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Unpublished Paper
Finding the plot: How virtuous self-narratives legitimize career downfalls
  • Roxana Barbulescu, McGill University
  • Jennifer Tosti-Kharas, San Francisco State University
  • Herminia Ibarra
Culturally entrenched notions of career progression, meritocracy, and individual agency have made it difficult for managers to depart from a narrative of ascending position and status. To investigate what alternative cultural models might be used to validate the work identities of people whose careers have been disrupted by organizational change and downward mobility, we analyzed 171 self-narratives told by managers and professionals who experienced negative career events in the wake of the recent global financial crisis. Most narratives recounted how the person overcame the negative event by drawing on an enduring personal strength, or virtue, that allowed him or her to construct a positive personal identity alternative to the lost work identity, project a positive future work self, and restore continuity with the past. We elaborate the identity functions these narratives fulfill and analyze the conditions under which people tell different types of stories. Our analysis suggests that when taken for-granted ways of organizing one’s story become obsolete, unavailable, or undesirable, new scripts emerge to legitimize common experience.
Publication Date
Citation Information
Roxana Barbulescu, Jennifer Tosti-Kharas and Herminia Ibarra. "Finding the plot: How virtuous self-narratives legitimize career downfalls" (2012)
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