“If you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life.” Marc Anthony. 

“The truth is, you will work harder than you ever thought possible, but the tools will feel light in your hands.” Tim Cook

Discovering or rediscovering your WorkLife purpose will give you a true sense of fulfilment. It is the thing that will get you up in the morning ready to take on each day with energy and motivation. Without it your WorkLife will have less meaning: you will lack the sense of direction to help you make good decisions and to achieve your goals. Your values play an important part in helping you to understand your purpose; and when you do, it is your purpose that will drive you to live your best WorkLife.

A Case Study

My Story: Discovering My WorkLife Purpose 

I worked in the world of finance for many years, and while I enjoyed it, and worked with great people in a good environment, I never really had a passion for it. Because of this I chose to work on a contract basis rather than follow a career in banking. Over the years I worked in different departments, which allowed me to continue to learn and develop; and this also kept the work interesting. It also afforded me a great lifestyle and allowed me to embrace my love of travel.

Then the economic crisis happened. The bank made the decision to stop all contract work in order to make the positions of full-time employees secure. I had been considering moving on to doing something different, so although I was offered a permanent position, I declined because I felt this was the push I needed to make a change in my WorkLife.

While I was figuring out what I wanted to do next, my friend Pauline asked me to deliver the job-search element of a programme she was teaching. She had been let down by the original trainer at the last minute, and needed someone to stand in. I had no experience in this, but Pauline persuaded me that all I needed was a common-sense approach. This was in the early days of the internet, so I could not get the course material I needed online. Instead I drove the two-hour round trip to my nearest bookstore, and returned home armed with enough books to develop a one-year training course – a tad excessive for the two days I needed to prepare for!

I had two days to develop the course, and travel to Ireland to deliver it. The client would not pay the last-minute high-priced airfare, so I had to travel from England to Wales by train, get the ferry across to Ireland, catch another train, and then a bus. I barely slept for days. Instead I did what I always do when I am out of my comfort zone: I over prepared, then I went with the flow.

And it went amazingly. I really connected with the people attending, all of whom had been impacted by the recession. Because of this their confidence, self-esteem and spirit were low. I knew we had to work through this before we could work on the practical sessions I had planned. So my plan went out the window, but that was OK because having over prepared allowed me to be in the moment of knowing what to do and to go where the flow took me.

I got the group talking about their *WorkLife Achievements, things they had forgotten about, or had taken for granted, or had never considered to be anything special. We all sat in awe listening to the amazing stories being shared, and through this they each began to realise how much they had to offer to employers. Once they had that realisation, we were then able to move onto the practical elements of their job-search campaign, preparing their CVs in a way that represented their skills, attributes and their amazing achievements to date, along with their potential. We planned their job-search approach, practiced interviews, and explored how they would negotiate the job offers coming their way by considering what they wanted over and above the package being offered. This was important for each of them at their particular WorkLife stage. 

As I made my long return journey home, I was buzzing. It was a little surreal because I was both exhausted from lack of sleep and energised from the experience. I somehow knew this was what I was meant to do: to help people manage, develop and transition their WorkLife in line with what was important to them. I do not think I was able to define it exactly as that in that moment. I think that evolved over time. But I do remember having a strong sense of my WorkLife purpose, knowing I had found my passion. I also knew I wanted and needed to do this properly. To serve people I needed formal training: a solid theoretical base to build my knowledge from. As is my belief in life “when the student is ready, the teacher will come”, I found the perfect pathway. I undertook a degree in Career Coaching and Management, and then secured a position with a careers consultancy company. This allowed me to gain practical experience, and to develop my skills – to ultimately launch my new WorkLife.

A Case Study

Arjun’s Story: Rediscovering his Passion and Purpose

Arjun knew from a very early age that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father and become a lawyer. His father had been a lawyer in India, and although Arjun was very young when his family moved to the UK, he remembered his father’s position had allowed him to help people, which had given his father great pride. Arjun was very driven and focussed in his studies, and worked hard to get into his preferred university and law practice. 

Arjun began his career in human rights law, which he really enjoyed. He was following his passion and living his WorkLife purpose every day. He was motivated, energised and had a great sense of pride in everything he was doing.  He was involved in high profile cases, which drew attention to him and his talent; and as a result he was head-hunted into the arena of corporate law and supported in his retraining. This was a completely different world, which he may have enjoyed for a time but soon grew tired of, and as a result considered law might not actually be for him.

And so he took a sabbatical, during which time he set up a juice bar that took off overnight, and became a huge success. But then the recession hit, his business was affected and he had to let his staff go. He was running a one-man show and working all the hours under the sun. This took a toll on his health, becoming seriously ill and forced to sell his business. 

During the long road to recovery he had plenty of time for reflection. He came to realise that law was his passion – not corporate law but human rights; and so he set about getting back into doing this.

This is where he began to encounter obstacles. Having been away from this area of law for over three years, his CV was not getting past first base with recruitment consultants or job boards, and so we began our work together. Arjun and I both knew that once he got in front of an employer he would get the job: he made a great first impression; he was passionate about his work; and he would get the opportunity to explain the reason he left this particular area, and why he wanted to return. But we were still facing a brick wall: he could not get past the first base of being invited along for an interview. However, this did not deter him. In fact if anything it gave him an even stronger resolve to pursue his passion. He felt alive once again, having rediscovered his WorkLife purpose, and was going to do whatever it took to get back to doing what he was meant to do. And so we had to consider what else could be done.

My firm belief is that “when the student is ready the teacher will come”, or an opportunity will arise, and out of nowhere a way will come. This proved true once again, because that is exactly what happened. Through the research he was carrying out as a part of his job-search strategy, Arjun came across an opportunity that would support him in getting back into human rights law. But it was in South Africa, and while he knew this particular piece of work would look great on his CV, and allow him to connect and network with individuals and organisations that could facilitate his move back into what he wanted to do, it would involve moving to South Africa for six months. He loved his life in London, but he knew he had to do what he had to do, and so he applied and was successful in securing the role. 

Before the end of his six-month assignment Arjun accepted a three-year assignment, which involved working closely with the United Nations. This was part of his longer-term plan, which has come about much more quickly than he could ever have dreamed.

Develop Your WorkLife Story

Write as much as you can in answering the following questions. You are crafting your WorkLife story. 

WorkLife Purpose Assignment

To discover or rediscover your WorkLife Purpose ask yourself the following three questions:

1. What is a defining moment in my WorkLife and how did it impact me?

For example:

Mine was when I sat with the people attending the course I was delivering, which I was expecting to be very practical, only to discover that before we could move onto that I needed to support them through the emotional impact of having being unemployed. Somehow I knew instinctively that having them talk through their *WorkLife Achievements was what was needed. I was then blown away by their stories, and the immediate positive impact this had on their morale. This experience allowed me to know what my purpose was, and the strength from the passion I discovered in those two days has allowed me to create a WorkLife true to my purpose and passion. 

Arjun’s was during his long road to recovery following his illness, when he had time to reflect on his WorkLife. He knew he had already found his passion: his purpose was working within Human Rights Law. But circumstances, partly of his own making, took him off track,  catching him up in the world of corporate law. The initial difficulty he experienced in getting back into this, and his willingness to do whatever it took to achieve this, served to reinforce the importance of living his WorkLife true to his purpose, and the feeling of absolute elation when he finally got back to where he knew he was always meant to be. 

2. How did I get to where I am in my WorkLife and Why?

For example:

In my story while I had enjoyed my work in finance, I had never followed a career path. This was because I was not passionate about it, nor did it give me a sense of purpose. When I was faced with accepting a permanent position or leaving the bank, the lack of purpose I felt actually helped my decision to move on. My friend Pauline asking me to help her out was in no way planned, nor could I have envisioned how it was to lead me to discovering my purpose, and yet it did. I believe that is because I let my curiosity guide me, and curiosity is an important value to me, one that has guided me throughout my WorkLife.

When Arjun moved from human rights law to corporate law, he lost his sense of purpose – not immediately but over time. He came to realise that his WorkLife was no longer meaningful to him, and that he was not making a positive difference in the lives of people who really needed help. He was not honouring two of his most important values. It took the impact of the burnout he experienced, first from the demands of corporate law, then from the business he was forced to run single-handily, to bring him to a place of reflection and to the realisation that he needed to get back to human rights law in order to fulfil his WorkLife purpose.

3. Do I belong here?

For example:

I had a sense of belonging in banking. This was because I worked with good people, in a good environment, and I continued to learn and develop. These are more of my values, and these were being met. Yet I knew I did not fully belong there. I did not feel fulfilled in my WorkLife. But in that very brief experience I had with the people on that first training course, I knew immediately I was where I was meant to be, doing what I was meant to do. I was at the very beginning of my new WorkLife journey, and yet it felt as though I had arrived. It was as though I had finally come home to where I belonged.

Arjun had that same sense of belonging. For him it was more of a familiar feeling, because he had returned to where he had set off from. With his sense of belonging came a greater sense of appreciation for what he had, for what he had almost lost, and for what he knew he would never take for granted again. In a sense he was also at the beginning of his new WorkLife journey, with renewed energy, fresh eyes and an increased awareness of the possibilities that lay ahead.

The Moral of this Story

There is a purpose within each of us: for some people it is inherent from a very young age, as it was for Arjun; for others it reveals itself at a later stage in life, as it did for me. Whichever is relevant to you, you will not necessarily have the full vision when you start out, and that is OK. You just need to take one step and see where it takes you, then you take the next step, and the next step. As you walk along your WorkLife pathway, you will begin to gain clarity around your purpose. From this your vision will form and grow; and from this you can begin to do what you need to do, in order to make your purpose a reality, in order to live your WorkLife with purpose.

Develop a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback 

As your self-awareness about what is important to you in living a fulfilled WorkLife continues to grow, asking these questions will allow you to go deeper into your heart and mind, knowing what you want – or as importantly what you do not want in your WorkLife. Listen well, and be observant to the feedback you gain through the answers these questions bring about. 

Develop a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning 

Ask yourself:

Did today matter?

What if anything would have made it better, more meaningful, more fulfilling?

Did I live my WorkLife today true to my purpose?

Words of Wisdom

“The meaning of your life is to find your gift. The purpose of your life is to give that gift away.” Picasso

© 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.

Published by Carmel O' Reilly

I’m Carmel O’ Reilly, Founder of I’m the author Your WorkLife Your Way, blogger and podcaster on the subject of WorkLife. My work focuses on helping people to live their best WorkLives, by managing their learning, development and growth, through effective self-feedback, insightful self-questions and the ability to shape and tell their unique story. My Mission is: “To spread the power of WorkLives lived with Passion, Purpose and Pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.”

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