Developing a Professional Narrative: One of My Own

Lake Pejar, Upper Lachlan Shire, NSW, 13 March 2021.

My point here is to demonstrate to my students why I think a personal narrative is so important. While I don't pretend to have achieved any notable measure of success, I can say faithfully that I have achieved everything I dreamt I would. But like Lily Tomlin:

All my life I always wanted to be someone. I see now I should have been more specific.

But my own journey has provided enough lessons that I am confident I can convey those lessons to my students in a way that is either meaningful now or at some 'aha!' moment in the future. At least I can hope. Oh, wait, the Stoics were not big fans of hope... but I digress.

Keswick, Gunning NSW. Built by the Caldwell brothers in 1926.

I always wanted to work in Canberra as an academic. But first, I wanted to be a fighter pilot (I became an army officer and qualified as an air contact officer - so close!); to be some kind of member of the clergy to study theology (I became a local officer in a Salvation Army corps - deputy bandmaster and Songsters leader - my family has a long history with the Salvos dating back to the 1890s in Guyra); to be a senator (I decided a long time ago that I do not have the wherewithal to be a politician); and to be a political scientist. But I was more specific. I wanted to be a political scientist in Canberra but live in the NSW regions somewhere around Canberra. In a federation house (my great-grandparents' federation house in Haberfield was amazing).

And now that's exactly what I do. I measure my level of satisfaction y the way I wake up in the morning. If I leap out of bed ready to tackle the day's challenges, it's all good. But I vowed never to keep doing the same old thing if I woke up thinking 'By God, I cannot stand this job!' I had that experience when I was 19 and I took a chance and resigned that day. I joined the Army Reserve and did all sorts of casual jobs and, two attempts later, I marched into Duntroon.

Air Contact Officer course 1996, RAAF Base Williamtown just before calling in F/A-18 ground attack missions marked by my artillery battery at Singleton Military Area.

My point is not to suggest that I am any model of success - far from it - but that I wrote down what I wanted years ago and it has slowly materialised. Not necessarily easily or through good management, but it has all transpired. I remember sitting in the scrub at Shoalwater Bay Training Area imagining I was doing my PhD at ANU, being supervised by Professor John Wanna, who was one of the authors of my textbook, Davis, G., J. Wanna, J. Warhurst and P. Weller. (1993). Public Policy in Australia. Second Edition. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. 

I liked John's writing style and in 2013, I graduated with a PhD in Political Science from ANU with John as my supervisor. The key point is not that it happened, but that it was a part of my narrative, my story.

My 1993 policy studies textbook at Deakin Uni in 1994 with my signed copy of John's first edition.

To cut a long story short (and to reserve a few things that are for me!), below is a recent narrative I wrote about why I was applying for a committee role - and who I am, and what I stand for - which is what I am asking my students to do this semester.

Description of the candidate and their reasons for nominating:

Description of the Candidate

Dr Michael de Percy FCILT is Senior Lecturer in Political Science at the Canberra School of Politics, Economics and Society, University of Canberra. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the Australian National University, a Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours) from the University of Canberra, and a Bachelor of Arts from Deakin University. He is a graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, where he received the Royal Australian Artillery prize. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, and he is an editor of the Journal of Telecommunications and the Digital Economy. Michael’s research focuses on the scholar-practitioner nexus in the disciplines of transport and telecommunications policy, comparative politics, historical institutionalism, government-business relations, and leadership. His recent publications include Politics, Policy and Public Administration in Theory and Practice: Essays in honour of Professor John Wanna, ANU Press, 2021 (with Andrew Podger and Sam Vincent); Populism and a New World Order (in Viktor Jakupec et. al. Rethinking Multilateralism in Foreign Aid, Routledge 2020); and Road Pricing and Provision: Changed Traffic Conditions Ahead, ANU Press 2018 (with John Wanna). Michael's research articles have been published in Policy Studies, the Australian Journal of Social Issues, the Journal of Telecommunications and the Digital Economy, the Australasian Transport and Research Forum, and Public Administration Today. His expert commentary has been published in The Australian, ABC's The DrumThe Canberra TimesThe AgeThe Sydney Morning Herald, John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations Public Policy Journal, and The Conversation, and he has also appeared on numerous television and radio news programs. Michael teaches government-business relations, political leadership, and professional development subjects for social scientists in a Bachelor of Politics and International Relations degree, and he also teaches leadership in MBA programs in Australia and overseas. Michael's blog Le Flâneur Politique (ISSN 2652-8851) and podcast on his research, teaching, and community engagement activities are available at and you can follow him on twitter @madepercy.

Reasons for Nominating

Following a career change in my early thirties, I fulfilled a long-held wish to become a political scientist. Political science has fascinated me since primary school after winning a politics competition and missing class to attend a local council meeting. I have been hooked ever since. I have political party committee and campaigning experience at the local, state, and federal levels. I attended my first APSA conference in 2004 as an honours student and I have remained involved in APSA as much as I have been financially able over the years. As my career has progressed, I have become more involved in conferences and other activities, including the APSA Teaching and Learning Group and contributing to the APSA-inspired Australian Politics and Policy project through Sydney University Press. I am now at a stage in my career where I can give back to my profession, and I am putting myself forward as a candidate for the position of Ordinary Member on the APSA Executive Committee. I bring to the committee over thirty years' experience in committee work, leadership, and strategic planning and I have a strong desire to see political science in Australia continue to increase its relevancy to citizens, governments, and businesses, and also to promote the study of politics by potential students at all levels. My pedagogical approach is based on my experience as a first-in-family university degree recipient, and I see the study of political science not only as a way to learn more about the world that we live in, but also to develop oneself in the liberal arts tradition, learning not only to become more aware of our own calling but also to become more vigilant and enlightened citizens. I am now in a position to represent the discipline and the Australian Political Studies Association faithfully, and I offer my service to you.@madepercy.

The Outcome?

I lost. I doubt our 'narratives' were the compelling reasons people voted for their preferred candidate. But the reflective aspect remains useful, in that we can create our story and live it.

Sun Tzu said:

Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all that I can?

Or consider the (allegedly) Harley Davidson advertisement:

When Writing The Story Of Your Life, Don’t Let Anyone Else Hold The Pen

The point is that it is up to you. And if you don't like your story, you have the power to re-write it.