of the guy whose arm got pinned between two rocks while he was climbing alone in Canyonlands National Park. Having told no one where he was going, he knew no one was going to show up to rescue him. To save his life, he cut off his own arm with a small, dirty pocket knife.

Although this young man portrays himself as a hero, some experienced climbers and hikers roll their eyes at the story, because it's a basic tenet of outdoorsmanship not to climb or hike alone and to leave word with a friend or park ranger where you're going and when you expect to return.

Whether you admire the fellow in question as courageous or look down on him as an impetuous fool, it's important to note that his hero story doesn't necessarily go over the way he intends. People can take in the same facts and draw an opposite conclusion.

If you're trying to sell books, that duality simply makes your narration more controversial and attention-getting. However, if you've shaped your business bio around a hero story, be aware that it can kick dust into your background and generate negative opinions that wouldn't have come up with a less dramatic presentation.

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Whereas a hero story line carries risk, that multiplies when the bio revolves around having been a victim of hard luck, then triumphing. For example, you may believe that you were forced into bankruptcy, and you build your story around having bounced back from that calamity. However, many people believe that only irresponsible people go bankrupt. Indeed, in a 2005 study in the U.K., more than 70 percent of the general public agreed that there is a stigma attached to bankruptcy - that is, that people look down on those who have gone bankrupt.

While you were hoping to impress people that you recovered valiantly from bankruptcy, they may be wondering more about the bad financial decisions you might have made than admiring you for the recovery. By revealing the bankruptcy as part of a victim story, you may be tainting your image more than helping it.

Negative judgments are common about events in other hard luck stories, too. For instance, your spouse left you; you were cheated out of your inheritance; you were discriminated against; you lost your children in a custody fight; you had a vindictive boss; a careless doctor or hospital made you ill - for all these situations, readers or listeners can easily and sometimes automatically turn the story upside down with the belief that you must have had a hand in your own misfortune. They imagine the other side of the story. Spouses leave when there is a breakdown of trust, which involves both parties; parents disinherit ungrateful or wayward children; discrimination is often a fabricated accusation; mothers don't lose custody of their children unless they've done something horrible; and so on.

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I'm certainly not saying bad things can't happen that are out of your control, that you are responsible for any terrible event that happens to you or that you should never tell people you triumphed over adversity. Rather, realize that you may be so invested in how you tell your story that you believe it's the only way to view the facts. You may be blind to the way you're unwittingly painting a negative rather than a positive picture of your character and background to some potential clients and supporters.

Is it worth taking that risk? You may decide it is. That's fine - as long as it's a conscious decision.

Copyright 2010 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

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