CHAPTER 18 YOUR WORKLIFE YOUR WAY By Carmel O’ Reilly

Inventing and Reinventing Yourself

If you are not where you want to be, do not quit, instead reinvent yourself.” Eric Thomas

In a world where things are always changing, there will be times when your WorkLife circumstances change, or you change. You will reach points where you will want and need to think about who you are and where you are at in your WorkLife, and then figure out whether or not it is time for a refresh, or a total change in direction.

Inventing or reinventing yourself while challenging is absolutely possible. To demonstrate this I will share Orla’s, Sean’s and Tim’s stories.

A Case Study

Orla’s Story: How she Applied to Work for an Organisation she Aspired to be Part of when she Didn’t Meet the Specified Criteria of the Position Advertised

Orla was at the early stages of her WorkLife. She aspired to work for ABC Consultancy, because she considered it to be a great company. She believed she could learn so much at ABC because they had so much experience, and being part of the company would support her in working towards achieving the best she could be.

So she was really excited when she saw a position on their website she considered she could apply for. But her heart sank as she worked through the application when she was having to answer no to the questions being asked to determine candidates that would be a good fit for the role. 

Although disheartened, she was not deterred. To stand a chance she knew she needed to show them that she could do this, but she also knew she could not write the cover letter that was expected, where candidates outlined their qualifications, experience and skills to date that would allow them to highlight why they are a good fit for the role.

So instead she wrote a letter that began from a place of honesty. She acknowledged her short comings, while also projecting confidence in herself, and her ability to serve the team and the company in serving their clients.

This is what Orla wrote:

Dear XXX, I’m probably not the candidate you have in mind for the Communications Development Lead position. I don’t have the required experience as a project manager, nor do I hold a certificate in Lean Coaching, but what I do have are skills and attributes that cannot be taught, along with the potential that comes from a deep-rooted ability to inspire others to live their WorkLives without compromise. My values align with your company’s passion in helping people and businesses grow in a way that has a positive impact on the world.

I’m a hard-worker, grounded and I get things done. I have the ability to bring out the strengths of each individual within the team, I take on the responsibilities needed for the team to excel. I know I would provide the excellence required to support the success of this position.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I welcome the opportunity to discuss my application further.

Orla got the job and is absolutely loving her time at the company. True to her word she is helping her team, clients and company thrive by achieving their best, while at the same time doing the same for herself. 

But what if there are no jobs advertised for the organisation you aspire to be part of? Can you speculatively approach companies across all industries and sectors? Well I happen to think so, and to prove my point I will share Sean’s story:

A Case Study

Sean’s Story: How a Speculative Approach Helped Him Reinvent Himself

Sean was at the mid-stages of his WorkLife when he decided he wanted to move into the public sector. He was not just looking for another job within the public sector, he actually wanted to transition from the start-up business he had founded. No mean feat by any standards, taking into account the public sector promote equality and fairness in their job-selection process, and as a result all positions will be advertised.

Sean speculatively approached a government department for a job: not an advertised position, but an enquiry letting them know why he thought his skills, experience and attributes gained working in the green sector would be valuable to that department.

This is what Sean wrote:

Dear XXX,

As founder of an independent think tank and advocate, committed to achieving a greener future I launched XXX Eco Housing in 2009 with a team of engineers. I am extremely interested in your commitment to align the environment sector to get the Government on track to meeting its climate targets. I believe I could play a key role in helping you deliver on your pledge.

Sheer grit and a determination to make a positive environment impact has supported the following:

  • The success of our project has led our retro-fitting housing to become one of a portfolio of climate projects underway at XXX Global GreenXXX, and draws on our thinking on climate leadership.
  • I’ve built relationships with politicians, environmental NGOs, and other stakeholders in order to help secure support for our project.
  • Our think tank plays a central role in shaping environment agendas, we are known for the clarity of our insights in support of work being undertaken by other organisations. 
  • An experienced researcher, I’ve helped devise strategies, and I’ve contributed to the thinking on substantive environmental challenges. 

I welcome the opportunity to share my thinking on how getting ambitious and effective policies in place, and showing how these act as a blueprint for faster sustainable housing across the world, the UK can show global leadership in addressing climate change.

Sean’s approach did not receive an immediate response, and so he went about his business. Then out of the blue and several months later, he got a call to say that while they do not normally accept speculative approaches, his letter and CV had impressed them, and they now had a position they considered he would be suitable for, and invited him to apply. His application was successful, and he was invited along for an interview.

This was a stringent interview process, as you would expect in the public sector. Long story short, having been put through his paces Sean secured the role, and therein lies my case that speculatively approaching organisations for work does actually work.

Interestingly as a friend of The Theatre Royal Haymarket London I was invited along for a tour of the Theatre, followed by tea and a chat with a couple of the actors from the play ‘Great Britain’, which was showing at the time. The actors were asked how they go about getting work, and if they rely solely on their agent. They both said that while their agents are instrumental in their work by and large, they have both approached directors and writers (both stage and screen) whose work they admire and respect to express a desire to work with them. And guess what – it paid off!

A Case Study

Tim’s Story: Life after Redundancy What Next?

Tim was at the later stages of his WorkLife when his human resources role in an organisation within the educational sector was made redundant. Now of course Tim’s skills were quite transferable across sectors, but he was actually thinking of doing something new, and he considered the redundancy pay-out he had received a gift. He wanted to ensure he invested it in the best possible business venture, one that would be fulfilling for him, and sustain him and his family in both the short and long term.

He needed ideas as to what that business venture could be, and so we talked about his interests and hobbies, one of which is scale model making.  An unusual idea you may be thinking, but sometimes the more unusual and unique the idea, the easier it is to research. So Tim went about researching his idea, and in the meantime he kept himself busy with a little painting and decorating, for his own home and also for friends and family who were happy to engage his services to carry out work they themselves did not have the time or inclination to do.

Well as I have come to learn, once you have an awareness of what you want, you will begin to see opportunities in the most unexpected of places. It is just like when you buy a new silver Mercedes (I wish), and all of a sudden you will see silver Mercedes everywhere. True to this belief, Tim discovered a woman who had an established scale model-making business who was due to retire, and he bought the business from her.

This was a good brand with an established customer base and great potential. The woman did not use computers and as a result did not utilise the web. Tim has built an effective web marketing plan into his business plan, and with hard work and a fair wind it should provide a nice income stream to supplement his savings and investments. The good thing is the margins are lucrative and the costs are low.

On top of that Tim has become a parent governor at his daughter’s school, which he is finding interesting, and he is enjoying applying past learnt management and people skills in a new context.

A Case Study

Fanny Craddock and Mrs Beeton: Stories of Reinvention and Christmas Puddings

My brother Noel is an amazing cook and dinner at his house is always a culinary delight. As we both live in London, we have shared many Christmas dinners with our respective family and friends. I remember one Christmas dinner when we were finishing our meal with the traditional Christmas pudding, which he had made, and I relayed the story of the first Christmas pudding I made.

It was in my first year in secondary school. I gave the pudding to my sister Olive and her family as a Christmas gift, but when she opened it, she found it had gone mouldy! My brother relayed a similar story about Fanny Craddock, who secured an order for her Christmas puddings from Fortnum and Mason – the wonderful British food emporium who (in their own words) for three centuries have been committed to bringing the world’s best food to Piccadilly. Now unfortunately for Fanny the Christmas puddings she made, which were distributed in their Christmas hampers to their elite clients, suffered a similar fate to mine: when they opened them they found them to be mouldy!

*Fanny Craddock was perhaps the queen of reinvention. By the time she had become the grande dame of TV she had over forty years of WorkLife ups and downs. She took jobs that included washing up in a canteen, hawking penny cures for tired feet at the Ideal Home Exhibition and selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. 

She carved out a minor reputation as a novelist and children’s author under the pseudonym “Frances Dale”. But it was her first recipe book, The Practical Cook, that opened the door to Fleet Street in 1949, when she became a columnist for The Daily Telegraph. 

This led to a TV series, which was initially suggested as a six-week run about weekend breaks in the country. Evelyn Garrett, woman’s editor, said she wanted Fanny “to find out if there is anything left that is worthwhile in the inns of England.” When Fanny asked, “What sort of anything?”  Evelyn replied: “A warm welcome, honest fare, integrity, Fanny, if it still survives.” 

Fanny proposed the name “Bon Viveur”, as it was sexless and covered food, wine and, vitally, travel. This gentle experiment evolved into a five-year voyage of discovery, during which Fanny and her husband Johnnie visited thousands of hotels and restaurants, at home and abroad.

This led the conversation to Mrs Beeton, who perhaps was the Martha Stewart of her day. I originally thought she was a woman who had many years’ experience as a cook; but the truth is she set out to develop her cooking ability at the age of 21, when she undertook a writing assignment to write a guide to all aspects of running a household in Victorian Britain. The book contained over 900 recipes and also gained the name ‘Mrs Beeton’s Cookbook’.

Mrs Beeton was an accomplished pianist, having studied music in Heidelberg. However she established her career in writing when she married her husband, who was a publisher of books and magazines, and she began to write articles on cooking and household management for his publications. The rest, as they say, is history.

I expect Mrs Beeton would have developed her career even further, or indeed developed a new career, as I am sure you will agree she was a woman of many talents. But sadly she died aged 28. 

Similarly to Mrs Beeton, we all have the potential to develop new skills that will allow us to perform in the career of our choice, and in line with the demands of the role. I also believe we all have the capacity and capability to have a number of careers in our lifetime, and the proof of that I guess is in the pudding – or maybe not!

As for Fanny, she continued reinventing her WorkLife, becoming among other things the grandame of cookery TV. She hung up her chef’s hat at the age of 85. 

Develop Your WorkLife Story Chapters

It is never too late to invent or reinvent the reality you want for yourself in your WorkLife. It begins with the humility of having the self-awareness to know what you are good at, and what you are not good at. This will help you tell your story both in your written and spoken word, in letters and conversations when approaching people or companies.  

Bridge the Gap Assignment

Choose one of the following scenarios: 

  1. A company you aspire to work for;
  2. A sector you want to transition in to;
  3. A transition you want to make from being employed to establishing your own business.

For the purpose of this exercise consider opportunities that are a stretch for you to apply for, or for you to create. For example: 

  1. You do not have the requirements they are looking for in the role for the company you aspire to work for;
  2. There is no position advertised in the sector you want to transition in to;
  3. For the transition from being employed to setting up in business, you may or may not know what you want to do …yet. 
  1. As Orla did, once you identify a position you could apply for,  begin to look at how you could address the gaps. These are the fundamental gaps, that is the essential required skills, experience, training – not the desired required elements.

Next use Orla’s letter and adapt it to your situation: i.e address the gaps up front – what you do not have; then move on to the skills, attributes and potential that you do have – take ownership of this. Remember this is what is unique about you, and differentiates you from the crowd. Now put this in context by simply asking yourself how this will allow me to excel in the role, e.g. as Orla did in her second paragraph. 

2.  As Sean did, once you identify the sector you want to transition in to, then consider what you have to offer by way of skills, experience and potential that would benefit them.

Next use Sean’s letter and adapt it to your situation. Say what you want to say up front. Be memorable throughout your letter. Your purpose is to make it clear what distinguishes you, so they want to follow up to find out more about you.

3. As Tim did, to help you discover a business that you could launch:

  • Think about your hobbies and interests, then explore if there is business potential (e.g. in researching scale model making, Tim discovered an opportunity);
  • Consider what you can offer that would alleviate pain points for other people (e.g. Tim put his painting and decorating skills to use);
  • Think about your WorkLife skills and experience and how you can apply those in a different context (e.g. Tim applied his people management and development skills in a new position as school parent governor). 

To get your thought process started, for the option you are working with, ask yourself:

  1. Why am I drawn to this company?
  2. Why am I drawn to this sector?
  3. Why am I drawn to this business idea?

It could be something about you or an aspect of what the company, sector or business does. 

Next take a blank piece of paper (or document if you prefer to work online) and spend ten minutes free writing: i.e. get whatever comes out of your mind down on paper (in a document). Suspend judgement on the quality of what is coming to you. The purpose of this exercise to get as much of your thinking as you can from your mind to pen. 

Then look for the words, sentence or idea that is most interesting and develop this into the opening line/paragraph for your letter (if you have chosen Option One or Two). If you have chosen Option Three, develop it into the opening line/paragraph of your ‘About Me’ page on your website. 

Moral of this Story

You need to take a truthful approach to your reinvention, both as a reality check for yourself, and also in allowing people, companies and customers to recognise your potential – personal or business. While you may not have everything they are looking for, as in Orla’s case, or they might not even be looking for you in the first place, as in Sean’s case, or you are having to develop yourself in a new business, as in Tim’s case, the important thing is not to allow that to deter you from following your WorkLife aspirations. Be upfront about your shortfalls for the role, sector or business, while also projecting a confidence in yourself in being able to deliver on the job or in the business.

Develop a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback 

As importantly you need to project another kind of confidence, a confidence in yourself as a lifelong learner. Self-feedback will allow you to know how you are doing, and to also identify the new skills you need to develop to transition in your WorkLife though your reinvention – as Fanny Craddock and Mrs Beeton did.

Develop a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning 

To project confidence in yourself as a lifelong learner, you need to ask What questions:

What do I want to do next?

What are the gaps in my skills in where I am now to where I want to be?

What can I do to build those skills now?

Words of Wisdom 

While inventing and reinventing yourself can seem like a high hurdle, no wall is too high to be climbed.

© 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: www.worklifeincorporated.com You’ll find my bio right here: https://worklifeincorporated.com/about/ Thank you. Be Well and Stay Safe.

Published by Carmel O' Reilly

I’m Carmel O’ Reilly, Founder of www.worklifeincorporated.com. 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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