Hello and welcome to the first of what will be a regular coaching thought piece for The Forest about work life challenges and how to find more meaning in our everyday lives. 

I'm a fellow Forest Gater and have been here for 8 years now, having been in the East End for some 20 years all told. If you've been around locally for a while you might have known me as 'the NCT woman', as I was very active as Chair of the Newham Branch for many years. After I had my kids, I became totally immersed in NCT, beavering away with an incredible committee of fellow parents, following my heartfelt passion and political drive to develop better postnatal services with and for the families of the Borough. I totally loved this work, but why is this detail important to this piece? Because it nicely exemplifies one of the important ways I encourage people who are reflecting on all things to do with job satisfaction, career change and work life. That is to really start to understand what lights you up and makes you happy in work… and to drill down into these deeper personal drivers that get you out of bed.  

I’ve been coaching people all my life in various guises; as a leader and manager, as an entrepreneur, as a third sector CEO, as a community activist, as an artist and as a parent.  Recently it's become very clear, from both the news and snippets of conversation I hear whilst I’m having my coffee in Tracks, that the issues of work/life balance, burnout, and employee discontentment are gathering greater pace. The ‘Great Resignation’ as it has been termed, is occurring not only because of Covid related anxieties and ever poor employment practices, but also because the pandemic has afforded people the time and space to think more reflectively about meaning, personal values and authenticity at work. 

However this has affected you – and whether you are able to resign from your work or not (money matters right!) –  this time has given us the opportunity to take a long hard look at life and see where and how we can make changes to improve it, for ourselves, in our own way and with a focus on what matters to us. Of course, it's not always possible for everyone to resign and start afresh, many of us have felt in ‘survival mode’ these past 18 months; mortgages, rent, kids and bills have to be paid and work is the way to fund these. But I really do believe that we all have the right and the ability to impact and shape our own lives to find joy.

If this resonates with you, then below you will find some prompts to help you think about this further. Drilling down into these questions and your desires can potentially flag up so much; a new side business option, new career pathways, new hobbies or creative endeavours you'd love to do. By thinking about what your world; your sector, industry, community or what ‘the market‘ needs, you might in fact discover that your ideas could fulfil these desires in others, or you might discover a new niche.

There is not one fundamental roadmap in this work - I always start from where you are at, and of course in the space of a brief article it's impossible to be everything to all, but here are some questions to ponder if you feel unhappy at work, are seeking inspiration, a new direction or feel stuck and lost. 

Take some paper and brainstorm EVERYTHING that comes up when you ask yourself these questions.  Better still, get a trusted friend to scribe and ask you the questions. Take ten minutes per question and come back to the exercise a few times to give time for ideas to percolate. 

1.     What do you LOVE LOVE LOVE doing in life and work...what makes your soul sing? This can include basic, small things in the everyday, as well as bigger things.

2.     What are you good at (again, in life and work)? This is a hard one, because most of us are not hardwired to do what can feel like ‘bragging or boasting', but boastI want you to do. Notice if the inner nasty of imposter syndrome or another negative voice comes up.

3.     Whatcould you get paid for?  Be bold– what skills do you have that could be monet

4.     What do you think the world needs? World here can be people, the ‘market’, online and offline communities, the local community, your sector and industry etc.

5.     Who are your role models (real and imagined, dead or alive)? What qualities do you admire in them? 


When you do this exercise, make sure you remember to take some deep breaths to help fuel your brain and counter the negative stuff that these queries often unleash. 

I like to take a really holistic approach to these questions too. When you think about what you love doing, you might find yourself thinking of what seems like ordinary stuff, like kicking up the leaves, or planning family gatherings, or teamwork, or client delivery, or leadership, travelling on trains, writing your diary, or cooking. By interrogating these simple pleasures, you can really get to understand what makes you tick now and what lights you up. Nothing is off the table. If you want to be rich, say how rich. If you want to be famous, then how would you like to be known? If you've always wanted to fulfil a childhood passion for writing, acting or ceramics, then make sure this is in there. This isn't a space for judgements, everything is information. Everything is of use.

By drilling down and interrogating your responses you will start to form new pictures, feelings or ideas about the area in which your interest lies. What themes are coming up? Is there a golden thread that somehow joins these responses together? What do your answers point to, is there a direction of travel? Are there dominant themes? Repeating words? Is there an emotion that connects all of this? 

As you look at all of this together, there will be some important research material for you to consider. By gently reflecting on your answers you will start to see patterns of interest and recurring language. Then you can start thinking about what is trying to emerge. What is the bigger picture here?

Inevitably, doing this kind of personal and professional thinking opens up memory and emotions. This work is a challenge and should not be underestimated. It's hard for us to feel stuck, it’s painful to feel trapped, discombobulated, unfulfilled or bored.  Starting to challenge old patterns will for sure not only unleash excitement, passion, joy and hope, but at the same time we can become much more aware too of the ways in which we sabotage ourselves. We might get in our own way or go to places where self-limiting beliefs can take hold.  

In my next piece for The Forest I'll reflect on how we can work with these more tricky emotional experiences and how to take the next steps once you've completed some of this analysis. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts about your own situation, please write to me in confidence, I’d be very happy to hear from you.


Kelly Drake Coach Consultant Artist

Insta – Kelly.a.drake