This is what I’m working on now. But before we get to that, first a little background:
I love reading as much as I love learning about people’s amazing WorkLife stories. I wanted to find a way to combine people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences in which they share their dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. Together with how they used the power of book wisdom to help them navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride. This led me to creating a weekly blog and podcast called WorkLife Book Wisdom.
Then I asked myself my favourite type questions: ‘What If’ questions: What if this could be taken further? What if people who enjoy learning through reading, and who also enjoy discussing books and interesting stories, could come together to share their experiences? This is what has led me to the idea of WorkLife Book Club.
And now we get to what I’m working on now:
I am currently working on the first book in the WorkLife Book Club series. This will be published in 2021. Here is an insight into the concept, together with an introduction to the setting and the characters which form the Shoreditch branch of WorkLife Book Club.
The premise behind the idea is that experiences that we have in our WorkLife shape our understanding of the world, and experiences we have through reading can also shape or change us. This provides an opportunity for change and growth, and can communicate truths about human psychology and relationships. Books help to anchor WorkLife conversations through characters, plots and settings. This might allow people to work through sensitive and nuanced issues in an open and honest manner. When people come together to discuss stories and engaging texts, they are often presented with characters with competing and often equally valid viewpoints.
The neighbourhood I live in is full of people with different WorkLife experiences. Located in the east end of London, Shoreditch is where banking, law, design, tech and art all converge. Vibrant by day and night, it’s rich in history, art, music and culture, with museums, art galleries, live music, and performing arts aplenty. It has an eclectic dining scene featuring great restaurants, gastropubs, global street food, artisan coffee shops and bars. Independent shops are popular, from vintage to modern design, and much, much more in between. It’s also home to a number of colourful street markets, including Brick Lane, Columbia Road and Spitalfields. I think what makes Shoreditch such a special place to be, is the incredible diversity of life paths that cross here, spanning the whole globe and many walks of life.
It was in Shoreditch that I met my dear friend Florian, owner of a steakhouse and bar. He also owns a café, which I discovered for the first time two years ago, with its wonderful communal space, bordered by benches and with a library vibe. It quickly became a regular haunt for me, when looking for some quiet time with a cup and a book. Our friendship was formed over a shared love of coffee and reading.
On one visit to Florian’s restaurant, I chatted with him about my idea for WorkLife Book Club. I told him I was creating a Learn Through Reading series, in which I write cases that are inspired by real WorkLife stories and events. I told him about my intention to make these available to Book Clubs, presenting cases for group discussion, alongside the required reading for each meeting. The case and the accompanying recommended book would be required reading for each meeting, and would help to frame the subsequent discussion.
Florian was immediately drawn to the idea, and said he knew a few people who he believed would be interested. He shared the idea behind the series I had created with five people, asking if it was something they’d like to explore as a group. He also suggested taking them on a tour of his favourite restaurants, introducing them to great food and wine – to satisfy their tastebuds over stimulating conversation, while supporting local businesses and his fellow restauranteurs. All of them agreed, and so the weekly Monday night Shoreditch WorkLife Book Club was formed.
Before opening his restaurant, Florian had worked as a sommelier, and now despite his day job keeping him busy, he also finds time to make his own wines at his vineyard in Spain, where he loves to escape to when he can and relax with his wife. For now, his team are managing the day-to-day work, and one day his intention is to retire there. One day. He has a genuine interest in people and loves to learn more about them. His natural ability of connecting with people allows him to do this in an engaging, yet non-intrusive way. He loves the power of asking simple questions which often brings about quite profound answers.
Florian is the mutual connection that brought everyone together. He got to know each of the group when they stopped by to sit and read awhile over a coffee, drink or meal. He began by simply asking them: “What do you enjoy about reading?” Going on to share what he enjoyed about it:
“Reading helps with empathy: Imagining a character’s situation can help me to be more empathetic toward people in real life. That’s because when I read a story, I connect to personal experiences, I often have thoughts and emotions that are consistent with the storyline. By reflecting on my past social interactions or imagining future interactions, I may gain insight into things that have happened in the past that relate to a character in a story. By reading, appreciating and understanding the complex emotions of others, my belief is that I will be better able to appreciate the emotions of others.”
The relationships grew from there, and that was how on hearing about my WorkLife Book Club Florian immediately knew who he wanted to invite:
Saoirse is a freelance reporter and journalist. She covers local news and human interests features. Having travelled the world covering breaking news stories, in the last year she has established a base in London. She also writes a popular blog which comes from her love of live music, craft beer and gin. At first it was simply a way of sharing the adventures her passions took on her on, and the experiences she encountered along the way. Over time she began to share the stories of the people behind the music, the breweries and the distilleries, appreciating the impact they have on the community and neighbourhood that supports them.
Saoirse says: “I think of reading as Creative Problem-Solving: Identifying with the characters, plots and settings, and trying to resolve the challenges unlocks my creativity. I’m encouraging my brain to imagine the unimaginable. My mind has no limits while reading.”
Benny is a Creative Director of brand-strategy company. He leads a team of designers, writers and planners, and is always quick to call out words, phrases or anything he considers to be meaningless – that includes salt free potato chips – of which he has to be reminded are called crisps in the UK. A New Yorker through and through, which according to Benny, means he’s tough, and can survive any situation. This also means tough talking – the ability to tell it like it is. Benny’s truth however, is that in reality, his not so hidden soft side regularly pokes through his tough act, and when it does someone is sure to call out ‘California Dreamer’, the nick name this has earned Benny.
Benny says: “Reading supports my power of observation: To put myself in the shoes of other people grows my capacity for observation. ‘Imagining’ stories gives me an understanding of others because they require me to see the world from a new perspective. In particular, interactions in which I’m trying to figure out people’s thoughts and feelings. Stories offer me a unique way to engage in this capacity, as I identify with characters’ challenges and problems.”
Annie is an Information and security analyst. She transitioned from being a software engineer where she had started out as part of a team at a small tech startup. She now works within government at Whitehall, managing defence planning against cyberattacks.
Annie says: “Reading for me is about continuously fine-tuning my learning agility. It’s about seeking out and learning from unfamiliar experiences and then applying them to new situations.”
Pascal is a management consultant. One of the nattiest dressers in management consultancy, he is rarely seen without a tailored blazer, pocket square and his signature Clark Kent style spectacles in a variety of shades. As a management consultant, he has endured many jokes that hint at the sense of controversy that surrounds the profession; what does a management consultant really do? and are they really worth their exorbitant fees? His response is always the same: “My services cost a lot of money and people are not going to spend money to waste their time. I’m expected to deliver, and if I don’t deliver, I don’t get paid.”
Pascal says:“Reading enhances my reasoning skills: Reading can give me insights that help my work beyond logic. In situations that may be impacted by emotion or past experience, it helps me keep an open mind while processing information, a necessary skill for effective decision making.”
Maggie is a police officer. Following in the footsteps of her father, she joined the police force straight out of university. A life-long love of dogs led her to apply to work with the dog support unit. She completed her training and now provides police and dog handler support across the Metropolitan Police.
Maggie says: “Reading benefits my Wellbeing: By losing myself in a thoroughly engrossing book I can escape from the worries and stresses of everyday society and spend a while exploring the world of the author’s imagination.”
Florian’s idea behind the restaurant tour was to create a unique setting for each encounter of the WorkLife Book Club. He believes that food is an expression of individuals, communities and cultures. He wants to take the group on a journey through the old and the new. His intention is to create an experience that is less like venue visiting and more like dropping in for a catch-up with a series of food-loving, old friends. He wants the experience to be as convivial as it is culinary, and it’s not about just the food either, as importantly, for Florian, it’s also about the wine.
Each of the chapters details a meeting of the Shoreditch WorkLife Book Club, each of which is held at a different location as Florian takes the members on his gastronomic tour of the neighbourhood. Every meeting has an overarching theme, reflected in the choice of WorkLife story and featured book, which they take it in turns to choose. The person who chooses is also the person who reads the case at the beginning of the meeting. Each case tells the protagonist’s story and introduces the book from which they gleaned wisdom, and found help in navigating their situation. The WorkLife Book Club then discusses the case. At the end of the meeting they each summarise the WorkLife lessons they took from this.
My stated mission is to help people learn through reading. I also have a secret mission, which is to draw attention to stories of change and active decision making, people standing up and saying they want to do something different with their WorkLife. I want to highlight stories, books and discussions that focus on in-depth portrayals of subjects’ inner feelings, thoughts and motivations. While readers will not encounter the exact scenarios they read about, they will be able to use an expanded ability to understand and respond to multiple competing viewpoints.
It is my hope that the Shoreditch WorkLife Book Club, and the stories, books and discussions featured here, might inspire others elsewhere, anywhere in the world, to follow their example, and establish their own WorkLife Book Club.