The identity of work: The role of personal brand

By way of full disclosure: I work with people to help them understand and uncover things that make up their personal brands. But where I draw a rather firm line is telling people what their jobs should be.

Despite my meagre hold out, my addition to that sphere will not be missed, as there is a whole industry of mentors, career coaches, life coaches and psychological testing out the wazoo to fill the void. I remain sceptical.

To quote Alain De Botton, author of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work:

“But despite their fancy armature, career counsellors are frequently unable to find any useful advice for us beyond an unlikely recommendation that we are ideally suited to joining the fire service or working on a North Sea trawler. Career counselling stands in relation to the problems of work rather as 14th century surgery stood in relation to osteopathy; in both cases, the job seems to have been created more out of a wish that someone know how to do it rather than any evidence that they are in fact able to do so.”

So if our coaches are not of much help, where is a person to turn? In our fast food, must-have-it-now culture, the very idea that an answer is not readily available for purchase can be an anathema.

Since the Renaissance, we have increasingly bought into the idea that work should not only make us happy, but also be the fount of our sense of achievement. It was no longer just a commercial proposition, it now purported to provide a sense of meaning.

And when we don’t find that, we turn to others looking for answers. But perhaps we would be better looking inwards rather than outwards. I am not suggesting that we all need to set up camp at the nearest mind-body retreat; more that we engage in some observation of ourselves as we go about our day-to-day.

What do you enjoy? What do you dislike? Is it the whole or just pieces and parts? Where and when do you feel engaged and happy? When are you bored and grumpy? When do you find yourself defending something you are passionate about, and when don’t you care? When are you in flow (as talked about last week) and when are things just “work”?

Observe yourself for a while. Not just a day, or even a week, but for a few months. Capture what you observe. Don’t judge it, don’t try and make any associations or decisions about it at the time. Just observe. The after a while look back – what do you see, what are the patterns that emerge?

No psychological tests I have ever seen will tell you as much about yourself through this process. No counsellor or coach can give you the degree of insight you will find.

Who knows, you might even figure out that you are fine with work being commercial because your meaning comes from other things. Happiness and fulfillment are found in many different places – all we need is the courage to take a look for ourselves.

This article first appeared on April 28, 2009.

I’m taking a short break (just a month) from my blog here, so while I’m away you’ll be reading a few blogs from the archives that I’ve handpicked for you. See you in September with lots of new thinking to share.

Michel is an independent adviser and advocate dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.


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