Friends, family and colleagues told career coach Selina Barker that it was unrealistic to want to find work she loved. Luckily for her – and for the thousands of people she’s coached – she ignored them. Here she talks career experiments, cashing in on your skills and choosing the path(s) of most fun.
1. What’s the ‘six word story‘ for your career journey so far?
Followed what made me come alive.
2. Give us an outline of your career path in a bit more detail than six words, from your childhood ambitions to what you do now.
When I was little I didn’t think much about jobs. All I focused on was the light at the end of the tunnel: the time when school would be over and I would be set free. I didn’t think too much about what I’d do, I just dreamt of the freedom of a life where I could make my own choices and live by my own rules, no longer being bossed around.
I skipped out of university and became a marketing manager but it didn’t take me long to realise that a 9-5 office job with a boss dictating most of my waking hours was not going to suit me. I looked around for guidance on the alternatives and was met with resistance from all sides: friends, family and colleagues. I was told that this was just how life was, ‘work’ was called that for a reason and we couldn’t all be lucky enough to love what we did. I was being unrealistic and needed to stop being a dreamer.
Luckily for me, being told I can’t do something is all the motivation I need to go and prove that I can, and by that point I’d had enough of being told how I was going to live my life. I decided that there had to be a world out there where people were unplugging from the status quo, creating their own careers and living by their own rules. I decided I was going to find them, learn from them, create my life and career to my own rules too and then come back and show anyone that wanted to learn how they could do it too. And that is exactly what I did. Since then, through 121 coaching, workshops, online courses, guides and retreats, I’ve helped 1000s of people to create careers and lives they love, to their own rules.
3. You took some time ‘out’ to sample loads of different ways of earning a living before you settled on coaching. What made you decide to do this and what did the experience teach you?
When I quit my job I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I did need to make money and I had no intention of going back to a 9-5 office-based existence. So I decided to go on a career adventure (calling it a ‘sabbatical’ so my parents didn’t freak out …too much!). I decided that for 6 months I would play and experiment, go out there and find as many ways as I could to earn a living having fun. [American author and philosopher] Harold Thurman had inspired me: “Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive and then go and do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive”.
I taught Spanish, made jewellery, sold burritos from a food van in an East London market, sold ice creams at festivals, worked on events in San Francisco, Greece and Barcelona and drove vans all over the UK. It was like a foundation course to a whole new way of living and working. I learnt how to make money by cashing in on my tenacity, blagging skills and enthusiasm. I did not have to sell my soul to anyone. My life was my own.
Those 6 months turned into a year and taught me that there are always ways to make money and you don’t have to be an employee to earn a living. That knowledge gave me the promise of freedom and the confidence to take risks with my career, knowing that I would NOT end up on the streets. Ultimately what I learnt is that you can create a career to your own design – make it up. You don’t need to wait for permission. But what you DO need is perseverance, courage, commitment and the balls do just try things out and not get put off if things don’t work out the first time round. It’s all one big game and you’ll only succeed if you play it!
4. How did you see work when you were growing up? Has this changed?
I saw work as something horrible that you HAD to do in life but no one wanted to. I saw how stressed out, exhausted and angry it made my dad. I knew I wanted to be creative – to be free to design and draw – but I don’t think I saw that as work. I saw that as fun and play and work was something else. Something hard.
It was in meeting people later on in life who loved what they did that changed my perceptions. I started to see that work could be like play and something you actually looked forward to. It could be fun. Once I saw that THAT was possible, I didn’t want to have it any other way. And so throughout my career to date I have always chosen the path of most fun. That’s not to say I don’t work hard – I do, but my work involves some of my most enjoyable activities in life, so I like working hard at it!
5. How do you know that what you do now is right for you?
It’s a constant source of creativity, growth, fun, challenge and adventure. It’s my biggest creative project in life. It’s one of the greatest loves of my life!
6. In tweet-format (140 characters), what would you say to your 18 year old self about finding the ‘right’ career?
Have fun, experiment, explore, play and never give up on your dreams. Follow them and let them shape the course of your career.
Want help figuring out what path would make YOU come alive? Sign up to our September course if you’re already working and crave a change, or our October course if you’re a student or graduate just starting out.