So, why exactly are you at work?

I have only known Patrick Mullarkey a short while on Twitter, and he’s quickly becoming a good person to know. He writes on his own blog – Mentoring Mullarkey – quite regularly and is a good one to add to your blogroll.

When I saw that the theme of @naturalgrump’s guest posts were going to be what was your biggest learning in life, part of me hesitated. I just thought that as I get older I realise that I really don’t know a lot, and a lot of my personal and work life has been about trial and error. In saying this, I have only recently applied to myself a lesson that I felt I had learnt some time ago: what motivates you in your work will either be a life saver or taker, from a professional perspective of course, as opposed to anything literal (this is a guest blog post not Murder She Wrote people!). But why did I not apply this lesson sooner?

I feel I can say with some confidence that the most valuable lesson I have now accepted as a rule over the course of the last year/18 months is about acknowledging what motivates me on a daily basis in my work. This might come as a surprise to some of my friends whose reaction is ”Hey didn’t you work in HR? Aren’t you meant to already know all the career management stuff there is out there to advice others?” – well yes, up to a point, but the reality can be quite different.

One thing my work experience and studies (McClelland Theory X and Y anyone? What about some hygiene factors at the back?!) was that people are motivated by different things in terms of their choice of industry and roles, but I had not applied that to myself as readily as I had thought. I had become so head down and obsessed with the ‘doing’ and working my way up the career ladder in HR that I did not stop to take a moment to wonder if the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.

With the new strategic models/theories of the HR profession this can happen. I certainly felt I was told more about what I should be, and what I should not be – and let us take a moment for those no longer with us: Personnel, reactive HR and ’Policy Police’, may ye all rest in peace.

In doing so I had convinced myself that it was very much a win-lose game in terms of my career, thinking the following was the career path was all that I had ahead of me without considering alternatives:


And it drove me mad that I was not further along this journey, that it all seemed to come much easier for peers who seemed to be a better ‘fit’ for the industry despite me working my guts out.

I had to get to a pretty bitter and low point about it all, until I just realised that actually I had become wrapped in the expectations and rewards that I had thought I should be receiving and never stopped to think: “Do I actually enjoy this and, if not, what do I enjoy that I could be doing instead?”

This was both a terrifying and electrifying moment – I had realised that I might have made a mistake with the HR generalist route and wasted valuable time and resources trying to climb up that ladder. However, I had the opportunity to jump off on to another and, the most exciting part of all, it was all within my control.

I started digging deeper and realised that, actually, I had constrained myself for so long in wanting to fit a path that was not of my own choosing that I had kind of lost track of myself and this was why I was not further along where I ‘should’ be in comparison with my peers. They were going at their work with a positive intention because it was something they truly loved, whereas I had become distracted with what I felt I was owed.

It was scary – you work and study at something then realise that you it not what you wanted for yourself – but I managed to hitch my star to the L&D wagon, and I can honestly say I have never been happier in a role. I finally feel I am on the right journey, which looks a lot more like this:


I suppose the point I am trying to get across in this post is that before you start setting out plans of what you are going to do in your career and what it is you actually want to achieve, consider really carefully the ‘why’ behind it all -why do you enjoy different aspects, why do you want to do this, why is this a better alternative to other career routes etc. Make sure that if you have certain expectations or goals they are your own and not a route or path you feel obliged to follow because the rest of the crowd are doing so.

You have to enjoy what you do, that way you will got at it with real feeling, passion, and in doing so are more likely to reap results and have fun along the way. We all might know and accept this as a lesson learnt but, as my experience has taught me, applying this to our day-to-day work lives is something quite different.

Over the month of February I am hosting guest blog posts and the invitation is open to all. If you’d like to take part, the question you have to answer is: What has been your biggest learning in life?


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

2 thoughts on “So, why exactly are you at work?”

  1. I’ve said similar before in terms of my career development. I’ve done management, sales, operations…. Where necessary I’ve made a career change in order to pursue something that I’m interested in. No big overriding “plan” or “path”, just doing what felt right at the time.

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