Red Velvet: A Story Both Triumphant and Tragic By Carmel O’ Reilly

Red Velvet tells the true story of African-American actor Ira Aldridge (1807-67). The playwright (and actor) Lolita Chakrabarti brings this fascinating story to vivid life and her husband Adrian Lester plays the part of Aldridge.

Red Velvet: A Story Both Triumphant and Tragic is part of A Story Worth Telling series. Origin stories that matter. Stories, some of which have been forgotten, or never told before, of people’s amazing achievements in difficult times and difficult situations. Stories where people showed courage in the face of adversity. Stories of celebration and suffering.  Stories both triumphant and tragic. 

Today I’m revisiting the story, of a play/book review I wrote some time ago which I’ve revised for this week’s blog and podcast.

Red Velvet: A Story Both Triumphant and Tragic

The story begins and ends in a theatrical dressing room, where Aldridge is preparing to play King Lear in the last year of his life. Adrian Lester, in playing the lead role at the Tricycle Theatre London, beautifully captures the pained dignity and irritation of the ageing, ailing actor preparing to play Lear in white face paint not long before his own death.

The story then moves back in time to 1833 and to the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. Aldridge is drafted in to play Othello when Edmund Kean, the great Shakespearean actor collapsed during a performance.

What should have been a breakthrough for Aldridge became a setback that haunted him for the rest of his life, despite the fact that he was the recipient of many honours, and became the highest paid artist in Russia. This was because of the racist reviews by the British press along with the deep discontent from some of the actors in the theatre over the manager’s decision to replace Kean with a black performer.

Lester gives a strong impression of the power of Aldridge’s playing and stage presence. He thrillingly replicates the charisma of the young Aldridge and the idealistic passion of the twenty-six year old, through to the weight of his weary disillusion towards the final chapter of his life.

Thankfully Lester has long-since broken the mould in roles that Aldridge did not get a stab at, and with a nice twist of fate starred as Othello at the National Theatre London.

Book Wisdom

The poignancy of Aldridge’s story was beautifully told in Red Velvet by Chakrabarti. She gives a social and historical context for the story while also providing contemporary insights. That Aldridge, as a black actor, was not only playing the lead role on a London stage, but the much-coveted role of Othello, was unprecedented. Notwithstanding that he became renowned for the greatness of his Shakespearean performances on his tours outside of the UK, his bittersweet memories of his time in London remained with him.

 Interestingly, Chakrabarti took time to chat to the audience at the end of the performance and told the story of how the play had evolved. She first heard of Aldridge in 1998 and was determined to find out more, but there was little known about him. This was pre-internet, and so her research and her quest to uncover his story took her many years and across continents and finally cumulated in this wonderful story with the support of Indhu Rubasingham, the artistic director at the Tricycle Theatre – another woman on a mission to draw in people who don’t go to the theatre, and her desire to make the world a smaller place through theatre was perhaps a goal she shared with Aldridge. 

“Theatres and the arts are a positive force for our community in turbulent times.” The National Theatre Home

Sage Wisdom

Origin Stories matter because as people we love stories. We’re curious about a person’s story that made them who they are. Stories help us to understand and relate to each other.  

Your origin story matters. To help you tell your story ask yourself the following questions: 

  • What was it that compelled you to do what you do? 
  • What is something you’ve taken a stand on that benefited you?
  • What is something you’ve taken a stand on that cost you?
  • What triumphs and tragedies have you experienced along the road of your WorkLife journey?
  • What has changed over the course of your WorkLife – ask yourself How? And Why to flesh this out more.

Take time to reflect on these questions and use the self-feedback that comes to you through the answers to help shape and tell your origin story.

Words of Wisdom

There are a lot of threads to this story, but perhaps the one that stands out for me is: in spite of obstacles, how talent shines through.  This man, in a period when slavery still existed in America and the British were debating whether to get rid of slavery in the colonies, was performing on a Covent Garden stage. He defied the preconceived judgements about authenticity because of the colour of his skin. Judgements made before he had even opened his mouth, judgements made before he could demonstrate his talent and ability as an actor. It was his talent supported by a determination to make his career happen, the courage to follow his purpose and passion, the courage to fight adversity that won through. 


Aldridge’s legacy is that of an actor whose name has long since outlasted his critics. He is recognised as one of the greatest Shakespearian actors that have ever lived. Aldridge’s story is both triumphant and tragic. His is a story that changed the world, by opening up the world to his fellow actors across many cultures who have followed in his footsteps in establishing their careers while pursuing and fulfilling their purpose and passion. 

The reviews I write are by way of reflecting on cultural experiences to include performing, visual and literary arts that touched my heart and my mind and making sense of them in the context of learning and development in both the work-place and the community.

Today’s book of the blog is: Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti 

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associate Programme. This means if you click through and make a purchase through my referral links, I’ll be compensated. Using the links won’t cost you anything extra, and it helps to keep the blog. Thank you.

WorkLife Book Wisdom 

The intention of this blog is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride. 

My hope is that these book wisdom stories will help you throughout the chapters of your WorkLife Story.

Identity and Work, The Subtlety of Persuasion and The Importance of Being Present By Carmel O’ Reilly

Two Days One Night (2014) is a film about Sandra (played by Marion Cotillard), a young Belgian mother, who discovers that her workmates have opted for a significant pay bonus, in exchange for her dismissal. She has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job.  In the film, the workplace becomes a battleground, these are struggling workers with families and not CEOs or fat cats. Sandra finds and creates solidarity, uncovering people’s true nature as well as her own. 

Identity and Work raises the question: Is this something that could happen in real life? 

And considers people’s WorkLife stories in the same way the directors/writers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne did. They said the idea came from reading news stories about similar situations where workers solidarity was challenged.

Today I’m revisiting a story of a film review I wrote some time ago, which I’ve revised for this week’s blog and podcast.

In my original post, I posed the question: Has the recent recession added to what Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne said about people competing with each other for their jobs, and if this in fact social realism? Today I’m curious about how the pandemic we’re all living through right now will impact this. Central to the brother’s idea is validation through work, a precarious concept in an era of widespread unemployment. In an interview with the Guardian, the brothers are quoted as saying: “If you don’t have a job, you are made to feel like an outcast from your community. Possibly in the future people will find another way to be part of the community that is not connected to work but for now that is where meaning lies. From an anthropological point of view, that is how mankind feels a sense of belonging.”

Identity and Work

Sandra’s Story: Identity and Work, The Subtlety of Persuasion and The Importance of Being Present

Cotillard talks about the difficulty of portraying her character, Sandra, because basically she has the same thing to say ten times. She had to find the evolution, the slight details that created the drive and motivation to keep Sandra moving even though she is telling people the same thing in her endeavours to persuade them to vote for her to keep her job and give up their bonuses. The tiniest changes in each scene meant Sandra’s confidence would go up and down and everything she could build up from those little differences would help her to identify how to angle each pitch she made.

Each meeting was filmed in real time. This allowed each of the characters to be fully present, and accentuated the tension and the movements within that tension. The shots were addictive, which draw the audience in. It’s like watching a live match: will they score, won’t they score.

The brothers spend a lot of time in the rehearsal process. They talk about rehearsal allowing the actors to be truly present, and it’s only when they are truly present that the scene can exist and the tensions and rhythms arise. They say rehearsals allow the exploration of tracks, which then don’t need to be explored again. They say you only get the picture right once: there’s only one shot possible. There’s room for manoeuvre because they’re on the right track. They acknowledge that while every actor is different, the work of creating a presence is the same. They achieve this by acknowledging that everyone was equally important, making the scenes possible because everyone had a leading role that demanded of them to be truly present in each moment, allowing the actors in turn to have more of a presence.

The art of persuasion, negotiation and influence is built on the same powers of observation, the ability to notice the minutest change, to be fully present in the moment and to react in real-time is of utmost importance. Marion said for her character, Sandra, that this was imperative because these subtleties meant what she was repeatedly saying was almost but not the same thing, and as the brothers say “there’s only one shot possible”.

Actors use a range of techniques when preparing for a role. Let’s consider techniques from the renowned theatre practitioner, Constantin Stanislavski, whose work remains at the forefront of actor training today, and how these techniques are applicable in the world of our WorkLives, and the impact they have on persuasion and being present.

Super-Objective: (Stanislavski) Focuses on the entire situation (film/play) as a whole and serves as the final goal the actor wishes to achieve. For Sandra, it’s to keep her job. This goes to the heart of her identity and to her well-being. 

Working with this objective in mind, the actor must then find the appropriate personal pain that can drive this objective. The pain must be powerful enough to inspire the actor to fearlessly commit to do whatever it takes to win their objective. 

Sage Wisdom

Aristotle defined the struggle of the individual to win as the essence of all drama. As a non-actor when you find yourself in a position where you need to influence, persuade or negotiate you need to start with your super objective (your goal) in knowing what it is you want more than anything from the situation/interaction, then identify your pain: what are the stakes; what is it you could lose; and what are the bigger implications of losses. For Sandra, underlying the loss of her job was the loss of identity her work gave her, and the negative impact on her well-being.

Book Wisdom

In An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski, Scene-Objective focuses on what the actor wants over the course of an entire scene, that supports their super-objective. For Sandra it begins with understanding each of her work colleague’s position on the situation. This inevitably leads to external circumstances that are impacting their decision. 

From this point she can gauge how to pitch her plea to vote for her to keep her job and give up their bonuses. While she may not get immediate agreement, she recognises no matter how small the win is, the important thing is to end the scene in a different position from where she started. She needs to make enough of an impact for them to at least consider their position. She also needs to be prepared to learn which votes she can’t count on.  This information, although crushing, helps her position in knowing where to focus her energy and efforts in the next round of discussions, and what changes she needs to make to her pitch/plea.

The book says: “That inner line of effort that guides the actors from the beginning to the end of the play we call the continuity of the thorough-going action. This through-line galvanises all the small units and objectives of the play and directs them toward the super-objective. From then on they all serve the common purpose.”

Words of Wisdom

When you find yourself in a situation where you need to persuade one or more people, begin as Sandra did by understanding their position and their thinking and circumstances behind this. A question that helped Sandra in preparing for each conversation was: What impact does me keeping my job have on my colleagues’ life? In posing this question to herself, she was able to give herself in the moment feedback by being fully present, in knowing what to say and how to handle the conversation. We tend to listen more when the stakes rise. As the stakes rise we also begin to sense the other’s underlying thought impulses. As the situation becomes more important, we struggle to predict what will happen.  Immersing yourself in the world of that relationship and its parameters strengthens your capacity for clear and honest observation, and will help you to plan, tweak and strengthen your approach. Aim for small wins and remember the importance of ending each interaction in a different position from which you started, learning from this and moving on from a more informed standpoint. 


In a changing world so much has shifted in the last few months because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the past I’ve delivered outplacement programmes to individuals and groups, supporting people in managing the emotional and practical elements in moving their WorkLife forward in times of uncertainty. Throughout this I’ve never ceased to be amazed by people’s resilience, their ability to pick themselves back up, and to come through challenging times and situations with an even greater sense of purpose and determination. If I were to reflect on what’s different about this current time – which we’re all living through together, while apart – it would be the sense of community that’s coming through. The sense of caring about, and recognising the importance of our family, our friends, our neighbours, and our wider community. A greater sense of appreciation of and for life.

I leave you today with a quote from the National Theatre Home to ponder on: “Theatres and the arts are a positive force for our community in turbulent times.” 

The reviews I write are by way of reflecting on cultural experiences to include performing, visual and literary arts that touched my heart and my mind, and making sense of them in the context of learning and development in both the work-place and the community. 

Today’s book of the blog is: An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski 

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associate Programme. This means if you click through and make a purchase through my referral links, I’ll be compensated. Using the links won’t cost you anything extra, and it helps to keep the blog. Thank you.

WorkLife Book Wisdom 

The intention of this blog is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride. 

My hope is that these book wisdom stories will help you throughout the chapters of your WorkLife Story.

What’s the Best Thing That Anyone Has Ever Said to You? By Carmel O’ Reilly

Your CV Demonstrates Your Loyalty and Ability, and Your ‘Stay Ability” 

Has someone ever said something to you that surprised you? (In a good way). Maybe it was about an attribute or skill you have, which you never gave much thought to, because it was just you being you, you doing what you do naturally, but to other people it was something special.

What’s the Best Thing That Anyone Has Ever Said to You? … are people’s stories of when someone said something to them that allowed them to feel good about themselves, allowed them to see what other people saw in them, that they themselves didn’t see, allowed them to recognise and appreciate their potential, and to take ownership of their uniqueness.

Your CV Demonstrates Your Loyalty and Ability, and Your ‘Stay Ability’

Those words gave Joe a sense of encouragement. He hadn’t considered his situation in that way before. But let’s back up a little to Joe’s Story:

Positive Words

What’s the Best Thing That Anyone Has Ever Said to You? Case Study:

Joe’s long-time role had been redundant, and although he was going through the motions of a government-funded initiative in support of getting people into work, his belief was that at the end of the training course he wouldn’t get a job. You see, Joe was in his early 60s, and his thinking was: that because of his age, organisations wouldn’t be interested in employing him.

Sage Wisdom 

As facilitator of the job-search element of the course, I saw things differently, and I said to Joe: “Your CV demonstrates your loyalty and ability, and your ‘Stay Ability.” I could see those words gave Joe encouragement. I went on to say how his CV demonstrated his loyalty to the organisations he had previously worked with. While he’d been with his most recent employer for over 30 years, his career had been quite progressive and he’d advanced in terms of the roles and responsibilities he’d undertaken. Along with his CV demonstrating his loyalty and ability, it also demonstrated his ‘stay ability’.

To my way of thinking these factors made Joe an attractive candidate to employers. Yes, perhaps he only had four or five years before retirement, but this is actually quite substantial taking into account how much people move around in their WorkLives today. 

Words of Wisdom

Someone younger may perhaps see an opportunity of joining an organisation as a stepping-stone to the next stage of their WorkLife, and will use this experience to facilitate this. Today’s job market is very different to that of when Joe began his WorkLife, when a job was for life. I actually think this is quite positive because it allows a flow which supports people at different WorkLife stages; and when people like Joe want to join an organisation with a commitment to staying with them for four or five years, the organisation will recognise this as being a genuine commitment.

Book Wisdom

My words led Joe to re-reading The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker – a book he’d found helpful when at his previous company, when his role and responsibility had progressed.  He was reminded that The Effective Executive focuses on contribution, that he looks up from his work and outwards towards goals. This led him to asking himself the question: “What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve?” His reason for asking himself this question was by way of researching organisations he was applying to for jobs. This allowed him to prepare his application in a way that demonstrated what he would bring to the organisation, and also helped him to prepare for the interview, by way of being able to verbalise it coherently and succinctly. This question enabled Joe to give himself self-feedback on how his own commitment to making a contribution had always allowed him to think through what relationships his skills, his speciality, his function, or his department had to the entire organisation and its purpose. Thinking in this way had allowed Joe to connect the dots, from an understanding of both the finer details and the bigger picture. Joe began to recognise and take ownership of this being something that he was really good at, and this is something he would bring to a new role at a new organisation that would be valuable.


Joe told me our conversation helped him to overcome his self-doubt and rethink his situation. He approached his job search with a more positive approach. He now recognised and appreciated just how much he had to offer a potential employer, and felt more confident in communicating this.

Today’s Book of the Blog is: The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker

Joe’s story has been adapted from chapter 17 of Your WorkLife Your Way: Overcoming Self-Doubt Through Self-Appreciation

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associate Programme. This means if you click through and make a purchase through my referral links, I’ll be compensated. Using the links won’t cost you anything extra, and it helps to keep the blog. Thank you.

WorkLife Book Wisdom

The intention of this blog is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride. 

My hope is that these book wisdom stories will help you throughout the chapters of your WorkLife Story.


Turning Your Story into a Powerful Presentation

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” Robert McKee

Truly great stories and presentations live on in the hearts and minds of audiences the world over, that is a Fact. Everyone has an innate storytelling ability, that is another Fact.

You just need to think about a time when you were with friends (or strangers!) in a bar or other social setting to know that you are a natural born storyteller.

Why is that? Because when you are in a friendly setting, you can be yourself, and you will use really direct language (no jargon) to make sure what you say is engaging.

These experiences show that we all have that innate sense of what makes a good story. But we tend to forget that a great presentation is simply a great story, and we can also at times struggle to express our natural and true self.

A Case Study

My Story: Turning My Story into a Powerful Presentation

The first step is finding your unique story. But how do you do that? Let us go back to that social setting and work through the following five steps, and I will share how I used these steps to find my story.

NB. Some of what I am about to share about my WorkLife you already know from previous chapters. I need to share it here again to give context to this strategy/framework. So:

First a little background

My area of work is people development. I work with a team of performing and visual artists to deliver training programmes, which combine learning and development strategies with skills and techniques from the Arts. So, working with the five steps:

5 Steps to Finding Your Unique Story Assignment

Step 1: Begin by Thinking about Where your Passions Lie

What topics are you most likely going to be talking about?

What are the things that excite you?

What are the subject matters that make you feel you have something to say?

E.g. I am passionate about learning and development – my own and other people’s. I am also passionate about the Arts, and this is what excites me and what I am most likely going to be talking about – and I happen to have a lot to say on these matters.

Step 2: Look Where you Spend your Time

What is it you do outside of your work, when your time is valuable, where do you choose to spend it?

E.g. I am always learning, whether I am listening to podcasts, reading, or taking a course; and this together with visiting galleries, museums, going to the cinema and theatre is where I choose to spend my time. As learning and the Arts are my work, this is what I do on a daily basis and at weekends for both work and leisure.

Step 3: Look Where you Spend your Disposable Income

What are the things you spend your money on? – your interests or hobbies.

E.g. This is also where I spend my money: learning and the Arts. I recently did a course on Radio Theatre, which was very interesting and great fun. Other recent spends include: a preview screening of Liar (a new TV show) at the BFI followed by a Q&A with the writers, director and leading actor. I have just booked tickets to see Glengarry Glen Ross, which is coming to the West End, and Girl From The North Country – written and directed by Conor McPherson with music and lyrics by Bob Dylan.

Step 4: Think about your Struggles

In tough times, what did you do?

What kind of uncertainties did you feel?

E.g. I changed my WorkLife from investment banking to career coaching, going to university as a mature student. That was a struggle because it was a juggling act initially. I worked to bring in much needed income while studying and gaining practical experience to launch my new WorkLife. I felt great uncertainty about whether I could make that transition and if I could make a living from it.  

There have been many tough times, getting things started and keeping them going. I have gotten through those by persistence, determination and a positive attitude – I keep on going because I believe my work has a positive impact in helping people develop, and working with learning and the Arts, makes it easy to remain positive.

Step 5: Discover your Eureka Moment

What was the moment you had your greatest realisation?

E.g. There was a further struggle that led me to discovering my ‘Eureka’ moment: once qualified, while individual WorkLife coaching came easily to me, group workshops and presentations did not. I was so incredibly nervous that I would be physically ill before talking in front of people. I was also very inhibited and not my natural self, and to top all of that off I became very wooden!

To overcome this I undertook a Foundation Year in Drama along with several shorter acting courses, and a year-long Directing course, which led me to being Assistant Director on a production of Hamlet that went on to being performed at the RSC Open Space in Stratford Upon Avon (Remember that’s my claim to fame!).

This is when I had my ‘Eureka’ moment of how the techniques, structures and methods of theatre making are significant in the world of people development. The unique skills sets performing artists have had to develop in their craft brings learning alive. This excited me because I knew with my background in learning and development I could collaborate with artists to create meaningful learning programmes.

That is how I found my story, and it has been helpful in establishing my company brand, and in business and networking situations helping me to talk about what I do. It has also been helpful in developing presentations and pitches for work.

But what about presentations? How can you adapt your unique story to help you deliver a great presentation that people are going to want to listen to?

Making your Story into a Powerful Presentation

You need to think about the single purpose of your presentation, the one principle that is most central to what you want to accomplish.

Let me demonstrate with a presentation I am currently working on. This is part of an application process for funding to deliver community projects.

First a little further background

As well as working with the Arts in the workplace through people-development programmes, I am also passionate about bringing the joy and benefits of the Arts to the community. This includes retirement homes and to people who are living with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Here’s how my Story/Presentation is shaping up:

My love of the Arts came from my parents, music, song and dance, film and theatre.

Sadly, towards the end of my mum’s life she developed dementia, which progressed quite rapidly. She had to go into a retirement home as she required round the clock care. As a family we felt we’d lost her, the dementia took away aspects of her personality and parts of her memory, she just wasn’t the same anymore and it was heart breaking.

When we went to visit, she always knew us, but as soon as we left she wouldn’t remember we’d been there. We also couldn’t have a conversation with her, because she just couldn’t remember things, and she’d become frustrated and agitated. It was too upsetting for her.

Every couple of weeks a singer would go into the home and have a sing-song with the residents, and when she did, my mum would sing along, and she’d remember every single word of every single song, and she’d talk about it for days afterwards. It lifted her mood immediately, and she was so much happier and calmer.

This is why I want to work with a team of performing artists, to create a programme of events bringing music, song and dance to the lives of people who live with dementia and Alzheimer’s. I know the joys, benefits and well-being it will bring.

My one purpose: To help people understand the immediate and lasting impact these programmes will have on people’s lives.

Wish me luck!

Develop Your WorkLife Story Chapters

”A story is based on what people think is important, so when we live a story, we are telling people around us what we think is important.” Donald Miller

Five Steps to Finding Your Unique Story Assignment:

Step 1: Begin by thinking about where your passions lie;

Step 2: Look where you spend your time;

Step 3: Look where you spend your disposable income;

Step 4: Think about your struggles;

Step 5: Discover your Eureka moment.

Making Your Story into a Powerful Presentation

You need to think about the single purpose of your presentation, the one principle that is most central to what you want to accomplish.

Moral of this Story

“The difference between real life and a story is that life has significance, while a story must have meaning.” Vera Nazarian

Develop a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback 

Everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.” Patrick Rothfuss.                      Listen to yourself and to your story. 

Develop a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning 

The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.” Brandon Sanderson

What questions do you want to give to people to think upon from your WorkLife presentation?

Words of Wisdom 

“Stories are a communal currency of humanity.” Tahir Shah, in Arabian Nights.

© Carmel O’ Reilly 2019 First published 2019 by WorkLife Incorporated

Feel free to publish an excerpt from this chapter, wherever you like. Your blog, your book, your newsletter. It’s all good. 

Just use my full name and kindly link back to my website: You’ll find my bio right here: Thank you. Be Well and Stay Safe.


Is it Ever Too Late or Too Difficult for your Next WorkLife Chapter?

“If not now, when?” Ronald Reagan 

Longevity means there is space for many new WorkLife chapters, but is it ever too late? I do not think so. Let me share John’s story, who at 69 wanted to consider his next WorkLife chapter.

A Case Study

John’s WorkLife Longevity Story

John’s WorkLife began in the forces where he was an engineer before moving into production management in the computer industry. From there he moved into design and manufacturing in the telecoms industry, then on to Operations Director in the pharmaceutical industry, before moving into consultancy work in the tobacco industry. His work took him all over the world, and along the way he undertook various pieces of research and development and also worked closely with HR departments delivering training and development.

Then he decided to retire and move to the South of France. But a few months and many gastronomic delights later John was beginning to become a little bored, and wondered if he had retired just a little too early. Not one to sit on his laurels he undertook a building development project, which led to another, and before he knew it he was sourcing French properties for folks back in the UK and project managing the development work.

So as you can appreciate John is a man of many talents and when we began our work together he wanted to figure out what he wanted to do that would fit into semi-retirement – keep him mentally stimulated, but also give him the scope to do nothing if he chose to. Nothing other than developing his appreciation for fine wines, fine food and fine art that is –and learning to perfect his French and playing boules.

This was no ordinary job-search campaign and we soon agreed his best plan of action was to connect with people he had met throughout his WorkLife, just by way of catching up for a coffee or beer and having a chat about things in general. Well no sooner did he do this when an opportunity arose for him to deliver some very specialist consultancy training work, whereby he was training the consultancy firm’s consultants for this specific field-based work.

He has now established himself as the person they come to when they bring new consultants on board, and he has also been asked to be a Non-Executive Director supporting the development of talent with a commitment of one day a month over ten months of the year. Un coup de chance? (a stroke of good luck?) Maybe a little luck, but I have come to learn that the better we are the luckier we become! And John is top of the game in terms of being good.

So, it is never too late to begin your next WorkLife chapter, and the wealth of your skills and experience will be of great value whether you are joining a company or you are starting a venture of your own.

A Case Study

It was the Worst of Times and Then it got Even Worse: The Story of the Waltons in the Most Difficult of Times

There have been many difficult times throughout history, perhaps none more so than the Great Depression followed closely by World War II. The Waltons TV series set during these times demonstrated how the family navigated their WorkLives during these difficult times.

When The Waltons first came to our screens it was set in the time of the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce, companies were closing down, and people needed to be creative in their thinking when it came to finding themselves a job or set up in business. Not so different to how it is now, really.

Then the storyline moved to World War II, which deeply affected the family. Their WorkLives became very different. It forced them to put aspects of their WorkLives aside or on hold. They had to diversify in line with the demands of the time. It was also formative in charting their immediate and pursuing WorkLife chapters. 

What might have made it even more difficult for the Waltons was that they lived in a very small community, and so perhaps there was not a lot of scope for enterprise. However when they did venture further afield to the bigger towns, there may have been more opportunities. But there was also more competition, again not so different to how things are now.

And yet they all managed to find work when they needed to. They were quite inventive about it really and managed to utilise, embrace and nurture their unique talents, skills and attributes, whether that was in their small community or when up against the competition in the bigger towns and cities. 

The grandparents and parents instilled strong values in the children, along with a strong belief that they could achieve their heart’s desire. They recognised and encouraged the unique talents, skills and attributes within each child, and gave them a supportive push in striving towards their goals.

They did not have the financial capacity to fund their education; but the belief they instilled in each child provided a greater capability to achieve the WorkLife they aspired to, far more than funding their education would ever have done. Each one worked hard for what they wanted, which resulted in even greater appreciation and gratification. I think the old adage of ‘give a man a fish and he’ll eat well today, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat well for the rest of his life’ is appropriate here.

The grandparents, parents and in turn the siblings were a great support to each other along their WorkLife journeys. They were, I think, both mentors and mentees at various stages as they all supported each other in their learning, growth and development. As much as we have evolved since the time of the great depression, and World War II, and organisations are becoming more international and global, many things remain the same. 

We all have the capacity to be both mentors and mentees, to share our knowledge, wisdom and expertise, and even among the international and global organisations there is space for the values and beliefs demonstrated in the Walton family. Simple perhaps, but as I think many of us have come to realise in an increasingly complex world ‘simplicity’ is becoming a key value. 

The Waltons TV series was based on the book Spencer’s Mountain by Earl Hamner Jr. He based the characters off his own family. 


From a young boy he had a passion to become a writer, and began by recording his thoughts about his family, friends and circumstances, writing stories in a journal. He wrote and published his community and college newspaper. On graduating he moved to New York to fulfil his dream of becoming an author. After the attack on Pearl Harbour he enlisted in the military, and wrote as a war correspondent for the US Army’s newspaper Stars and Stripes. After the war ended, he returned to New York and turned his attention to reporting news. He went on to become a novelist. 


Enjoyed composing music for harmonica, guitar and piano. He attended the Kleinberg Conservatory of Music. He joined the National Guard, and during the war became a sergeant in the army. He landed a job playing honkytonk piano at a local tavern, which he later came to own. 

Mary Ellen

Followed her ambition to go into medicine, gained an education as a medical worker and became a nurse. Ending up taking care of people out in the country by herself, she concluded they needed more medical expertise than she could offer, and so she continued studying medicine until she succeeded in becoming a doctor. 


Had an entrepreneurial spirit and embarked on various schemes, some more successful than others. He also fought in the war and was taken prisoner by the Japanese. Between times he ran the family sawmill in partnership with his father.


Worked as a telephone operator while finishing school. She struggled to find her place, as she was not an academic like John-Boy, or musical like Jason, interested in medicine like Mary-Ellen, or entrepreneurial like Ben. She took a part-time job at a business college, and when the owner saw her helping out at the unattended front desk answering and assisting callers, allowed her to work her way through the business school. She went on to become an executive secretary, then personnel manager, going on to become the plant’s assistant manager. Later in life she earned a teaching certificate leading her to become a school principal. 


Was fascinated by aeroplanes and aspired to become a pilot. However increasingly poor eyesight forced him to give up this dream. He went on to become a mechanic and opened his own business. 


Had an inquisitive mind and a talent for writing. She joined the Peace Corp. A free spirit she struggled to settle down and travelled the globe looking for adventure. 

Develop Your WorkLife Story Chapters

When you do not know what to expect, have great expectations for your next WorkLife chapters.

Navigate the In Between Assignment 

What one word, phrase or sentence describes how you want your WorkLife to be. For John it was: “To keep him mentally stimulated but also give him the scope to do nothing if he choose to.” 

For the Waltons it was: “To utilise, nurture and embrace their unique talents, skills, and attributes.”

Next you enrol in the greatest seminar in the world. *The seminar of your everyday life. To be a student you must pay attention to the teacher; experience itself, and when you do the learning process begins. 

There are many reasons to engage in this seminar. The desire to learn is as fundamental to our being as the desire to survive. We are changed by the way in which we work. We develop qualities as well as skills. Intellectual, emotional, creative and intuitive capacities are developed through our WorkLife experiences. Determination, courage, commitment, empathy, imagination and a host of communication skills are built.

Remain observant and curious to the world around you, to learning about the unknown,  and opportunities will present themselves. You can set learning goals when you know what you want and need to learn. Be as clear as you can about what you want to learn and why, then be prepared to follow your interest and be open to the unexpected.

Moral of this Story

Your next WorkLife chapter is waiting for you. The key is not to force it. Instead look at it from another angle, or just pause and see what comes to the surface. Think of this as an active pause, where you change your routine, or put yourself in different situations. Ideas and opportunities will present themselves. They may appear to come from nowhere, but the truth is you will have created them.

Develop a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback 

During your active pause be open to experiences that require creative thinking: yours and other people’s. Let this guide you to learning what you need to learn, and to knowing what you can do with the learning you already have within you, in a new and different context.

Develop a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning 

Pay attention to the opportunities you are discovering. This will prompt questions to allow you to know what to do next to make the most of this WorkLife experience. Ask:

What do I already know that I can adapt to this WorkLife experience?

What parts of this WorkLife experience are best suited to teach me what I want and need to learn?

Words of Wisdom 

You are the author of your WorkLife story. This is not the end, it is just the beginning. 

*The seminar of your everyday life has been adapted from The Inner Game of Work by Timothy Gallwey. 

© Carmel O’ Reilly 2019 First published 2019 by WorkLife Incorporated

Feel free to publish an excerpt from this chapter, wherever you like. Your blog, your book, your newsletter. It’s all good. 

Just use my full name and kindly link back to my website: You’ll find my bio right here: Thank you. Be Well and Stay Safe.



“It’s good to be confident but not so confident you always think you’re right – that’s arrogance, it’s good to be humble, it’s not good to be so humble that you’re discrediting yourself – that’s insecurity.”  Anon

Timothy Gallwey, the author of the Inner Game series of books, says that achievement is the result of skill minus interference. By interference he means the self-talk that tends to clutter up our minds while going about our WorkLife, notably at times when we want to be our best. We get in our own way and sabotage our performance. He goes on to say that we need a better relationship with our inner critic. We think self-criticism pushes us to perform better and live up to higher standards, but actually it can bring about self-sabotage, because focusing on what is wrong with you rather than what is right decreases your confidence and makes you afraid of failure. This hurts your performance, makes you give up more easily, make poor decisions, and become less likely to try new things and less resilient in the face of failure, less likely to learn and grow from your mistakes. 

A Case Study

Samantha and Josh’s Stories of Self-Sabotage 

Samantha and Josh were working at A-Z Advertising Agency for two years., Both had joined as college graduates. As part of their graduate programme they had both worked for six months at a time in different functions across the company. This was a requirement designed to allow them to understand all aspects of the business more broadly.

The next part of their development plan was to have the opportunity to be part of the team working closely with Caitlin, the company’s Creative Director. This was an opportunity that was offered just once a year. To be accepted onto her team, they were each required to present their ideas for a new campaign for a long-existing client.  

How did they do? 

They both failed. 

Why? Because they both sabotaged themselves.

But in very different ways:

Samantha allowed her negative self-talk to impact her self-belief in her own ability. She doubted every single idea she had, and came across as insecure and needy.

Josh believed his ideas were the best ideas, and the only ideas that would work. He came across as arrogant and closed-minded.

As part of the process in preparing their presentation for Caitlin, they had first pitched their ideas to focus groups. These groups were made up of experienced professionals across the company.   The groups had given feedback on what they liked and did not like.

Samantha homed in on what they did not like, completely blanking what they liked, which led her to not believe in herself or her ideas. Her belief was that everyone else’s ideas were better than hers.

Josh homed in on what they liked, completely blanking what they did not like, which led him to believe in himself and his ideas. His belief was that his ideas were better than anyone else’s. 

For them to be considered for the opportunity the following year Caitlin gave them both feedback.

She told them that the focus groups were impressed with both of their ideas, and that the feedback was given to help their ideas to be even better. But instead of listening and understanding what was being said, and learning from that, they had both gotten in their own way. They had in effect sabotaged themselves through whatever it was that was going on within themselves.

She went on to say that a stipulation for them to be considered next year would be for them to present back to her what they had learnt from this experience, and how they have used this to set themselves up for success at the next opportunity. She told them she wanted to see confident presentations that demonstrated both humility and self-belief. She said she would meet with them in nine months to hear what they had to say. 

She left them with these parting words of wisdom: “Listening to the right people, and this includes listening to yourself, is a gift, a chance to learn about how to do better. Listening to the wrong people, and this includes listening to yourself, particularly the early critics, is a trap. If you’re not careful, it can become a place to hide.” 

She proposed a question to ask themselves by way of reflecting on their experience. The question she said that will serve them well in this moment, and will stand them in good stead throughout their WorkLife, is to ask:

“How am I complicit in creating the conditions that I say I don’t want?”

She finished by suggesting they read Timothy Gallwey’s work on The Inner Game.

Nine months later this is what Samantha and Josh presented to Caitlin:


The greatest challenge and consequently the greatest possibilities lie in overcoming the self-imposed mental limitations which prevent the full expression of my ideas and subsequently my potential. 

I realised I need to monitor my negative self-talk, because my mind is always listening, and if I talk about all my perceived limitations, if I argue for them, they’re mine, if I fight for them, I get to keep them, and so I always have to be careful of my negative self-talk. 

My self-image can be an obstacle, probably the greatest obstacle to my growth, by believing my ideas are not as good as other people’s, I limit how well I will let myself draw on other people’s ideas to develop my own thinking.  

Acknowledging my weaknesses, has allowed me to behave differently in response to what I’ve acknowledged. I’ve taken my inner voices on a journey with me to highlight challenges and obstacles. This allows me to be my own fiercest opponent, other opponents will be small compared to the expectations I have for myself. 

Of course I can’t demonstrate I’m right for the project if I only focus on my inadequacies, I have to project confidence, and this is a confidence that I can learn to develop myself and my ideas through other people and their ideas. I can do this by accepting feedback objectively, making my judgement by observing the facts, and from this making my decisions.

When I engage in self-sabotage through negative self-talk, then my self-confidence suffers. This leads to a cycle of self-interference, and one that I haven’t yet learnt to overcome, but I have learnt how to deal with it and to manage it. 

I do this by asking myself the question: “Do I want to do this badly enough, or do I want to give into the notion that I’m not good enough?” To be part of your team, to have the opportunity to work closely with you, and to learn from you, is my heart’s desire, this is an amazing opportunity, and it’s my opportunity. So, yes I do want it badly enough, I have to do it, and I am good enough. 

Success for me is walking into a room, believing in myself and what I do. Presenting my best self in the knowledge I’ve put everything I can into my work, and being happy with the result.


I can be my own worst enemy, and I need to get out of my own way, and start developing patience. To be patient with myself, to accept that I don’t know everything, and my ideas are not the only ideas or necessarily the best ideas. 

The mental interference that is keeping me from being my best right now, will also make it more difficult to acquire new skills. I needed to find a better way, and to make a change.

To do this I looked to behaviours/tactics of people I admire in the world of sports, how they keep their minds quiet, and focussed to manage the impact of inner dialogue on their performance. I discovered the art of relaxed concentration to trust my mind’s potential to learn and perform.

This practice uses the unconscious rather than the self-conscious mind, it helps to unlearn or suspend the habits and concepts which interfere with my natural learning ability and to trust the innate intelligence of my mind. 

I want to be good at my job, and I want to find solutions, I want to find a way to become good. I recognise now that there is no instant solution, I will learn through experience, I’ll make mistakes, working with and listening to experienced professionals who are passionate about their work, will allow me to learn though these experiences and mistakes.

I need to let go of what I think I know because learning any new skill is about the process of discovery which comes primarily from the experience itself. By letting go of my preconceived notions, by not resisting new experiences I can learn far more. I can learn how to deal with the unexpected whenever I encounter it. I’m discovering I can adapt to strange or different concepts only when I’m willing to let go of dependence on old concepts.

George F. Kneller said: “To think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted.” 

I believe there’s a way to be humble and confident. Success to me is to turn up in life with humility, confidence, authenticity, with fun and to be myself.

Caitlin was impressed by the sincerity of their self-reflection, and what they had learned from this. She gave them both the opportunity to present their ideas for that year’s campaign. She asked that they work together on their presentation, saying they each had something different and unique to bring to their work, that they could both learn from and challenge each other.

Samantha and Josh were both relieved and excited to have been given the opportunity again. They agreed to be their own and each other’s biggest critics and champions, to hold themselves to the highest standards. To work to come up with new ideas to challenge their excellence.

It worked. They were both successful in Caitlin accepting them onto her team, to work closely with her on the new campaign. 

Develop Your WorkLife Story Chapters

Taking a long hard look at how you are self-sabotaging is both insightful and painful. It requires you to look in the mirror at who you are, and what you do. At its worst it is destructive, or at its best it is slowing you down, preventing you from fully being who you should be. 

My Complicity Assignment

To turn up as the person you should be in the world, to turn up for yourself, for your family, for your friends, colleagues, clients, for whoever it might be.

Ask yourself: 

How am I complicit in creating the conditions that I say I don’t want?

This is the type of question that if you really take time to think about it and journal on it, it will change your life. 

Moral of this Story

We all play the inner game of telling ourselves stories. You have the power to use your self-talk to create a vivid, three-dimensional life out of your words, to make your WorkLife your masterpiece. 

Develop a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback 

Find the truth by looking beyond what you perceive the facts to be. The truth and the facts are not the same. Being objective rather than subjective will allow you to see something deeper, and when you do that will stay within you forever.

Develop a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning 

To discover how you get to where you want to go in your WorkLife, you need to get to deep questions. Ask yourself:

How comfortable can I be with the discomfort it takes to get me to where I want to go? 

Words of Wisdom 

Master your inner dialogue. What you say to yourself matters more than what the entire world together says about you. 

© Carmel O’ Reilly 2019 First published 2019 by WorkLife Incorporated

Feel free to publish an excerpt from this chapter, wherever you like. Your blog, your book, your newsletter. It’s all good. 

Just use my full name and kindly link back to my website: You’ll find my bio right here: Thank you. Be Well and Stay Safe.

Communication and The Power of Words by Carmel O’ Reilly

Words are fundamental in our WorkLives and are the medium though which we communicate who we are and what we stand for.

Communication and The Power of Words … are stories which demonstrate what we can communicate with words – ideas, images, hopes, theories, fears, vulnerabilities, plans, understanding, expectations, a past, a present, and a future, culture, community, ways of seeing … the list is endless, and the power is simply powerful. 

Communication and The Power of Words A Case Study:

I was at a masterclass at the Theatre Royal Haymarket London at which the actor Mark Strong shared his experience of the industry and his career before hosting a Q and A. One of the questions Mark was asked was how he gets into a character – to understand the essence of their being. His reply was that it’s in the writing and he gets everything he needs from the words. He spoke in particular about his role as Eddie in the play: A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller.

Words are fundamental in our lives and the medium through which we communicate who we are and what we stand for. 

Words of Wisdom

Words have the power to change the world. 

Just as Mark used the written words to understand who Eddie is, the people we interact with come to understand our beliefs, values and dreams though the words we use to communicate. Because as people it’s what we can communicate with words – ideas, images, hopes, theories, fears, vulnerabilities, plans, understanding, expectations, a past, a present, and a future, culture, community, ways of seeing …. the list is endless, and the power is simply powerful.

Book Wisdom

In Three Uses Of The Knife,David Mamet says: “It’s in our nature to dramatise. At least once a day we reinterpret the weather – an essentially impersonal phenomenon – into an expression of our current view of the universe: Great. It’s raining. Just when I’m blue. Isn’t that just like life?”

“Or we say: “I can’t remember when it was this cold, in order to forge a bond with our contemporaries. Or we say: When I was a lad the winters were longer, in order to avail ourselves of one of the delights of ageing.

The weather is impersonal, and we both understand it and exploit it as dramatic, i.e. having a plot, in order to understand its meaning for the hero, which is to say for ourselves.”

Whenever we communicate there is much at stake, and perhaps even more so in our working environment. When you’re preparing your next communication – conversation, presentation or talk – to help your process, consider the following techniques actors in training develop to hone their skills in understanding the words, that will allow them to deliver them with the greatest impact:

They are encouraged to read play after play after play because script analysis is the nuts and bolts in the literal fleshing out to bring characters to life. Every line of dialogue, every movement, every action and reaction gives an understanding of a character’s motivations and objectives, emotions and desires, and allows the actor to step in and become the character.

You can apply this technique by following the ‘Thought Leaders’ in your industry: study them as the actor does to gain valuable insights into their characters and stories. Use the same approach to understand what’s happening outside of your industry and sector, to recognise successful trends, practices and behaviours that could make a difference to your world.

Interestingly writers are often recommended to take an acting course to follow this same process, because particularly in the early stages of developing a concept, they need to get to know their characters inside and out; and learning to live in a character’s skin, the same way actors do, sharpens their innate ability to substitute and imagine emotionally truthful stories. 

There may come a time when you think of taking an acting class to develop your understanding of character and voice – technically to develop a great speaking voice and also to develop your unique character voice that will motivate, inspire and impact those listening to you.

For now, you can draw on your learnings from the observations you make as you go about your daily WorkLife – conversing, listening, watching and reading. 

For example, let’s consider how Mark Strong gained an understanding of his character Eddie and the world he existed in, from this analysis by Sparknotes for A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller:

A View from the Bridge is a play largely concerned with discovery. As Alfieri warns, no one can ever know what will be discovered. There are two secrets in the play: Eddie’s incestuous desires for his niece and the two illegal immigrants hiding in the Carbone home, Marco and Rodolpho. The gradual exposition of these secrets destroys Eddie, as he is incapable of dealing with either discovery. An inarticulate man, Eddie is unable to realise, speak or understand his own feelings for Catherine and cannot forgive himself for exposing Marco and Rodolpho. Eddie’s feelings toward Catherine manifest themselves into fierce protectiveness and eventual rage at Rodolpho. Because of his inability to deal with his feelings, Eddie instinctively reveals his second secret—Marco and Rodolpho—which completes his undoing.

Now let’s consider how you can adapt the process of your WorkLife observations to your story – the concept, idea, message you want to communicate – by following these four steps:

  1. Begin by understanding the bigger picture in the same way Strong did. In writing the story, Miller used his prowess in communicating the great conflict between community and American law. The words he used gave Strong a deep-rooted understanding of the world his character Eddie existed in, the challenges and problems, and the changes that needed to take place if he were to be able to move beyond these. You will need the same understanding of the world/industry/organisation/team/partnership you operate in. 
  2. In writing, Miller took time to get to know people at grassroots level, to understand their hopes, dreams, fears and challenges. You need to stand in the shoes of your audience to understand your world from different perspectives. These are the first steps in developing your message to communicate your understanding of what others are feeling and thinking and show respect of other’s point of view.
  3. Having an understanding of both the big and small picture (the world you operate in and the individuals within that world) provides the backdrop to your story (the concept, idea, message you want to communicate), as well as an understanding of the fundamental words you need to use that have the power to arouse every emotion, and how to deliver them with the greatest impact that demands a call to action.
  4. To develop your story from here, begin by asking yourself the questions: From the knowledge I’ve gathered what makes a good story? What makes a good drama? Take time to reflect through self-feedback. This will give you the insight into the words you can use to shape and tell your story in a way that is powerful.

Sage Wisdom

“I love all insider memoirs. It doesn’t matter whether it’s truck-drivers or doctors. I think everyone likes to go backstage, find out what people think and what they talk about and what specialised job they have.” David Mamet 


Words Have Power. You have the power to change the world of those around you. Think of the words you can use to do that. Then: JUST SAY THEM.

Today’s book of the blog is: Three Uses Of The Knife by David Mamet. 

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associate Programme. This means if you click through and make a purchase through my referral links, I’ll be compensated. Using the links won’t cost you anything extra, and it helps to keep the blog. Thank you.

WorkLife Book Wisdom 

The intention of this blog is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride. 

My hope is that these book wisdom stories will help you throughout the chapters of your WorkLife Story.


It Takes Courage to be Vulnerable 

“Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and a struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.” Brené Brown

We live in a vulnerable world, and one of the ways we deal with our own vulnerability is to numb it –  grief, shame, doubt, anxiety, fear, sadness, disappointment, loneliness, the list goes on. We do not want to feel these, so we numb them. The thing is we cannot numb these hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. We cannot selectively numb because in doing so, we also numb joy, gratitude, happiness, and then we are unhappy because we feel vulnerable.

A Case Study

Vanessa’s Story of Vulnerability 

Vanessa had been struggling for a while. While outwardly to begin with it seemed she was doing OK, in truth she was struggling to keep her head above water. You see Vanessa had been living with dyspraxia for two years, but she did not disclose this during the hiring process. The reason is because she did share it in her last job, following on from which she did not get the support she needed. Nobody took time to understand the impact this had on her WorkLife, and the help she needed to manage it. She also felt bullied by her co-workers, who blamed her when the team failed to meet deadlines. 

Dyspraxia had affected her cognitive skills, and it was taking her longer to process and respond to information. People were irritated by her slowness, and branded her as being lazy. Her balance had also been impacted causing her to be increasingly clumsy, which people would laugh at. She became easily disoriented, and although she took a regular route to work, on mornings where there was disruption to her journey, something that may be simple to other people, such as not being able to take her normal exit from the station, would completely throw her, causing her to arrive at work flustered. People said she had given herself a label and was living up to that label. 

In the end she could not take it any longer, and began to look for a new job. She successfully interviewed at her current company, managing to get through the onboarding process through sheer grit. 

She also did not want to be labelled with being disabled, so she tried to hide it, and as a result found herself in hot water, with her manager Grace and the rest of the team who felt she was not pulling her weight. She knew she was responsible for keeping her disability invisible, but she was afraid of the implications if she did share what she was going through. She was afraid people would feel sorry for her, and she was afraid it would impact her career progression. But it had come to a head. She knew she had to share what she was going through, but she also knew that if the outcome was the same as at her last company it would destroy her, and she was not sure if she would be able to pick herself up again. So she made the decision to write her resignation letter. 

Except Grace did not accept it. Instead she called Vanessa and asked to meet her in the coffee shop around the corner. Vanessa gathered her belongings and duly went along, thinking at least it is happening away from the office and she would not have to go back and face people.

But that wasn’t what Grace had in mind. She wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on for Vanessa. She liked her and she liked her work, but she knew there was something that Vanessa was holding back, and she knew she needed to talk to her in a relaxed space away from the office if she was ever going to get her to open up.

Vanessa was struck by Grace’s sincerity in wanting to understand what was going on, and this coupled with the feeling that she had nothing to lose as she had already made her decision to resign, caused her to open up to Grace, to tell her story of how living with dyspraxia for two years had impacted her WorkLife. Although she felt vulnerable, Grace’s kindness in listening, and the gentle questions she asked, allowed her to not just focus on the negatives, but to also share the strengths and positives of dyspraxia too. When Vanessa had finished, Grace asked what she could do to help that would make her stay. She assured her she would personally ensure that she received the support she needed to thrive. 

Vanessa wanted to stay, and having Grace’s support meant a lot, but Grace was just one person. She was still concerned about the rest of the team. Maybe they would think she was being shown favouritism, and that this would lead to resentment. She did not feel strong enough to deal with any backlash – labelling, branding, judgement, being laughed at, talked about. 

In an attempt to reassure Vanessa, Grace went on to talk about the first live storytelling show, called Humans at Work, that was taking place the following week. People throughout the company would be telling their personal stories on the theme of Identity. She went on to say that “we all carry things with us, that have shaped who we are as people, that affect our performances in our WorkLives. The experiences and emotions that make us fundamentally human, and that it’s the ability to understand the experiences of others and share their feelings that we can be fully supportive.” She encouraged Vanessa to tell her story, saying she would work with her to hone it.

And so a week later Vanessa found herself standing in the company theatre, sitting next to her fellow storytellers, as one by one each of them stood up to tell their story to a live audience of more than three-hundred of their colleagues in the room, and many more who were watching via live stream. The response was incredible. People laughed and cried together. The atmosphere in the room was overwhelming, as everyone in the room stood to applaud the people and their stories. 

Each of Vanessa’s team came up to her and thanked her for her honesty in sharing her story; and it did not stop there. Over the coming days and weeks everyone took time to have a coffee with her. They took time to fully understand what it meant to be living with dyspraxia, the good and the bad, and to understand what was needed from them in support of Vanessa enjoying her WorkLife. It went even further, and it was not long before the domino effect took hold, with people opening up about their WorkLife stories. The workplace became a place where everyone was comfortable sharing their secrets, their vulnerabilities, their experiences as humans. 

Develop Your WorkLife Story Chapters

Sharing your story makes you vulnerable. To tell your truthful personal story requires you to reveal a flaw, a mistake, or a difficulty in your WorkLife. This may open you up to being judged. You need to have trust in the people you are opening up to, a trust that gives you confidence that you will be safe, secure and supported. Remember you are in control of how much you want to reveal.

Opening Up About Your Vulnerability Assignment 

Think of a time in your WorkLife when you felt vulnerable.

What made you feel vulnerable? Describe your experience.

Were you able to open up about it?

If yes, what followed on from that?

If no, why not?

Is there a message in what you did or did not do that will allow you to shape and tell your story that is both respectful of your need to protect yourself while also being brave enough to talk about your vulnerability?

Moral of this Story

In telling her story Vanessa raised awareness not only of her vulnerability, but also of the implications of living with a hidden disability, and the impact this has on her WorkLife. In doing so she caused her audience to take a closer look at their own vulnerabilities and the vulnerabilities of others. Stories draw people closer together and the power of vulnerability is transformative.  

Develop a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback 

Take the time you need to reflect on the struggles you experience throughout your WorkLife. It is the low points that make the high points seem so high, not only by themselves but by comparison. This is really powerful because it helps you to be open about your vulnerabilities and tell your story from a place of truth.

Develop a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning 

Learning to ask the right questions will give you valuable insight into the role vulnerability plays in your everyday life. Ask:

Can I be more open while still protecting myself?

Who is someone I trust, who could provide a valuable perspective on my fears of opening up about my vulnerability?

Words of Wisdom 

Vulnerability is something to be treasured, not hidden from. Embrace your vulnerability, what makes you vulnerable, makes you beautiful. 

© Carmel O’ Reilly 2019 First published 2019 by WorkLife Incorporated

Feel free to publish an excerpt from this chapter, wherever you like. Your blog, your book, your newsletter. It’s all good. 

Just use my full name and kindly link back to my website: You’ll find my bio right here: Thank you. Be Well and Stay Safe.


Let Your Curiosity Be Your Driving Force

The unknown was my compass. The unknown was my encyclopaedia. The unnamed was my science and progress.” Anaïs Nin

Curiosity is something that we are born with. As children we are amazed by and question everything. We are sponges of information and learn at an incredible rate. As we navigate through our WorkLife, curiosity is often the first point of our learning process, stimulating the flow of ideas. Exploratory questioning that builds our attention around what has piqued our interest is a wonderful tool for unlocking hidden potential in ourselves and the world around us.

A Case Study

Amelia’s Story: Let Curiosity Be Your Driving Force

Amelia was out of her depth. She was completely overwhelmed in her new role as a software developer. She was beating herself up for being so naive in believing she could get up to speed by really applying herself to learning the skills needed, when the reality was she had no experience, no training, and it was becoming very apparent no aptitude for the work. She knew her gamble had not paid off, and it was time to let her boss know she was giving up.

But let us back up a little to how Amelia got to this point.

She had studied Biochemistry and Molecular Science at university, and when she began her studies her intention was to work in medicine. However, she was unsure which pathway she wanted to follow, as she had a keen interest in both Alzheimer’s and Oncology. To allow her to make her decision, she needed more in-depth knowledge and understanding, and so she based her research projects on both these areas, along with gaining practical hands-on experience through voluntary work projects.

But by the end of her studies she still was not clear about the pathway she wanted to take. While she has enjoyed the research she has undertaken, she has also enjoyed the hands-on work with patients. Her uncertainty kept coming back to whether she wanted to follow a career in medical research or if she wanted to become a medical practitioner. 

Amelia’s love for learning had begun from a very young age, as had her innate sense of curiosity, and her deep sense that she wanted to do good in the world, to somehow make a difference. These core principles became her guiding stars at every crossroads in her life when she had asked herself the same three high-level questions:

  1. What am I curious about at this moment?
  2. What am I excited to learn next?
  3. How will this allow me to do good – what difference will it allow me to make in the world?

These questions helped direct her decisions first as a student, then in her work, and in her life ever since.

Posing these questions when she was uncertain about her career path when she finished university took her to the Dominican Republic on a year-long orthopaedic trauma work-experience assignment. This was because she felt she needed distance from her dilemma to be able to make a decision. Having been a student for five years she also felt that she needed a break, and she wanted to travel, to do something different. However, she also wanted to remain in the world of medicine, while doing something rewarding and fulfilling, something that would allow her to do good. This opportunity met all these needs and wants.

Her year-long assignment gave her so much more than this. Most importantly it opened her awareness to the fact that while not all orthopaedic trauma is life-threatening, it is life-altering, and of the importance of the right care through all stages of recovery. She became acutely aware that not all physicians were equipped with the right level of training to facilitate this, and that there was not good enough communication channels between doctors, specialists and surgeons to ensure patients received the care needed to resume a full and active life.

Her curiosity was once again piqued. She wanted to learn more, and she somehow wanted to do something that would make an impact in this area, but she did not know what. She was back at that crossroads posing the same three questions that had guided her in her life to this point.

At the end of her work experience she came back to London and began to look for new opportunities. By now she had come to value having a sense of excitement in her life, a sense of wanting to challenge herself, to be brave, to experience the unknown. Her curiosity had deepened to wanting to find solutions in a way that would allow her to make things better, to have a wider impact. 

On a night out she was catching up with friends who were working in tech. They were talking about interviews taking place for engineering internships, with a particular focus on software development. Immediately it struck Amelia that technology was the answer to facilitate the learning needed to have an impact in orthopaedic trauma. She did not know exactly how, but she knew it was the solution needed.

Of course, there was one glaring problem: she knew nothing about engineering. She put this to her friends, who of course knew this, but they also knew her to be smart. She managed to persuade them to set up a meeting with the hiring manager.  She then had to convince the manager that she was the right person for the role, despite the fact that she had absolutely no knowledge, skills or experience in software engineering. 

Instead of focusing on what she did not have, she focussed on what she could bring to the role. She did this by amplifying her strengths: throughout the conversation she demonstrated that she was a logical thinker. She convinced them that she was a quick learner.

She knew she needed to explicitly address her shortcomings. To do this she asked herself how she could minimise the risk to them, and what assurances could she give so they would be less likely to reject her. With little to lose, she confronted the gap in her software-development skills.  She emphasised that the internship was only three months long, that she was passionate about it, and that she could learn everything that she needed to learn in that time. 

Her approach paid off and she was offered the engineering internship. She turned up eager to learn, having prepared herself as much as she could, but quickly discovered that while it is admirable to take a leap of faith, executing on the follow-through is the true challenge. She genuinely did not know what it meant to be a software engineer, and soon found herself overwhelmed and out of her depth.

Frustrated and fighting back tears, she told her manager that she wanted to give up. To her surprise, he stopped her. He told her to stop worrying about her deficiencies and comparing herself to others with more experience. His support and that reality check really meant a lot to her. 

After that conversation with her manager, she got to work, and spent the remaining weeks of her internship cramming in as much coding as she possibly could. She was even sleeping at the office. By the end of the internship, she not only completed her project, but also earned a full-time position as a production engineer. She is now settling into her role and letting her curiosity guide her in knowing how she can use her learning to make a positive impact in Orthopaedic Trauma. 

Develop Your WorkLife Story Chapters

Let curiosity be your guide to a more fulfilling WorkLife through a deep and personal connection to the adventures and wonders of the world around you. Be inspired and challenged in pursuit of your next WorkLife chapters. 

Crossroads Assignment

When you are at a crossroads in your WorkLife use these core questions as your guiding stars. Ask yourself: 

1. What am I curious about at this moment?

2. What am I excited to learn next?

3. How will this allow me to do good – what difference will it allow me to make in the world?

Moral of this Story

As you set out in your WorkLife, let curiosity be your guide. You will never know where it might lead you, but that is the thrill. It empowers you to explore possibilities beyond what you could have imagined.

Develop a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback 

The act of wonder is about having a beginner’s mind: in curiosity it expands your awareness and calls on you to step into the unknown, to grow your desire to know more. 

Develop a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning 

To develop a wondrous approach to your WorkLife, ask yourself leverage ‘attentive’ questions: 

What’s attracting me to this? e.g. area or field of work?

What am I interested in finding out about it?

Why am I interested in this?

Words of Wisdom 

Stay curious, stay observant.

© Carmel O’ Reilly 2019 First published 2019 by WorkLife Incorporated

Feel free to publish an excerpt from this chapter, wherever you like. Your blog, your book, your newsletter. It’s all good. 

Just use my full name and kindly link back to my website: You’ll find my bio right here: Thank you. Be Well and Stay Safe.


Overcoming your Fear to Live your WorkLife with Courage

“The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela

Living your best WorkLife is about choice. It is about having courage to make changes. It is about taking a step back and asking why is this not working for you, and exploring why you are unhappy in your WorkLife. It involves taking a hard look at yourself and recognising the sources of pleasure in your life and the sources of frustration.

A Case Study

Richards Story: Improvisation Career Change and Hiking In The Alps

Stepping beyond your Place of Fear to Embrace what Lies Ahead

During an improvisation workshop one of the exercises was for the group to work in pairs, and to tell a story by each saying one word at a time. We were using the first principle of improvisation: *yes, and …”  We did this by moving around the room, and began to step into the story, playing out the actions and emotions as the story unfolded. The instruction was to go with it even if it took us to a scary place, and to then go beyond that and experience where it took us from there. Every single pairing ended up dying, and then coming back to life in a different capacity; and that was where our stories became even more interesting, and great fun, as we began to explore unknown quantities in respect of the pathways ahead of us as they unfolded in the moment.

I have conversations all the time with people who have reached a scary place in their WorkLife, and they are struggling to go beyond that. This reminds me of a Mark Twain quote: “courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear”. Metaphorically speaking, the courage needed to go beyond that barrier of fear to the other side of their WorkLife can be compared to the fear felt before dying, and crossing over to the other side or spiritual world.

Richard’s Story 

Richard’s story is one of many in terms of people who have come to this place in their WorkLife. Richard is a language teacher. His first language is English, and he is also fluent in French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish. His whole career had been within private schools teaching young adults; and while he enjoyed his work, he felt he needed a change, he was looking for adventure and excitement in his life. Unlike some people who reach this stage but do not know what to do next that will give them what it is they are seeking, Richard did know, but nonetheless it was still a scary prospect because to take this step beyond would take him away from the security and stability he had in his current role and into the unknown.

Richard wanted to move into the travel industry with a specific focus on educational travel languages and cultural programmes within Europe. This would allow him to use his language skills, and to nurture his knowledge and love of medieval and twentieth-century European history. He was experienced in designing school trips and had established strong collaborative working relationships with partners in a number of countries. He had also spent many holidays skiing and hiking in the Alps, and so all in all he was in a pretty good place in knowing the possibilities that could be out there.

But it kept coming back to giving up a full-time job and everything that went with that. It would also mean leaving his home in the UK for part of the year at least, as well as the social life he had established for himself. He had a pretty good life in London embracing his cultural interests, and he had a good circle of friends, and so he fought this urge to move beyond where he was, which was actually pretty good but at the same time lacking that sense of excitement and adventure that he yearned for.

It was actually three years after I first met Richard, and when he had shared his WorkLife dream with me, that it finally came to fruition. He admitted to having being scared to take the step he so wanted; and of course he needed to consider the reality of the situation, particularly around the financial implications, relocating and what he would do with his home in the UK as well as moving away from his friends.

However, during these three years he did work towards his WorkLife goal, and spent his holidays exploring the countries of his choice before narrowing it down to specific regions, all the time talking to people and building relationships and friendships. Once he began to open up to people about what he aspired to do, he began to have interesting conversations from which more and more ideas opened up to him around how he could make this work, along with an increasing awareness of the opportunities that were out there.

For peace of mind he wanted to secure enough work for his first year, and the good groundwork he put in place throughout his three-year research enabled this to happen. He got his first assignment in a ski resort in the French Alps, working with Japanese businesspeople to ensure they experienced the cultural highlights of the area. He has further work that will take him into the summer and autumn organising hiking expeditions throughout the Alps.

Richard has now resigned from his teaching position and he has rented his home for one year. His friends have all promised to visit him, and he has already established a good circle of friends in France. He has stepped beyond that place of fear and is ready to embrace what lies ahead.

*Rule number one of improvisation is the principle of “yes, and …”,  to accept and build on each new contribution. There is no time to negate or judge an idea. The shared goal is to propel a scene forward and make something new, so you roll with whatever is served. It is about letting ideas breathe, trusting each other, and going on a journey into the unknown together. Yes, and … lets you build and grow. This principle applies well beyond improvisation.

A Case Study

What If? Letters to Juliet

In the film Letters to Juliet, the character Sophie becomes mesmerised by the wall of letters in Juliet Capulet’s Courtyard, where people come from all over the world to write their burning question about their romantic dilemma, which is answered diligently by the secretaries of Juliet.

Behind a brick in the wall Sophie finds an unanswered letter written fifty years ago by a sixteen-year old English girl called Claire who had fallen in love with a young Italian boy called Lorenzo. Claire’s parent’s were taking her back to England and away from her Lorenzo. She wrote to Juliet asking her advice on what to do.

Sophie writes to Claire and poses the question “What If?” The letter resonates with Claire and brings her back to Italy fifty years later in search of her Lorenzo. Sophie accompanies her, and both women are swept along in a romantic venture that neither could ever have imagined.

Sophie’s letter began: “What If?” What and If are two words that are as non-threatening as words can be, but put them together side by side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life.”

It is a question I pose to people when they are considering a change in their current circumstances, to allow them to move away from a WorkLife that is uninspiring and de-motivating for them, to follow a path that allows them to be more fulfilled and energised in their work and life.

In essence they are looking for their Lorenzo. Some will know what the Lorenzo of their WorkLife is, while others will discover it along the way. Either way in a similar way to Claire they will need the courage to follow their heart and metaphorically speaking cross oceans to achieve their dreams; and while they do not always know where their story will end, the important thing is to know that it is never too late to be true to themselves in their quest for happiness in their WorkLife.

Develop Your WorkLife Story Chapters

Every book, every chapter, every story begins with an outline: bullet points of ideas that are then left to breathe. Draw on the principles of “yes, and …”  to step into your WorkLife story to play out the actions and emotions as they unfold. Go with it even if it takes you to a scary place, and then go beyond that and experience where it takes you from there. Explore your ‘what ifs’ to know what you could do to overcome your fears, what steps of courage you need to take to develop a new WorkLife chapter. 

Yes, And … Assignment

To do this simply walk and talk to yourself. Begin by saying your first sentence, e.g. Richard’s first sentence could have been: “I want to work in Europe” followed by” “yes, and I could use my language skills”, “yes, and, my knowledge and love of medieval and 20th century European history”, “yes, and my experience in designing school trips” and so on … 

Remember not to negate or judge an idea. The goal is to propel your WorkLife dream forward to expand your ideas to come up with something new, to explore the unknown, to courageously step beyond your place of fear, to embrace what lies ahead.

What’s the Worst that Can Happen? Assignment

Asking yourself what is the worst that can happen is often a helpful exercise. It might show you there is not a lot to worry about. If you are thinking of pursuing a big dream or a project, even a small goal, what is the worst that can happen? It might not work out, so you go back to what you were doing before, or you might do something different. 

Here are a few questions to start your thought process about where you are in your WorkLife right now and where you want to be in the future:

What is in my face that I’m not facing?

What is the worst that can happen if I face this? 

What is the worst that can happen if I don’t it?

What am I assuming that makes me turn away from this?

Moral of this Story

To overcome your fear and achieve a goal that is important to you, you need courage to take that first step without any guarantee of safety and security. You have to put yourself in a vulnerable position to take that step. To mitigate risk you can take small steps to test and prove your concept, as Richard did during the three years he was exploring his WorkLife dream. Trusting your intuition, instincts and vision requires a belief that it is possible. Try to live in a moment of courage and take that first step to see beyond what is in front of you.

Develop a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback 

Do you want it badly enough to take a risk? That is the question you want to ask, reflect on and feedback on to yourself. 

Developing a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning 

It takes real courage to do something different. It helps to ask yourself simple questions, to allow yourself to wonder and wander use the power of ‘If”:

What if?

If only …

I wonder if …

Words of Wisdom 

Nothing changes unless and until you do. Fear has the power to cripple you. Challenge yourself daily to step into the unknown with courage. Be bold but resourceful.  

© Carmel O’ Reilly 2019 First published 2019 by WorkLife Incorporated

Feel free to publish an excerpt from this chapter, wherever you like. Your blog, your book, your newsletter. It’s all good. 

Just use my full name and kindly link back to my website: You’ll find my bio right here: Thank you. Be Well and Stay Safe.