Among the myriad of career advice out there, one that I have adopted as a Peace Corps Volunteer is to keep a brag document. This is a single document that contains all of the projects, accomplishments, and impact you have done in a specific role. I have seen many spins on this in the software engineering/developer community but the definitive guide comes from Julia Evans’ blog post.
Usually, these brag documents focus on the business value that you create: What accomplishments did you achieve that helped grow the business? As Peace Corps Volunteers, our goal is a bit different so I tweaked this tool to fit my specific needs. It still contains all of my accomplishments and impact but doesn’t indicate how I raised the “bottom line.”
What’s the Point?
I am certain that I am not alone in that one question often comes through my mind during service: What in the hell am I doing here? Especially at the beginning of my service, I felt that I was taking so much more from the community than I was giving. I felt like a fraud that just happened to be lucky enough to get this opportunity.
It is so easy to downplay the value that you provide or forget all the things you are doing in the name of promoting world peace and friendship. That is where the brag document comes in. It is a list that reminds me of exactly what the hell it is that I am doing here.
It also helps for when people ask what you have been up to. I’ve had people reach out to ask about my service and what kinds of things I am doing. Like I said, it is easy to forget all the cool things you are doing, especially the small ones. It’s nice to be able to pull up a document and say “I’ve done this, this, and this.”
The other thing that I am expecting the brag document to do for me will happen at COS. It will be much easier to build a resume for whatever the next step is when I have all of my accomplishments and bullet points all in one spot, waiting to be copy-and-pasted in.
And don’t forget about that damn VRG. It makes life easier when you have all the numbers right there to punch in.
I’m not a huge fan of the term “brag” document but that is what the majority of The Internet calls it. Having a list of all of your accomplishments is simply a tool to help you during your service and shouldn’t serve any hubristic purposes. Maybe a better term would be “Accomplishments and Contributions Document for Self-Kindness and Reflection” but that doesn’t really roll off the tongue.
How I Do It
Each week, as part of a longer review session, I update my brag document. I ask myself what I achieved in the last seven days that I would like to write down. Then, I will list my contributions and the impact that I had for each item.
There are many ways to do this but I keep one text document in Obsidian that is split up into categories and projects. You could use a Word document, a spreadsheet, video, or anything else. The point is that you have all of your accomplishments and activities in one place. Formatting isn’t particularly important here.
I split my brag document into four main categories. The first category is the obvious one, Work Projects. Under this heading, I list all of my projects that contribute to the Peace Corps first, second, and third goals. Each project or activity is a heading and underneath each is a bulleted list of my contributions and the overall outcomes. These projects could include classes taught, trainings attended, or blog posts done as long as they all contribute to Peace Corps goals.
For example, my most recent completed activity was a blog post that contributed to the third goal. I put the name of the blog post as a heading and make a bulleted list underneath of what I contributed and the impact that it had:
### 2023-11-12 Posted [We're All Family, Strangers and All](https://westleywinks.com/peace-corps/we-are-all-family/) blog post
- Wrote 1,599 words about how Moroccans call each other (and me) a family title
- Sent via email to X people and was visited Y times on my website
The same logic applies to any other work project, especially first goal activities. Just list the activity, your specific contributions, and an estimate of the impact (with numbers, if possible).
My second category is Committee Work which may or may not apply to you. This one is just a bulleted list, not broken into specific projects since most of them are ongoing with no clear ending. If there is a specific project with clear goals, I’ll make that a subheading and apply the same rules as above. Otherwise, I simply list the date and my specific contribution. I also note the more “fuzzy” stuff like writing meeting notes. As a partial personal example:
- 2023-11-16. Attended staj 103 swearing in. Took pictures, helped with interviews, and took videos of the event.
- 2023-10-29. Completed Halloween social media post.
Collaboration and Mentorship
The third category I have titled Collaboration and Mentorship. Again, this is just a simple bulleted list with a date and a contribution and an impact, if it makes sense. This is sort of a catch-all for things I do with other volunteers. Things like mentorship, times that I have helped with a training, my weekly weather report, safety warden activities, and blog posts like this one (i.e. those aimed at other volunteers) go into this category.
Outside of Work/Personal Development
Last is stuff that is Outside of Work/Personal Development. These are any other activities or projects that I have completed that aren’t necessarily related to Peace Corps. This is mostly my book notes and other blog posts. I’m also working on some career development things and some coding projects that I make note of. Basically, what would you say if someone asked you what you have been up to?
This is just my system and how I developed it for what I need. You could add all kinds of categories as you see fit. One common thing that I have seen is to use it as a reflection tool. You can look at all the things you have done and use it to reflect on that work. What things might you want to change in the future? How could that project have gone better? Other ideas:
- Add in things that you have learned
- Copy down any praise or positive recognition you have received (I might actually implement this one, now that I am thinking about it)
- Use it to set goals and see your progress towards them
- Write down positive language encounters you have had to keep track of your language progress
- Keep track of interesting experiences you’ve had, traditions you have participated in, or places you’ve traveled
This could also be a group activity. Maybe at your next training, you could get a small group together to list and celebrate each other’s accomplishments. You could also meet up with other volunteers every so often to update your documents together to stay accountable.
Good luck out there and let me know how it goes.