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Podcast: How to find meaning in your work

Shannon Houde, Founder and Managing Director, Walk of Life Coaching

 

As the world of work continues to evolve, many professionals are reflecting on what they truly want from their careers, striving to find a sense of meaning and purpose in their everyday working lives.

So today, we’re joined by Shannon Houde, Founder and Managing Director of Walk of Life Coaching, Certified Executive Coach and Author of the book Good Work, which explores how to build a career that makes a difference to the world. Shannon is here today to share her expert advice to help all of us find meaning in our every-day working lives.

1. Please could you introduce yourself to our listeners and give an overview of your career to date?

(01:08) Absolutely. Well, I must admit, it probably took me about 39 years to find my calling myself, and I’ve spent most of my career reinventing myself again and again. I’ve been everything from a corporate recruiter to a management consultant, an accountant, an entrepreneur three times, and a conservationist. And I’ve changed jobs every 18 months until I created my own ideal job with Walk of Life Coaching.

So, I really fit now at the intersection of all the hats I’ve worn across my career, both from a psychology perspective, from a consulting and coaching perspective, and then also from the recruitment and talent agenda.

2. So, you’ve had quite a varied career. Did that lead into your interest in career purpose and to write your book Good Work as well?

(02:00) Yes, absolutely, in creating my own ideal career of running my own business. So, I think I’m an entrepreneur at heart and I’ve always loved writing resumes, helping others, mentoring them, and coaching them through their professional journeys, whether it was being their manager or just as a colleague. And so, I took my experience and my coaching and management background, and merged that up with the issue areas that I had been consulting in for big businesses over the past 20 years, which is around the impact space or sustainability, the environment, charity sector, all of those kind of themes that are in business where we’re making more than just profits but we’re also considering people and planet as well.

3. How have you personally found meaning in your own career?

(02:56) Yes, meaning it’s a great word, I love that word. I think it links a lot to purpose as well and I really can honestly say, I don’t feel like I go to work every day because I love what I do so much. And I think the meaning really, for me, is the motivation is helping others to achieve their own sense of purpose, their own potential, and being able to unlock barriers that we all get to our own personal progress.

So, it’s that kind of an enabler or facilitator role that I get to play so that others can go out into the world then and make a difference for our environment, the planet, and our communities.

4. And in your book, you begin by exploring the concept of impact careers. Could you just explain to our listeners what you mean by this in a little more detail?

(03:51) Yes, it’s kind of an umbrella term now that I’ve started using, because we’ve got lots of different semantics and language that have evolved around this space over the last twenty years. It used to be called corporate social responsibility, then it was called corporate responsibility, it was called sustainable business, sustainability, environmental, now we’re talking resilience. There’s lots of different words that we’re using to mean the same thing in essence, which is really what I talked about more is the triple bottom line, which is a concept that was coined about twenty years ago around businesses focusing and leaders focusing on more than just the profit number, but the economics, the planet, environment, people, and so that being the stakeholders of the communities, so that could also mean employees.

So, we’re looking more holistically at how we lead businesses forward around this triple bottom line approach rather than just the economic, we include the environmental and the social elements to it as well.

5. Why is it so important that we find purpose and meaning in our jobs? And do you think, this need to find meaning has grown because of the pandemic?

(05:07) Absolutely. I mean, the last year through COVID-19, I have seen more than a 200% increase in my business because people have had time to reflect on what’s important to them. We’ve been able to stop, we’ve been able to just slow down and have the time to think and decide what’s important to us without a lot of the external pressures and pace that we were used to having.

And so, there’s been a lot of self-reflection and in that, I think people have woken up to the fact that maybe they’re not so happy in their current roles, that they want to do more than just make a salary, they want to make a difference. So, most of my clients come to me and say, ‘I still need to earn a living. I want a job that I love, but I really want to make a difference’. And that can mean a lot of different things to different people, but ultimately, what I think that means is, having a sense of doing something and giving something back beyond just getting that pay cheque.

And again, I think this links quite nicely to a lot of the neuroscience and a lot of the psychology research around what makes us happy as humans, right? We have our Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and once those are met, what else is there that allows us to really live a balanced, happy and fulfilled life. And I think that is about being able to identify and then live into, achieve and find that purpose and meaning.

Yes, we’re hearing a lot about people using the time during the pandemic to reflect on what they really want, as you said. So, it’s great that there’s places where they can go and get advice and get a bit of guidance on what they can do.

6. Is there anything that you can tell our listeners now on how they can find a sense of purpose in their day-to-day roles?

(07:02) Yes, I usually would start them off with a very simple mapping exercise and it could just be a brainstorm, it could be a mind map, however your mind works to gain insights about yourself. And it’s about being able to map out or list what gets you excited? What issues are you passionate about? What gets you angry? For me, it’s all the plastic that I see at the grocery stores, you know.

So, it depends on what are those issues that you want to make a difference in? What are you willing to invest time, money, and energy into shaping change around? And I think that alignment with those passion areas are basically founded on what are your values.

So, I do a values mapping exercise, and then do an impact issue mapping exercise where we’re identifying those key issues you want to solve. But also, that values alignment must be there in terms of the type of people you’re working with and the type of organisation and the mission of that organisation.

7. What would you say to those that are struggling to find meaning in their current roles?

(08:18) I would say, do some self-reflection. There’s lots of different ways to get at the root of what’s missing. It could be reading some books, it could be, self-help books. It could be mindfulness meditation, taking a walk in the fields or in the mountains, and to try to get some sort of distance from that day-to-day struggle, so that you can get some perspective. It might be a therapist or a coach or reaching out to friends and family, but it’s about doing the groundwork on the reflection around what is important to you. What is meaning? What does it look like if you had it? And then what are some of the steps you can take to try to correct the space that you’re in right now that’s challenging you.

So, that’s what we really do as coaches, it’s very forward-looking to say, where do you want to be? What would that look like? Draw us a picture of that and then let’s address the issues that are the blocks to getting there and start to build out an action plan, for how you can incrementally shift towards getting closer to that meaning.

8. Are there any strategies you can share with our listeners that they can follow to find an organisation that matches their personal values and traits? And how important would you say it is for them to do that?

(09:43) I think it’s crucial. I mean that’s really part of my 13-step programme that I run with job seekers and job changers is a mapping of those personal values and traits very early on, it’s in step three in fact, so we need to be able to understand our own traits because those are basically our approach or our style of working.

So, we need to know that about ourselves first. Where do we thrive and what kind of environment, so that we as an individual and as a contributor, we’re going to feel valued in those roles or in that context of that organisation.

And then the values side of it, I flip it on its head. I say, what are your top five values that are so important to you, you have to be aligned with the organisation, their culture, or the team or the boss that you’re going to be working with? So, the values are almost like a tick list of what you want from the culture and context that you’re going to be working in.

So, if you start to map those out with that lens, it really helps you to have that checklist of things that you need from that organisation. That it’s not always only the candidate trying to prove what they’re offering but the organisation also in their fight for talent, needs to be aligned and proving that they have those solid values and that they’re walking the talk from a leadership perspective.

So, I always say, look at the top down, how are those senior leaders walking the talk of those cultural values that they’re claiming to have in that organisation. And in order to do your due diligence on that, before you accept on the dotted line for a new role, I always say talk to old employees, talk to ex-employees because they’re the ones that are probably going to tell you the real truth about how that organisation or that culture, that team, are really working and how they’re really adhering to those values.

Thank you, that’s helpful. And yes, of course, as a candidate, as a person going for a role, it is important to remember that you’re not the only one that’s being assessed, you are assessing the company as well to see how they fit what you’re after.

9. So, if a person has decided to search for meaning elsewhere, in a new job, for instance, how can they effectively demonstrate their commitment to the employer’s purpose on their CV or during the interview stage perhaps?

(12:11) Yes, I mean identifying what the employer’s purpose is, is the first step, right? Because it’s not always completely obvious. I think often especially in the corporate sector, we see the purpose is usually the bottom line, it’s usually just that profit number isn’t it? Or the shareholder returns. If you’re going for an NGO (non-governmental organisation), it’s probably going to be linked to whatever their mission is, whether that’s a health issue or a medical or conservation.

So, I think just being able to identify the drivers for that organisation, and that will help you to decide and see if there’s alignment around the business model. So again, an NGO is going to be run very differently than a for-profit. So, being able to identify that first, it’s going to be important and then thinking about, well, okay, so which one am I going to actually target for finding a new role because I’m going to be better aligned to that non-profit, for instance, mission or business model versus the more profit driven corporate sector.

Once you’ve made that decision, you can then start to map and to research what it is, in terms of the semantics, that you need to match. How can you really be relevant and resonate for that employer based on the language that they’re using to talk about their brand and their mission. So, when I think about purpose, I almost would translate that word to mean ‘mission’, so that’s what we talked about often in mission-driven organisations, meaning that they’re not just about profit. They’re about more in terms of the triple bottom line. So, you’d want to be able to articulate that both on paper, on the CV, but also during an interview, as to what you’ve done in your past that proves you are aligned to that similar mission.

So, it’s about doing the homework, the groundwork, the research on the people and the brand messaging that the organisation has put out to the market, and then aligning that for your own personal story, and your personal branding that you’re putting out on LinkedIn, CV and the interview, so that your language and semantics are going to resonate and align as well.

10. If you had one piece of advice to help our listeners navigate their careers throughout the pandemic and beyond, what would that be?

(14:38) It would be to believe in yourself, because each one of you listening can make a difference while making a pay cheque, and to make the change that you really want to make. So, if you can roll up your sleeves and commit to the somewhat rigorous process that it will take to make a career change or to make a job change, you can absolutely do it.

I’ve worked with more than a thousand career changers over the past decade who have successfully made big leaps and shifts in their careers and reinvented themselves. So, I know first-hand that it’s possible and I think the first thing is just keeping that positivity, tapping into your own personal resilience in terms of the process because it can take time, and it does require that resilience and bounce back from rejection here and there, but also a creativity that you need in order to reach out to people in your networks, to think about how you’re going to be perceived on paper and verbally, and getting creative about how you’re going to improve that personal brand messaging with a deep-rooted self-confidence.

And I think that self-confidence grows in the process, if you get support in doing it, I think this is a very difficult process to go through on your own behind a computer screen, trying to write a CV or do job applications, or pick up the phone and leverage your personal networks. It’s a lonely and difficult process. So, find a group of colleagues, friends or family or a coach that can really support you through what can be a somewhat long process, keeping in mind, that it is possible.

About this author

Shannon Houde has more than two decades mentoring, coaching and training more than 1000 professionals and Masters graduates in the impact sector across 30+ countries and over 3000 hours.

As an ICF-ACC certified executive coach, Shannon was selected as a Meta Coach to teach on Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence Coach Certification® course and is accredited in organimetric, The GameChanger Index®. She leverages NLP and mindfulness when helping clients break through personal barries and align to their values. Shannon pushes the boundaries of personal growth through designing innovative learning frameworks and collaborating across her global network.

Previously she had a portfolio career herself, changing jobs every 1.5 years – as a hiring manager, a business strategist, and accountant and a CR management consultant for Deloitte, Corporate Citizenship, Barclays Global Investors, GE Capital, Adobe and WWF.

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