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ABSTRACT This study describes and analyzes the apparently misleading, irrelevant, and sterotyped initial self-report statements that were obtained in an in-depth multiple case study of women changing careers Using assumptions from the fields of hermeneutics (interpretation) and phenomenology about how meaning is constructed and interpreted, these initial accounts are understood as symbols which can be decoded and can also reveal larger meaning when read in different contexts This study shows how these accounts concealed connections between current behavior and personal history and prevented appropnate refer-ence to personal expenence. The reasons for these distortions are understood by placing them in a sociocultural context These women's initial accounts are interpreted as a response to their perceived violation of cultural mandates preventing development of work roles The damaged symbolic language they used to explain themselves is seen as an example of mistaken cultural assumptions about the “self” The demonstrated necessity of interpreting these initial accounts as symbolic communication alerts researchers relying on self-report statements to the pitfalls of taking such statements at face value