Get obsessed with getting inspired

Let’s talk about Inspiration

I’ve just signed up for a new monthly newsletter, full of career inspiration. It promises to enlighten its readers about different career options and unexpected careers, and feature people who’ve started their own businesses. I’m SO excited to read it and for others to discover it too. Because it’s exactly the kind of thing you need when you’re feeling stuck and uninspired in your job and generally a bit meh.

You need ideas, inspiration, something to add a bit of oomph to your day. What cool, interesting, fulfilling jobs and careers are actually out there? Things you’ve never heard of or thought of. Things you didn’t know existed as a career.

Boring

When I wanted to leave my job in magazine sales I joined a few recruitment companies. Of course they just sent me job specs for jobs EXACTLY like the one I was desperate to get away from. And probably even less interesting.

It was so disheartening. I was so desperate for a change, but what they offered me didn’t appeal in the slightest.

It felt like my only option was to move into something that looked pretty much the same, maybe with a higher salary. How depressing. A higher salary is great, but it doesn’t make up for a not so happy day-to-day.

What I didn’t know is that there were a whole world of other jobs out there that I could do. I didn’t realise how many options I had. I was stuck, with blinkers on. 

Delight in other people’s stories

The reason the idea of this email delights me so is because when I started out on my career change journey, what kept me going was hearing stories of other people’s career changes; learning about their lifestyle and work. In short, I was looking for inspiration.

The more I read the more I realised just how many people go through the same thing, a career transition. And also how many people manage to make a change for the better. 

These people left a job they didn’t thrive in, and found something that suited them way better.  A job that played to their strengths, that suited their personality, that sat better with their values. That fit in with how they wanted to live their lives. 

I read the weekly Careershifters newsletter, which each week features  a real career change story. (Read my interview here).

I found huge inspiration in This Year Will Be Different by Monika Kanokova. It features interviews with women travelling around the world or living in different countries, working freelance or setting up their own small businesses.

And many more books, articles and blogposts.

Working out what you want

And it all little by little changed my perspective. I started to shift from feeling stuck and unfulfilled and frustrated, to feeling inspired and excited. I realised there’s so much cool stuff out there to do! And that I could decide how I wanted to live my life, and try to find something to suit that.

For example I liked the idea of being able to work from home from time to time. Of not be in a big noisy open plan office where I couldn’t hear myself think. Where I had to talk on the phone in front of people, one of my pet hates. 

I wanted…

  • To work for a smaller, more intimate company. 
  • I dreamed of doing my own thing, have my own business, with my own clients. 
  • To be able to travel from time to time, and speak other languages was important to me.
  • I also wanted to feel like I was doing work that mattered, work that would have a positive effect. 

Once you start to take ideas and inspiration from others and put a bit of proper thought into it, you start to form a sort of blueprint for what you want.  And that acts as a guide. That helps you sort out what to say no to and what to explore.

Rather than flailing around screaming I DON’T KNOW WHAT I WANT TO DO WITH MY LIFE you’ve got few role models, a few examples of what might be a cool job and lifestyle. 

Role models (who I got obsessed with)

I had a few…

  • A Brazilian girl who had planned for the next year to spend 3 months at a time living in 4 different cities, working as a freelance translator. Working in cafes, cowork spaces, meeting new people, speaking different languages. 
  • A lady who’d packed up a financial career to set up  a wellbeing retreat in the Dorset countryside.
  • A friend of a friend who’d given up a career in book publishing to live in Ibiza. She went on to edit holiday guides as a freelancer.
  • My friend Vix, who was living in Barcelona working freelance and remotely as a translation project manager, who spends time every other month or so working and having fun in Menorca.

My inspirations were all leading me to a job where I could work remotely, maybe in another country, maybe for myself, and have a bit more freedom in my day to day. 

Result?

And that’s where I’ve ended up. Living in Valencia, working as a career change coach on the side of a day job, where I work remotely for an online education company. 

It took me a long time to work out what I wanted. But it was such a great experience peeling back the layers and eventually uncovering work that interested me. And I doubt I’d have managed it without all the amazing inspirational stories that changed my perspective and boosted my motivation.

So search out things that make your heart sing, that excite you. Find case studies of people who have changed career or who have jobs that sound interesting. (I love Stylist magazine’s Work/Life column for this).

Try and pick out the bits that appeal – is it their working environment, the actual work they are doing, the freedom they have? This will help you to work out what you want, I promise. It will plant little seeds in your brain that will influence your next steps.

If you’d like to have coaching sessions with me, find me here on LinkedIn, or email me at joaopoku@gmail.com.

Written during Writers’ Hour. Join me on the next one.

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash


Anxiety and looking after yourself.

I’m not a fan of the term self-care. I feel a bit sneery about it. I think it’s one of those terms that’s been so overused that I’m just bored of hearing the words. But, increasingly, I’m considering its meaning and importance:

‘The practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.’ Oxford English Dictionary

I’ve been feeling quite anxious and worried. I think most of us have in recent months. I still haven’t been able to visit my family and friends in the UK, and I’m really feeling it. Currently living in Spain, up until February this year I’d been returning to the UK  every 1-3 months. Six months feels like a long time, and I mean that literally, I feel the longing, the homesickness. And it’s bringing up all sorts of worries and concerns. 

So I like the idea of actively trying to protect your own well-being during periods of stress and anxiety. Consciously figuring out things you can do which you know will make you feel better. And for me, it comes down to a few usual suspects. 

Yoga

I’ve been doing around 10 minutes of yoga every morning for quite a few years now. I’ve always enjoyed it as a way to wake up and stretch and ease into the day. Recently, I feel as though I’m appreciating it even more. I’ve really noticed how good it feels to do it by an open window, the cool breeze coming in, morning light reflecting on the wall outside. Me, following the moves, stretching up, breathing deep. It’s a peaceful moment. 

I’ve also realised that it’s great to do right before bed, to release tension from the neck and shoulders, to stretch, breath slower, calm down. It just feels like your being nice to yourself, giving yourself a quiet moment.

Meditation

Also something I’ve done for a while now, probably a good 3-4 years. I started doing meditation when I was going through a stressful time, planning to leave my then job. I started with 10 minutes in the morning using the Headspace app. 

But recently, I’ve discovered the joy of a short meditation session in the afternoon. When I’m feeling tired, or my eyes can’t take looking at the computer screen or any other screen any more, I take myself off to lie on my bed, and close my eyes, and listen. It feels so good.

Even just closing your eyes for a period during or towards the end of a busy working day does wonders. Your eyes get so tired. And listening to the meditation just forces you to slow down, breathe deep, stop the whirring mind for a bit, or at least slow it down. 

When I feel anxious I know my breathing becomes short, so anything that makes me slow down my breathing, such as yoga and meditation, feels good. 

Walking & podcasts

I’ve known for a long time that walking and listening to podcasts is one of my favourite pastimes. It always makes me feel better. Always. I had a renewed love and appreciation for it when we were finally let out of our strict quarantine to walk for an hour a day. It’s almost indescribable how good it felt, to get the blood pumping, energy flowing, to see the city, to listen to clever, entertaining, inspiring people. To hear about other people’s experience of lockdown. 

However I’m feeling, I know that I am guaranteed going to feel better if I get my trainers on and go for a walk, whatever time of day.

Gym classes

I’ve also realised just how much exercise and going to gym classes helps me mentally. I’ve found classes I love, pilates and weights classes. I have my routines, they’re built into my day. And I find comfort in the routine, I know what I’m doing, I know that even if the class pushes me, I feel so good afterwards.

The music, being around other people. It’s like meditating, you’re focusing on what you need to do, the music, the voice of the instructor. Even if your mind starts spinning off into a to-do list – you can’t focus on that for too long, you’ll get lost in what you’re supposed to be doing.

I have a feeling that my mood is better on days when I’ve done a class. 

Writing things down

I also find journaling beneficial, that fancy term for keeping a sort of diary. It’s basically getting everything out of my head, onto paper, or the computer. In the mornings I do a one hour online writing class, which is when I write these blog posts. But some mornings I just write whatever’s on my mind, worries, to-do list for the day, for my life, what I’m scared of, what I’m grateful for. Things that happened yesterday. Things I want to do, plans. Pondering. Comments. Realisations.

And I do the same in the evening in a notebook, for however long I need to. Sometimes I have nothing to say, I just write down a few things that made me smile that day or that I enjoyed. Other times there’s a lot to let out. It helps put my mind to rest.

Massage

And the last one – which I haven’t experienced for a good 5 months now but I’m excited to have one booked in, a massage. I love massages. I get a lot of tension and tightness in my neck and shoulders, from stress, anxiety, from sitting at a laptop all day. To have someone work away at the knots is so amazing, such a release. And it feels so intimate, and caring. That’s what self-care is right?

I hope you’re looking after yourself.

If you’d like some coaching sessions with me (I specialise in career change coaching), find me here on LinkedIn , or email me at joaopoku@gmail.com.

Written during Writers’ Hour. Join me on the next one.

Photo by Beatriz Moraes on Unsplash

Listen up

Image of a wooden duck sculpture with a green background.
Photo by Olga Serjantu on Unsplash

I recently heard relationship expert Esther Perel talk about communicating. She said that the key to great communication is being able to listen. It’s not about getting your point across, making yourself understood. It’s listening. Really hearing what the other person is saying, or trying to tell you.

Something you might not know about coaches? We’re really great listeners.

Coaching isn’t about telling someone what to do, churning out advice, sharing our great wisdom. We may make the odd suggestion, tell an anecdote, share some insight.

But a coach’s primary job is to listen to their client.

This is key to coaching.

What is, and isn’t being said.

Listen, pick up on tone, words, body language. Pick up on hesitations, stumbling, facial expressions. Notice what’s being skirted around, what isn’t being said or tackled. Spot fiddling, hand wringing, scratching of the head. Averting of eyes. Or someone lighting up.

A coach’s job is to listen to what the other person is or isn’t saying, and then to probe deeper. To ask good questions. To get to the bare bones of what a person is thinking or feeling or wants.

What a coach is aiming to do is get the client to come up with answers for themselves on what to do next. It’s providing them with a space in which to be honest. It’s giving them the time to really think hard about what they want. Pushing them to come up with a step they need to take, which is going to move them forwards. Out of feeling stuck, and into feeling great about taking action.

It’s kind of like holding their hand and giving them a nudge in the back at the same time. You won’t get away with just sitting there talking. With the coach’s help, you’ll also be making a plan, and taking action.

Change perspective.

Coaching is all about helping someone to do the things they need to do, to get them to where they want to be.

My first visit to a coach, helped me break out of this little bubble I’d been sitting in, telling myself that the only options for me where a similar job in a similar company. Which is not what I wanted. In that first session, I started to realise there were opportunities out there that I didn’t know existed.

My coach listened to me, then asked me if I’d considered X, Y, Z. It was so simple. But for someone to suggest I could do something different, based on what interested me, was mind blowing. It was a like a switch went off in my brain. She challenged the story I’d been telling myself, that I was stuck, and that there was nothing interesting out there for me.

She simply listened, and asked questions. Good questions. She guided me into discovering new possibilities for myself. I felt heard, understood, validated. And motivated.

If you’d like some coaching sessions with me, find me here on LinkedIn , or email me at joaopoku@gmail.com.

Written during Writers’ Hour. Join me on the next one.

Failure – or just a pivot?

I was inspired the other day listening to the author Bernadine Evaristo chatting on the podcast How to Fail with Elizabeth Day. She’s led such an interesting, inspiring life. Her attitude is that a failure isn’t really a failure, as each one teaches you something and moves you forwards. 

It got me to thinking about failures I’ve had, and what I’ve taken from them. Is there really something to learn from every single one of them?

Two failures that spring to mind which definitely changed my trajectory were failing a business French module at university, and the failure to get a diploma in translation many years after having left university. 

Failed at…Business French

I failed business French because I DID NOT HAVE A CLUE what it was all about. The lectures passed by in a blur of boredom. This was the final term of my second year of studies, and my French wasn’t far past A-level.

I was always pretty good at French at school, but not great. I’d never studied anything to do with business, so even if I had understood a word the lecturers were saying, it would have gone totally over my head. 

No surprises then that I have vague recollection of seeing the exam paper and just thinking ‘what the…’. I’ve always been good in exam situations, one of those people that quite enjoys them. But I’d never experienced anything like this. Zero comprehension. So the end result was a big fat fail. 

Which meant that in my fourth and final year of studies, having spent the third year living in France and (ahem) perfecting my French, I had to add on an extra module to make up for this failure. Thanks second year me.

But actually, yes, thanks second year me. Because one of the options I had was to learn a new language, completing a beginners course. I chose Spanish – a language lots of girls at my school had chosen over German because it was considered ‘easy’ – I’d chosen German probably because that’s what my older sister had studied and I mainly copied her.

I figured Spanish would be a nice easy option, the fact that I spoke French and Italian would surely help. And I was right. It was super easy. All I really remember taking from that one module was being able to say ‘in the morning I get up at 9 o’clock. I passed with flying colours. Who needs business French when you can learn beginner’s Spanish?

So failure number 1 = a success. It resulted in a decent degree and (basic) knowledge of a brand new language. 

Failed at…Diploma in Translation

Fast forward around 5 years. I had spent two years after university living in Paris, finally perfecting that French…then returned to London, working for an international magazine company. 

At first I’d enjoyed my job, but after a while felt something was missing. I’d always thought working as a translator would be a fantastic job, so I decided to do a diploma in French to English translation. Maybe it would result in a career move, if nothing else I’d get to study more of my beloved French and get really, really good. 

Once a week I’d attend a 2-hour class after work – submitting translations on all sorts of topics and then going through them together. It was brutal – ‘good enough’ didn’t really cut it. You had to really really understand the French to convey the meaning correctly, and sometimes it just seemed impossible. 

However, I was confident. I enjoyed the classes and thought that working hard might be enough. The course leader warned us that the exam was extremely tough, that the pass rate was minuscule (30% maybe?), and gave us the pricing for retaking it a year later. 

Well – no big surprise, I failed. It was disappointing, there’s always the hope you’ll be one of the lucky ones. But, I’d always known failure was likely, and therefore considered retaking in a year’s time. 

I remember speaking to my parents about it, about the expense and whether or not it was worth it. And my Dad said to me, ‘what about concentrating on learning another language instead, what about your Spanish?’

Reader, my Dad’s a clever man. 

Funnily enough, this all tied in with the break-up of a short-lived relationship with an illustrator I quite liked, who boasted that he’d learned Spanish at a local adult education centre for free, and that he could rap Do The Bartman in Spanish. I’d always been jealous, not of the rap, but of the fact he’d learned enough Spanish to impress someone with.

And I’ve always thought the best thing to do after a break-up is to throw yourself into making yourself even more fabulous, that’ll show him (even if you know you’ll never see him again).

So the thought of improving my Spanish, in maybe getting really good, as good as my French, was a very appealing idea. And I’m a bit of a swot, I love studying. Nothing much makes me happier than going to an adult education class. 

Didn’t fail…GCSE Spanish

So I signed up for a course in GCSE Spanish at an adult education centre in Holborn. I loved it. The first lesson I wondered what the hell I was doing. Our lovely teacher was Venezuelan with a strong accent, and I don’t think I understood one thing she said. From all the nervous tittering from my classmates, I knew we were in the same boat. 

Over time we started to understand her, and improve. By the end of the course not only had I had a fling with a bad boy French dude, but I’d got an A* in GCSE Spanish.

So there we go, two failures, which resulted in me obtaining a GCSE in Spanish, and very mediocre fluency. Is this really a success story, you might well ask? 

Well – fast forward maybe 10 more years, and here I am living in Valencia. I finally left the magazine company, did some translation work on the side anyway (take that, failed diploma). I got a new job working remotely, started up a coaching business, and moved to Valencia. I’d always wanted to live abroad again after Paris, and something magical drew me to Valencia. My Spanish is in no way perfect, but it’s getting pretty fluent.

Failing a business French module and a diploma in translation are of course, small pieces in a bigger overall puzzle of how things have turned out. But no doubt, the opportunity to learn Spanish played a part in shaping my decisions and future. And that’s something I’m grateful for.

If you’d like to try a coaching session with me, send me a message on LinkedIn or at joaopoku@gmail.com for more info and details.

Written during Writers’ Hour. Join me on the next one.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

It’s ok to want something different

Your confidence can be really knocked if you work for a manager or a team that just don’t quite click with you. You start to question yourself. Why don’t you want to laugh along with them, why don’t you want to hang out with them at lunchtime? Why do you not get their in-jokes, why don’t you want to spend time with them out of work? Why do you want something different?

I worked for a boss who had a very different view to me on how to work and what are acceptable working hours. She thought it was perfectly reasonable to work all hours, and even to take your work on holiday. 

One time she had a big birthday that she celebrated with her sister abroad and they’d gone out to do something special, a boat trip down a river. In the middle of it all she took a call about some big deal she’d been working on and won.

The last thing I’d want to do on my birthday or when I’m on holiday is check work emails or take calls or think about work! Fair enough it was a big deal. But it just reminded me how little I was invested in the work, and how different our values seemed.

Square peg in a round hole

Another time I went for a drink with a couple of colleagues. They started talking about and comparing their Rolexes. I remember wondering what on earth I was doing there with them. What we found interesting, and important, seemed so different. 

It’s easy to feel like you’re the one that doesn’t fit in, you’re the square peg in the round hole. 

When working for this company, for my lunch break I’d always rush off at 1pm on the dot. I’d head to the nearest bookshop or walk around, then eat my lunch at my desk. I didn’t really want to interact that much. I didn’t want to go to lunch with colleagues or stroll around the shops together.

Now, I realise I’m a bit of an introvert. So looking back, working in a busy, open plan office with phones constantly ringing, I needed time to be on my own, to recalibrate, breathe, think, digest. 

But I felt like a bit of a weirdo, always sneaking off on my own. In my memory, I pretty much sprinted to the door every lunchtime! I was desperate to move, to get out, to feel free.

The same with after work drinks. The last thing I wanted was to hang out more with the people I’d spent all day with, as nice as most of them were (and some of them were friends). The thought of carrying on, drinking warm wine in some so-so bar, making small talk, it wasn’t for me. I didn’t have the energy.

Something different

So when I left that job and searched out a new one, I was looking for something different. This meant looking for like-minded people who had a similar outlook to me. Finding work that meant something to me. I didn’t want to be working in a big, busy, open-plan office. Where you felt judged if you weren’t at your desk at 9am, if you left on the dot at 5pm and didn’t stay late, and if you took your lunch break at any time other than between 1pm and 2pm. 

I wanted freedom and meaning.

I ended up working for a company where we all work remotely. We’re doing good work, helping children struggling with their reading. I’m genuinely interested in what my colleagues have to say about all sorts.

I still work 9-5 but I take my lunch when I want to. I go for a walk round the block or have a break when I want to. There’s no judgement when we all say a virtual bye at 5pm. I work from home or I work from a coworking space. Or when I’m back visiting my parents, from their study. It can change depending on my mood or energy levels, or what I’ve got to get done.

I can be around people when I want to, be on my own when I want to, and just get my head down and do the work. Then I’ll coach for a couple of hours after work, or first thing in the morning before work. I’ve found a way of working that suits me much better.

What do you want to change?

If what you’ve just read resonates, have a think about what your ideal working environment would be. What works for you? What would you change if you could? 

Currently, during the covid pandemic, a lot of us have time to gain perspective on our work situation, and see more clearly what is or isn’t working. Many people are trying out working remotely, from home. And some are realising that it suits them really well, they are far more productive and love not having to commute. They have more time to spend with family. 

Perhaps they are realising that this way of working (ideally without a backdrop of fear, uncertainty and doom) is something they’d like to pursue. Or at least, have the option to do so a few times a week.

Others are realising that there could be something more fulfilling out there, something that lights them up, something they’d be proud to be working on. Something different.

This could be a good opportunity to really explore – journal, read, start to build a more precise picture of what you want.

It’s definitely a time of change, in so many ways. Hopefully a large part can be really positive, including relooking at how we are working and what we want from life, and making changes accordingly.

If you’d like to try a coaching session with me, send me a message on LinkedIn or at joaopoku@gmail.com for more info and details.

Written during Writers’ Hour. Join me on the next one.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash