Your Work is Valid: On Writing Your Own Bio

Imposter syndrome tells you you’re not good enough. Help quiet that voice of doubt and motivate yourself to keep moving forward.

Writing a bio isn’t easy. In a very limited number of words, you’re expected to sum up your life and accomplishments as applicable to the place where this bio will reside. Whether you’re describing yourself for an application, a business website, a submission of art, or something else, these sentences present who you are to someone who may have never met you. Creating and honing your bio starts with a reflection on where you’ve been and where you want to go, but it also requires you to understand the value of those things.

Where I’ve been lately

During a recent conversation, I had an experience I never expected. A friend had introduced me to the editor of a small publisher with the comment that we would have things to talk about, and perhaps he could be of help — like him, I am setting up an independent publishing press in addition to maintaining a day job. With a networking call scheduled one weekday evening, I had looked at their website and read some of their blog posts in preparation, and thought, “Wow, this guy’s legit. Way beyond me.”

But during our call he spent most of his time asking me how I was doing things, and to my surprise, I had a lot of answers for him. We chatted about everything from printing options to business structure, and when I answered the question, “Who else are you working with on the press?”, I got my own nonjudgmental, possibly impressed, “Wow. You’re doing it alone?”

When I described the experience to my husband later, he casually responded, “Of course. You’re awesome.”

In the following days I contributed to the press’ blog, and after finishing off the last edits to my piece, I started searching for my most recent bio — and realized it was completely outdated.

In the chaos of keeping many plates spinning, I don’t often pause to think about how following my passions has led me to develop more knowledge and experience in areas I didn’t expect. Just the effort of avoiding smashed crockery is enough when you’re trying to maintain some kind of work/side hustle/life balance. I don’t think I’m the only one.

Your support network sees you

It’s common knowledge that you are your own worst critic. If my exchange with my husband shows anything, it’s that the people around you see beyond the self-criticism, the ever-growing list you have given yourself of things to do and learn, and the high expectations you have set yourself.

Your imposter syndrome — that sneaking doubt and dread that may always be there but arises more wrathful than ever as soon as you sit down to write a bio — is not a true representation of who you are.

The people who are close to you see what you’re doing and what you’ve accomplished, and even if they don’t say it often, they’re probably proud of you.

If you’re having trouble thinking of things to include in your bio, get in touch with someone you trust and ask for their help. Make time to sit down with them, call, or send a message. Ask them to tell you something you’ve done or are doing that they have found interesting or impressive. How would they describe you?

Motivate yourself

One of my coworkers recently posed the question to our office: “What’s your arena walk-in song? The song that gets you pumped but is also part of your brand. Think pro wrestlers, boxers, or baseball players headed to the batter’s box.”

As I madly scrolled through my Spotify history, I realized that the majority of my favorite songs are somewhat melancholy. Although I have favorites that are upbeat, I wasn’t necessarily hearing them that often. I started to think about how music affects my mood — when was the last time I’d heard a song that buoyed me up?

Intentionally choosing an arena walk-in song changed the rest of my week. I didn’t necessarily land on one that felt perfect to me, but listening to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” on loop for a little while definitely changed the way I was approaching tasks. I felt inspired. Freddie Mercury was cheering me on. I did a little wiggle now and then.

Try this: Choose your own song, or pop Queen on your chosen avenue for music. Then sit down and think about things you could include in your bio. Write everything down, whether relevant to the purpose of the bio or not; an unrelated idea might lead you to something applicable, and feeling good about one thing could remind you of something else you’re working on. What are you proud of having done? What accomplishments stand out to you? What are you passionate about, and where do you want those passions to take you? Once you have a strong list, start picking ideas to include in this bio in particular. Hold on to the rest of the list.

There are lots of ways to lift your mood, from sitting in sunshine to smelling a lemon. Think about how to combine these methods with something that gets you moving. Get outside for a short walk, and focus your attention on the fresh air and your surroundings. Engage in an activity or hobby you enjoy, such as baking or baseball. If it leaves you in a positive state of mind, use that afterglow to reflect on your strengths and experience.

When you’re starting something new

People change jobs and pursue new avenues all the time. If you’re writing a bio in the midst of this, it can be nerve-wracking to try to decide what to include, but you’d be surprised how applicable your existing skills and experience may be.

Most people’s jobs entail more than might be included in their position titles. Think about the different tasks and responsibilities you’ve taken on, from major projects to indispensable duties like customer support and answering the phone. Think about how these skills — from critical thinking to communication, collaboration, or creativity — are transferable, or how your experience doing them would help you excel in a different position.

Beyond your job history, think about volunteer work you’ve done and other ways you’ve shown initiative. Did you start a small craft business through Etsy? Do you have an insatiable appetite for learning new things? Pursuing a goal or interest, regardless of a standard education or employment pathway, reveals your drive and dedication.

Do some research

Read articles about writing a bio that is for the same purpose as yours, whether business, education, or artistic. Check out other people’s bios for ideas for tone and what to include. For example, if it’s the blurb that will appear alongside your photo and title on your company’s website, see what other people have written before. I once worked for a magazine that had playful bios on the website that included “mad passions” and “secret indulgences.” (My mad passions were: literary journals and any food involving potatoes; secret indulgences: bad disaster movies and wine.)

If this bio is for something such as a writing submission to a magazine or other publication, buy a past issue and see how those bios are written and presented. Plus there’s the added bonuses of seeing what the publication is looking for in submissions and supporting the publication itself.

Writing your bio

  1. Start with what you’re writing this bio for — are you applying for a job or updating the description on your website? Are you sharing your accomplishments as an artist or writer? The purpose and audience matter, and different objectives require different content.
  2. Use your full name. Some websites and publications may introduce you by first name only, but somewhere, sometime, they will need your full name. Make sure they spell it right.
  3. Include any important positions or branding. If your bio isn’t going on your company’s website and your job title will carry some weight, include it. Maybe you started your own business or typically write under a pseudonym — your side hustle counts too. State what you do and who you do it for.
  4. Mention at least one accomplishment. Again, this should be something related to the purpose of the bio. Do you have a degree, or could you refer to an award you won? Are you particularly proud of a certain project you’ve completed or are pursuing?
  5. Add some flavor. If the format of the bio doesn’t already ask for an interest or preference (i.e. “secret indulgence”), and if appropriate, personalize your description with a detail about yourself. Who are you outside of work? Do you have 12 siblings, a love of travel, or an ultimate frisbee league you’ve belonged to for years? Your passion and your values drive who you are. Tell why you do what you do or how it informs your work.
  6. Trim it down. Most bios have a word limit — be sure you haven’t gone over yours. Keeping your audience and objective in mind while preparing a draft will help you maintain the relevance of the details you include, while also minimizing the final word count. Be as concise as possible — extra adjectives and unnecessary information won’t strengthen your presentation. Ask a friend, family member, or professional associate for feedback once you’ve thoroughly edited your bio if you still need help.

Growing forward

If you’re still struggling, remember: Your next bio can be different, whether you’re writing it for the same purpose or not. Do yourself a favor by keeping track of your professional and artistic accomplishments and projects, and the next time you have to describe yourself in 150 words or less, it will be a little bit easier. I’d recommend keeping a “ta-da” list. Unlike a to-do list, the “ta-da” list records things you have done, from the little wins to the big accomplishments.

If you’re feeling crafty, decorate a piece of paper and pin it to your wall. Create a new note on your phone. Save an rtf document to your computer desktop. However you decide to do it, make a place to recognize the things you’re proud of or are thankful to have done or learned, a place to look back at where you’ve been and track your progress. The next time you feel a rush of joy at accomplishing something, write it down. When you get the job, when your writing is published somewhere, when you finish that project — write it down. Recognize its importance. Your work is valid, and what you do contributes to the world, whether you’re writing franchise operations manuals, creating art, or debugging computer programs.

If you like adding something you’ve already done to your list each time, just to have something to cross off, here’s something to add: Assign meaning to what you do.

Leave a comment