Stories we tell ourselves

Humans tell stories for centuries. According to Christopher Booker (2004), these stories can be divided into 7 plots. 

  • Overcoming the Monster.
  • Rags to Riches.
  • The Quest.
  • Voyage and Return.
  • Comedy.
  • Tragedy.
  • Rebirth.


Other application of 7 archetypes in branding: Jereme Waite, Keith Browning

Pryor and Bright (who was recently in Singapore to talk about the Chaos Theory), identified the use of these 7 plots in career counselling.

These “archetypal plots” may help to identify the kinds of stories individuals construct, and represent “systems of meaning”. Such systems provide insight into how individuals interpret their experience and the amount of  influence and control they over their circumstances.

Pryor and Bright proposed that counselling application could be used in these archetypes to “identify the plots underlying individual’s stories and provide alternative plots as new ways to perceive their careers and process new possibilities for how to move forward.”  

Case Study 1: Clients who lost their jobs due to corporate retrenchment may come with a “Tragedy” as the dominant plot which block their capacity to see new opportunities. 

Pryor and Bright suggestion: “Overcoming the Monster” would help them see that employment is a challenge to be met than a fate helplessly acceded to. 


Case Study 2: A client who was telling himself a ‘‘Rags to Riches’’ story of single-minded discipline and sacrifice. However, the problem was that the riches never materialised.  But the goal-fixated thinking and action reveals the individual’s overestimation of his ability to control his life and career.

Career Counsellor’s suggestion with client: They decided to recast his story in terms of ‘‘Rebirth’’. This led Max to start exploring by networking to open up new possibilities. 

Pryor and Bright acknowledge that this is dynamic, and our narratives can gear toward closed systems thinking as change and complexity continue to impact one’s life. At such a point, we may need an adapted narrative. 


Last night at dinner, my friend A recounted the “Sliding Door” theory of her husband’s career change, one event led to another. Her metaphor coincided with my chancing upon Pryor and Bright’s application of archetype storytelling to career counselling earlier. “Sliding Door” archetype falls under “Comedy” or “Happenstance” (Krumboltz), how small seemingly confusing change can lead to something harmonious in finding one’s calling.  I began to see the usefulness of archetypical stories we tell ourselves.

Applying the practice on self, I became more aware of the “victim” tragedy story I tell myself. Not useful. Perhaps a “Rebirth” story or a “Quest” of our journey of self discovery.  My digital storytelling mentor Angeline Koh describes her journey from “Digital Immigrant” to “Digital Native”, a “Quest” of life transformation into the Tech space or maybe even “Rebirth”.  Such stories can be very inspiring for self and others. Angeline has launched a MLC on digital storytelling at Growbe, if you are interested to learn how to create your own story.  


Find yourself stuck with so much disruption? Are you telling yourself a “Tragedy” Story?

Instead, can you reposition your narrative on a “Quest”? Or a Rebirth with new skills to career proof yourself?

What stories do you tell yourself? 

I am on a Quest to find more archetypes, and my next topic will be on Lolly Daskal’s “The Leadership Gap“.


Archetypal narratives in career counselling: A chaos theory application. Pryor, R. & Bright B (2008) [accessed Nov 15 2018].

Pryor, R. G. L., & Bright, J. E. H. (2003). The chaos theory to careers. Australian Journal of Career Development, 12(3), 12–20

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