Helping You Find Fulfilling Work
I spoke to Adele Barlow, a business woman, career coach and author of Finding Fulfilling Work, about the inspiration for writing and how she finds time for it, why being multiple things is a good thing, how she stays productive and regains focus, her recommended reading on career change, and more.
Adele's entrepreneurial journey started in her final year of university when she co-founded yMedia, an award-winning social enterprise in New Zealand. After moving to the UK, she worked with Escape the City as global community manager where she built The Escape School in London, and designed Escape’s core education curriculum. She then worked with Virgin and Lexoo as a marketing manager.
She is now a certified coach trained by the British Psychological Society. She also writes for the Huffington Post, has written several career change books and started Outbound Books, a boutique publisher through which her books are available.
The book Finding Fulfilling Work is available on Amazon. For more information on Adele’s work, see her website adelebarlow.com Scroll down to watch Adele talk about gender intelligence in the Author Interview video.
Adele, you recently published a new book, Finding Fulfilling Work: A 21st Century Career Guide for Millennials, which is now available on Amazon. It is aimed at recent graduates, what do you hope they take from it?
When I graduated from university, I felt like I was stumbling around in the dark, and I kept looking for a flashlight in the form of a mentor or a map or something that would magically make the process much easier. Over the past decade of working I’ve learned that any career transition feels like stumbling into the darkness… it sounds cheesy but the flashlight is often within you. You can’t go looking for a magic solution. Yes, mentors catalyse the learning process, but they usually only appear when you’ve done a certain amount of groundwork by yourself. I hope this book gives recent graduates the courage to get started on that groundwork and to look for their own answers instead of relying on someone else for them.
In the book you said that finding the work you love doesn’t depend on a university degree to point you in the right direction. Why can’t young people rely on traditional education anymore?
Academic inflation and an increasing disconnect between theory and practicality mean that we need to treat getting a credential and getting an education as separate tasks. These days, an undergraduate degree (especially an Arts degree) tends to be more of a social signal rather than a prescription of what to do with the rest of your life. It can be like a passport as opposed to a boarding pass: we need it in order to leave the country, but we have to make up our own mind about where it is that we want to go.
"I’ve learned that any career transition feels like stumbling into the darkness…the flashlight is often within you. You can't go looking for a magic solution."
"Yes, mentors catalyse the learning process, but they usually only appear when you’ve done a certain amount of groundwork by yourself."
Sometimes people worry that without having found their career purpose, they can't live up to their full potential. What would you say to them?
I think how you do anything is how you do everything. When people feel unfulfilled in their careers, it’s often linked to another area in their life where they feel weak, and that’s why I really believe in the power of coaching and therapy. That worry in itself — of not living up to one’s ‘full potential’ — seems linked to deeper issues best explored with someone who is paid to give you more insight and emotional objectivity than your family and friends can. Life is not a test, it is a journey. I don’t think it’s mandatory to have a simple answer for what your ‘career purpose’ is and I think trying to find a one-word prescription for our identities is a recipe for disaster. Look at Barack Obama — he was a lawyer, senator, and writer before becoming President — the most interesting people are often multiple things.
What steps have you taken in life that led to your biggest achievements?
I learned to trust and I learned to communicate, and it’s not like I have both of those things completely figured out, but the better I get at both, the more achievements seem to follow. Learning to trust myself and my business partners, learning to communicate clearly instead of darting around the real issues… these have made the biggest differences. They’re processes as opposed to simple steps, I’m still learning every day.
You started your own publishing company, Outbound Books, through which you publish your work. What made you start writing books and what has the research and writing process been like so far?
I write because I have to — I have been obsessed with reading and exploring ideas from a really young age. When I don’t write, I feel like I’ve been in a stuffy room without an open window, and as soon as I start writing, something starts to breathe again. But the process itself can sometimes be a little bit painful as I’m still at that stage as a writer where I can see the awkward gap between where I want to be, and where I am, and I just keep trying to close that gap by producing as much as possible.
"When I don’t write, I feel like I’ve been in a stuffy room without an open window, and as soon as I start writing, something starts to breathe again."
The Cage Breakers: A Story About Women, Work & Love
You also have upcoming books on gender equality, notably The Cage Breakers. What can your readers expect to learn and look forward to?
Women used to be defined solely in relation to the men who kept them at home. In the 21st century, women are breaking traditional definitions of female identity. The story explores the complexities of being an ambitious female millennial, as I feel like we’re still getting a barrage of mixed messages, like: lean in, but not too far, because men don’t like feeling threatened. Date and marry, but don’t define yourself in relation to your husband and kids. Keep your job, but don’t out-earn your husband because men don’t like it when you’re the primary breadwinner. Try and get promoted, but also be there for your kids. Be a great worker and a great mother, even though the perfect worker is available 24/7, as is the perfect mother. I wanted to explore these issues through the lens of a story, which is what The Cage Breakers is.
Writing with a full-time job
With a full-time job as marketing manager, how on earth do you find time for work and writing? What does your working day look like?
I book in writing sessions with myself in my calendar and I think if you really want to do something, you just make the time. I usually write for a couple of hours before or after work and do longer sessions on the weekends. Knowing about marketing has come in really handy when it comes to getting my writing out there, and knowing how to write and create and structure complexity has come in really handy when it comes to marketing.
What’s the best way to stay productive every day? And how do you get your focus back when you’ve lost it?
I think believing in the broader purpose of what you’re doing is the best way to stay productive, and the root of that often comes from prayer or meditation or yoga or surfing or whatever it is that helps you connect to that bigger purpose of why any of us are here. When I’ve lost focus, I usually do one of those things and I talk it out with friends. Working with a career coach really helps — someone to keep you engaged with the broader picture of where you’re going in life. I trained as a coach myself and that’s helped, as sometimes if I’m stuck in negative thought patterns or feeling blah, I can somewhat coach myself back into a productive, focused place.
Books to inspire your career change
Can you recommend good reading material on career change and finding the right path in life?
There are tons in my book, but off the top of my head, “The Escape Manifesto” is a great place to start, as is anything by Chris Guillebeau.
"Women used to be defined solely in relation to the men who kept them at home. In the 21st century, women are breaking traditional definitions of female identity...[but] we're still getting a barrage of mixed messages"
"A lot of the people who inspire me are my close friends...just watching how they operate, that’s what inspires me."
Who are your heroes who inspire you and why do you look up to them?
A lot of the people who inspire me are my close friends. When I was younger I used to look up to famous figures and the older I get, the more inspiration I find in the people I know and love — just watching how they operate, that’s what inspires me. I’m a bit wary of having heroes now because often you’re buying into a one-dimensional ideal of someone as opposed to who they actually are as a person… but still, in terms of journalists, I look up to Katie Couric, Jon Stewart and Anderson Cooper; in terms of entrepreneurs, I look up to Jon Mackay (who founded Whole Foods) and so many others — pretty much every founder I’ve worked for has been inspiring.