On this week’s podcast, I’m very excited to welcome Murielle Marie.
For the past nine years, Murielle has worked as a business and career coach. She loves solving challenges and helping people to get ‘unstuck’ – so much so that she calls it her super power!
Murielle originally studied philosophy, so big ideas and complex topics are familiar ground. And with the world experiencing such significant shifts right now – dealing with climate and political uncertainty, technological advancement and the after-effects of a global pandemic – it’s no wonder that so many of us are questioning how and why we work.
So, without further ado, let’s get started!
We’re going to jump right in with the big questions…
We’re currently in a work crisis, says Murielle, and it’s connected to a crisis of purpose.
People are asking themselves: What is the purpose – the value – of what I’m doing?
We’ve never been so connected and informed. Literally, a whole world of people and information is right at our fingertips. And with that access has come a realisation that we can do or be almost anything we want.
Before, that knowledge was only reserved for people who could access (read: afford) the right education.
But, in widening our viewpoints, explains Murielle, we’re also seeing just how good some people have it (or appear to). There’s been a real lifestyle boom. At the extreme we see the ‘careers’ influencers have created for themselves; travelling the world, getting free stuff and making money from it! And of course we are creatures of comparison, so that makes us feel bad about our own jobs and lives.
The double-edged internet sword strikes again… So if the old definition of ‘work’ is changing,
Murielle likes to define work as being something that is not separate from our lives.
Instead, she says, it’s part of our identity. But to be that, work has to give us a certain level of purpose – we have to feel as though we are using our talents and tools to contribute.
We have to feel like we can be a ‘fully expressed human being’ while working.
Murielle is also careful to acknowledge that the type of work she’s talking about (service-based, intellectual, remote) wouldn’t be possible without those people who work very differently – on the ground, supporting and caring. The people in hospitals, schools, serving in essential shops and powering essential transport, to name a few.
Those people enable us to carry out our flexible jobs. They make our working lives possible.
We’re also incredibly lucky to live in modern, Westernised countries where we have the infrastructure and independence to pursue the sort of work we really want. This helps to free us from the pressure of doing something that we don’t want to do.
You’re right, it’s a huge privilege which we must recognise.
The problem, explains Murielle, is that the current working system hasn’t completely woken up to this change – or need for change.
Here’s a statistic. Did you know that in the 1950s people worked around 38-40 hours to achieve what we do today in 15?
It’s no surprise that we’re feeling overworked, stressed and under pressure!
Murielle continues, describing how in the 1930s British economist John Maynard Keynes saw technological advancement as the key to freeing society from a life of labour. He argued that by the turn of the millennium, people would only have to work 15 hours a week because technology would do the rest.
Clearly that hasn’t happened – why?
Corporate greed. The bottom line is too important!
So, concludes Murielle, we have the tools to work faster and better, but they’ve actually given us more work – and that’s one of the biggest issues.
When you put it that way, it sounds crazy! We shouldn’t be working 12 hours a day to bring value. Surely we have other skills, talents and ways of creating value.
A lot of it comes down to timescales, says Murielle, and the expectation that we can perform totally different tasks to the same rigid, arbitrary set of timescales.
She explains how after the industrial revolution there was a realisation that working 12-15 hours a day, six days a week, was too physically demanding for labourers. It was negatively impacting their health, their family lives and their output.
And so, the working day shifted down to eight hours a day, five days a week.
But, exclaims Murielle, we’re still using that system today – and it’s barely being questioned!
Yes, some progressive companies are experimenting with reduced hours, but most still insist on a 40-hour working week even though technology has massively increased our output.
When she worked in web development, Murielle admits she also used to follow a ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’ mentality. Then one of her coders told her that it wasn’t possible to write code effectively for eight hours a day, and the realisation struck her.
You have to think about the physical and intellectual effort, she stresses.
Only then can you really consider the timescales that permit us to perform our best work.
And that’s particularly relevant to creative industries. You can’t force creative brilliance just because it’s 9am on a Monday morning!
Absolutely! All of this resonates so much – the reason I set up on my own was because the traditional 9-5 didn’t work. In my job now, I have to be analytical and creative. I have to spend time communicating with others and working alone… But it took me years to work out my own new processes and timescales.
Murielle recommends a Ted Talk by Sir Ken Robinson called ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity?’ in which he makes a case for nurturing creativity over traditional academic subjects. Because our education systems are rooted in the needs of industrialism, we’re steered towards the academic areas and told these are our paths to success.
And if we don’t achieve that perceived success – the university place, the job role – then we’re led to believe that we have failed.
A lot of us don’t realise that there’s something wrong with the system, reasons Murielle. We’ve spent years bending ourselves to fit it, while hearing the same doubt-inducing questions: Can you afford to change things? What about your job security? How will this impact your family?
It takes something pretty big to force change, but it came along recently…
When Murielle began coaching clients nearly a decade ago, she says she was convinced that remote working was possible. But she only found small communities doing it – not big businesses. And yet people came to her all the time expressing their unhappiness at the lack of flexibility.
Then came 2020, and COVID.
The pandemic was obviously a terrible thing, says Murielle, but there was a silver lining. Suddenly, we had no choice but to make remote working, well, work!
Suddenly businesses that were months earlier saying it wasn’t possible, had to make it possible. It was a real eye-opener, and it accelerated the thinking around work/life balance.
We got a taste of freedom and we realised that some rules can change.
Completely. And people are continuing to challenge the status quo by coming to you, Murielle, for coaching.
The single biggest challenge is overcoming fear, says Murielle. People stay in bad jobs – bad places – because of a fear of the unknown.
And that’s also a symptom of the system we work in! For generations, the safest and most secure thing you could do was land a ‘good job’. To get professional and financial stability. Then stick with it until retirement.
But the reality is that you can step away from one job and find another.
Murielle explains that a huge part of her coaching is helping people relearn what it is to work. Relearn that work isn’t something you have to escape. That it can actually be something you like and enjoy – even feel passionate about.
That’s a very hard question to answer, Murielle laughs, because it’s so personal and different for everyone. She adds though, that people have to be willing to try.
Remember that life is a journey – it’s not about getting to a specific end-point where you can stop searching or trying. Where you reach some sort of ‘perfection’. That’s exactly the sort of thinking, says Murielle, that gets people stuck. Because there is no ‘perfect’ end-point!
Instead, focus on keeping moving. Don’t let yourself get bogged down by potential barriers, because that will stall you completely. Just keep on steadily moving and remember that the decisions you make are rarely permanent.
That’s so true. When I coach, I sometimes find that I’m expected to wave a magic wand and solve my clients’ problems – but that’s just not possible! I observe two main challenges:
Comparison – technology makes this so easy, and it’s a key reason why people lose sight of who they are and what they really want.
Confidence – just like what you were saying, it’s all about taking small but regular steps to build that courage and confidence. Keep going, and one day you’ll look back at how far you’ve come!
Murielle admits that it depends on individual situations, but one piece of advice she regularly offers is to really question your own thoughts.
It’s our own thinking that gets us stuck, because so often our fears translate into negative thoughts, or doubts.
Murielle continues, ‘it’s because your nervous system just wants to protect you. It wants to say, woo, that sounds exciting, but dangerous – we’re not gonna do it. And then everything is set in motion to make sure that you don’t do it’.
So, be aware of that, and be prepared to disprove yourself and get unstuck – that’s powerful stuff!
I like to define my work as a lifestyle, because everything I do makes sense with the way I want to live my life.
Murielle explains how she works with a lot of creatives who are always seeking out knowledge and new ideas. And that’s the key, she says – keep forming future plans,and your journey will continue!
For Murielle, that looks like a new ‘bucket list’ of plans or goals which she creates every five years. In 2020, she decided to pursue more writing, and that’s exactly what she’s doing alongside her coaching.
She also stresses the need to have a continuous thread of passions or interests running through what you’re doing. That, says Murielle, will help ensure that you always get a sense of purpose, value and enjoyment from your ‘work’.
Yes! But so many people still view retirement as the goal. Waiting for time to pass so you can enjoy what’s at the end? That seems terrible to me! It can be harder for older generations to understand, but surely we must try to enjoy the process?
Murielle completely agrees. Another problem with the traditional system is the idea that we must work to earn money for our future lives, despite not necessarily enjoying the job.
‘People’, she says, ‘can only be pressured that way for a certain amount of time. And that’s why we see so much burnout’.
I completely relate. The promise of financial security in the future won’t exactly help if you’re feeling miserable in your job every day.
And that’s ultimately why we both love coaching so much – because we help people to create time and space for themselves. And observing that transformation… It’s magic!
We’re very privileged to do what we do, agrees Murielle. She goes on to describe how her starting point with clients who feel stuck involves asking them what they don’t want, as that’s often a lot easier to identify than what they do want.
Taking that different starting point, Murielle says, helps people to discover what they do want to achieve, and then work out the steps to get there.
Brilliant! OK Murielle, one last question… What do you wish you’d known before you started work?
The difference between ‘busy’ work and valuable work. The old-school mindset of needing to be at a desk eight hours a day in order to be productive can’t continue. So much time has been wasted that way.
Instead, the new definition of work that we’re exploring means doing things that make sense within your life while also producing financial security. And, of course, making you happy.
That sounds like the perfect work/life balance to me! Thank you so much Murielle for this fascinating and totally inspiring chat. I know it will massively help me as a coach, and be invaluable to the clients I work with too.
Voilà! To hear more of our conversation, check out the podcast episode.
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