Nick Williams, The Work We Were Born To Do

Personal development and career development go hand-in-hand. Career development may drive your own personal development. Yet in many cases the opposite can also be true: personal development can stimulate further career development.

Nick Williams is the author of this substantial book and draws heavily on his own experience as an IT consultant who changed career to become a coach, author, writer and speaker. He sets out a series of steps and principles – 12 principles in fact – to help each of us find the work that we were born to do.

The underlying belief of this book – and Nick Williams – is that life is about becoming the person that we were born to become. In other words life is about being more ourselves. To quote Spinoza, as Nick does, “to be what we were born to be, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end in life.”

Whether we call it our career, our work, our job, or making a living, the main point is that we spend such a large chunk of time, energy and focus on making a living, that it would be good if we actually did something that was truly in line with who we really are. In The Work We Were Born To Do, the idea is that there is no real distinction between work and life – they are both expressions of ourselves. Take Richard Branson for example, he does not see any difference between work and non-work – it’s all just life and he runs his businesses like that. His businesses are an expression of what and who he is.

If you were to do something productive and creative every day that you enjoy, what would it be? Once you have found out the answer to that question it is simply a matter of finding ways – sometimes very creatively – to generate income or get paid.

Making a contribution

This is called making your unique contribution to the world and we are able to make a living from that, to generate an income, when the unique contribution that we can make coincides with the needs of the world. The coincidence of these two tracks create a viable business and one that rewards the person and not just the personal bank account.

In The Work We Were Born To Do we discover that the self worth comes from self acceptance, that it is inspiration rather than compensation that we need in our work – that we need to let go of others’ expectations of us and to listen to our hearts.

Work ethic

When I was reading this book I often laughed at how well my own experience and thought processes had been captured, distilled and explained in the book. A classic example is our beliefs about the protestant work ethic. The protestant work ethic says that everything is hard and a struggle, that hard work will produce its rewards and that a bit of self-sacrifice will reduce something of value. This restricts us from contributing our best to the world for the simple reason that the things that come naturally to us and easily to us do not feel like hard work or self-sacrifice and therefore we assume unconsciously that they have no value. 

Loving your work

Yet when we purchase a service from somebody who obviously loves their job, we find it inspirational and want to buy more, or at least we remember the service with a smile. Not the phony smile from a sales training course, but the genuine smile that can well up from within because the person genuinely enjoys what they are doing and contributing that to you as the customer. We see it and love it in others but do not give ourselves a permission to enjoy our work – or rather to choose to find and do the work that we enjoy. The word ‘enjoy’ here is too weak – as it is the work that expresses our unique being, the work that will we find fulfilling and an expression of ourselves.

This of course can create a fear that we will never find the one type of work that we will find rewarding for ever – that we will never find our “passion”. A whole load of reasons spring up to prevent us from taking action. We constantly search for the perfect work for us without actually taking action or, for example, we invent reasons why we can’t take any action, like we cannot afford to. In The Work We Were Born To Do, Nick Williams unpicks many of these beliefs, blockages and hurdles and helps us to find ways through them to discover the essence of our work.

Follow your heart

At the core of the book is that we should follow our hearts rather than our head, at least in terms of setting the strategic direction of our career development. By this I mean that it is our heart, our gut feeling, our instinct, our intuition – call it what you will – that pulls us towards work where we will be able to make our unique contribution. Once we have set the direction, our head can help us with the practical aspects of moving in that direction. This may mean trial and error – and so he talks of a portfolio career, a portfolio with a purpose. Within a portfolio with a purpose there may be activities that primarily generate income to meet our practical needs and other activities that truly express ourselves, or are as close to it as we can get for now. Over time our portfolio can change, evolve and become more focused and we might then find the strands that both generate income and fulfil us.

In The Work We Were Born To Do there are so many different principles, exercises and insights to help us on our path of personal development and career development that it is hard to do justice to this book in a short book review. For anybody who believes that their work could be ‘more than this’ or that their job could have more meaning, The Work We Were Born To Do is a thorough course which is well worth taking to help us get from the shadows into our authentic self in our career.