Think about waking up in the morning knowing that you're going to be spending the day doing work you love, work that excites and fulfills you. Doesn't it feel like that wonderful beginning of summer or summer holiday feeling, or almost as good, anyway? Now think about work you've done in the past that drained you, that you disliked, and remember the sinking feeling in your stomach as you press "snooze" one more time on your alarm clock? As a life coach, I work with clients who have experience of both these extremes, and I know that we all have the ability and potential to find work we love, work that works for us on every level.

I've learnt from my own varied career background that it is possible with thought, structure, and focus to proactively design work that is perfect for you. I have been a market research executive for I.C.I in the UK and the USA, sold Chanel handbags in Neiman Marcus in Atlanta when I was a PhD student and coats at Harrods as an undergraduate, worked at Coca Cola as a writing coach, done part-time image consulting for fun, done scholarly research and written books, been an English professor in the USA and in the UK, and in the last several years worked as a personal and professional coach. So I've certainly had experience myself of wonderful and less than wonderful work. I've learned that it's very easy to drift somewhat passively into work that our families or friends think is perfect for us, to compromise with work and to realise at some point that the cost of the compromise is too high, to stay longer than ideal at a job that was good at some point and no longer is...

Through my own and my clients' experiences, I've learned that it's possible to create a vision of our ideal work, so that we can proactively design work that is perfect for us on every level...for our personality, for our strengths, for our life style, for our families, for our values, and for our needs. All too often I find that people take a limited approach to work, trying to squeeze themselves into a narrow box as defined in a particular job advertisement, rather than taking the time to step back and assess what kind of work precisely is going to be the best fit for the unique individual who they are.

This is the critical distinction: in your search for work, are you inspired by a clear vision of what will be the perfect fit for you, or are you trying to adapt yourself to a rather ill-fitting set of criteria as defined in an advertisement? Have you commissioned your own tailor-made outfit, in the colour, fabric, and measurements that will suit you as an individual, or have you made do with an outfit that is made for a generic size 12, say, but which is just a bit too big, tight, long, or otherwise comprising? Working with my life coaching clients on career re-design or career search, I find that the most productive initial approach is to step back and reassess who they really are and what they really want. Often, we are too close to our own lives to be able to assess matters objectively, too immersed in the experience to be able to see the big picture and think creatively and imaginatively. Let's compare career design to garden design in order to understand the 4 steps that are involved. In my experience, taking the time to thoroughly explore each step produces the most fulfilling and sustainable results.

After all, we're trying to find the work option that will be not just ok for the moment, but fulfilling and enjoyable, something that is a natural extension of who you are.

Step 1: Declutter. You've just moved into a new house and you look at the garden, which is full of debris and clutter and weeds. It's hard to get a sense of what the possibilities are. Similarly, in our lives, as we prepare to redesign or design our career, we need to clear out the energy-draining clutter in order to assess the options.

In the garden that means pulling out the weeds and clearing the space; in our lives, that means decluttering our physical environment (organising those files, going through our books and clothes etc.), decluttering our physical and emotional health (are we eating optimally, exercising enough, treating ourselves well), streamlining our finances and looking at our relationships to see if they uplift or drain us. With a few months of sustained effort, you can clear your garden and your life, and create an environment where any work you do on your career will be a more enjoyable process, easier, faster, and more accurate and sustainable.

Step 2. Evaluate. Look at your cleared garden and get a sense of the space, of what direction it's facing, of what the possibilities are, and think about how you want to use the garden...for entertaining, for children, for personal relaxation...Similarly, look at yourself: your personality, your strengths, your values and your needs. Buy a notebook and systematically write down your thoughts in each area. Think about work you've done in the past: think about what factors in common the work you've most enjoyed have had, and similarly for work you have disliked.

Step 3. Plan. Make a plan and design for your garden, checking that everything you put down will work practically in the space and with your lifestyle. Similarly, based on the work you've done in step 2, make a list of what your criteria are for your ideal job. What are the things it needs to give you, and what are the non-negotiable areas of importance? What is most important to create the perfect fit for you? At this point, once we have your criteria based on your personality, strengths, values, needs, lifestyle, with my life coaching clients I brainstorm a long list of all possible areas of work, and then together we create first a short-list and then a final selection based on the extent to which they fulfil the criteria we've arrived at.

Step 4. Find it or create it! This is the action part, the part which all too often is where people start as they look for suitable work or careers. However, because of the work you've done in steps 1 to 3, this process is now straightforward and the results far more sustainable. Having decided on what area of work, it's a question of working out how you are going to find it and prepare for it: which can involve everything from focused networking, to researching, to working on targeted cvs and letters etc. But knowing precisely what you're after really simplifies the process, as you can easily work out a logical and focused plan for success.

I find that the process of making work work for you, as explained above, usually takes about 6 months, but that the results are worth the investment of time and energy, and have beneficial knock-on effects on all areas of your life, largely because of the clarity and focus encouraged by the process. Clients have made big career changes (from solicitor to real estate magnate, from pr to teaching, from being at home with children to writing children's books, from investment banking to starting a business, and pretty much everything in between, and in all cases have found an enormous increase in their enjoyment in work and quality of life. ©Dr. Nicola Bunting, 2009

Dr. Nicola Bunting Master Certified Coach (MCC, ICF)
La Vita Nuova Personal and Professional Coaching
T: +44 (0) 207 9171881

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Author's Bio: 

Dr. Nicola Bunting is a top international personal and professional coach, with the Master Certified Coach credential from the International Coach Federation (ICF), one of only 1% of coaches in the world to reach this level of certification. Working with successful professionals in Europe and the USA, either as a personal or executive coach, Dr. Bunting specialises in helping ambitious individuals dramatically accelerate their success and fulfillment. With individual, group, and corporate coaching programmes on offer, Dr. Bunting's coaching company, La Vita Nuova (the New Life!), can design a coaching plan to help you achieve beyond your expectations.