What Is ‘Good Work’? This Question, and the Exposure of a Fundamental Misunderstanding in the UBI Debate

What Is ‘Good Work’? This Question, and the Exposure of a Fundamental Misunderstanding in the UBI Debate

I was at a consultation event on Universal Basic Income last week.

It’s a topic I’m interested in (worklessness was one of the policy areas I led for a while when I was in government) and it’s been on my mind ever since. This is an attempt to summarise where my musings have led me so far…

The discussion was interesting — most people at the left-leaning salon were in favour, although some had reservations about how it would work and whether it was a mechanism that could really solve some of our deep-rooted social challenges.


Good Work?


As the discussion progressed, though, and expanded into topics like “what is ‘good work’?” and how could the additional payment change the face of work, I realised that there was a fundamental misunderstanding in the room:

That our external circumstances dictate our ‘happiness’ and sense of well-being.

The argument being put forward by the organisers was that, and I quote,

“Good work is work we flourish doing.”

Well, yes, that seems uncontroversial.

The part that looked wrong to me was the causal link; that there was an implied direction between good work coming first and the flourishing part coming second. Therefore, by changing the structure of ‘work’, we could create the environment for more people to flourish.


That Simply Isn’t How It Works


The organisers of the UBI event (like many of us) have been hoodwinked by the notion that ‘good work’ is a ‘thing’ and that it has meaning.

But work is simply something that we humans have made-up. Factory owners created working hours and a working week, and separated the time we spend in work from the time we spend at home, in leisure activities, in our volunteer activities.

Just because we’ve put a box around one part of our lives, it seems crazy to me that changing the colour of the box, or the wrapping paper, would fundamentally change the fact it’s a made-up box.

And why would we assign meaning to something that is made-up?

That’s like assigning meaning to my teddy bear. The ‘meaning’ I’m assigning to my work comes from my imagination and, therefore, I can imagine it to be whatever I want.


A Bus Trip to Llandudno?


It reminded me of a discussion I’d had with a client recently. We’d been talking about his neighbours and how happy they seemed in their retirement — planning cruises and travelling the world.

“I want that,” he told me.

“Yes,” I replied, “but I bet it has nothing to do with money. I bet they’d be just as happy taking a bus trip to Llandudno.”


A Stressful Job?


In my career, I’ve had what looked like great jobs from the outside, and I’ve felt ‘meh’, and I’ve had tough jobs and been fine. My experience comes from how I’m creating it from the inside. Yes, of course, I might choose to move on from those jobs I like less, but I’ve still managed to find camaraderie and a sense of fun with colleagues whatever the work looks like.

I’ve also seen that one person who doesn’t respond the same way as another in the same job. In fact, I remember a colleague replacing someone in what had been labelled a ‘stressful job’ and relishing the challenge, enjoying turning around the ‘difficult’ customers and not being at all affected by a seemingly heavy workload.

If that’s possible then it means that it isn’t the job that’s fundamentally fixed; the job doesn’t create the experience of the person doing it. Which means there must be something else going on.


Happiness Is…?


In the UK, there are no specific proposals around Universal Basic Income (UBI) but the informal word on the (economic) avenue is that the payment might be in the region of £3,000 a year.

Sure, that might provide a temporary boost for some people, and it might well provide much-needed practical assistance for others.

But well-being and happiness?


Because that’s an inside job.

The more we understand that our well-being comes from within, the more we can create — and live out — our own personal definition of good work.

Just like my client’s neighbours — they’d be happy wherever they went on holiday — it was what meaning they were making of it, the state of mind they showed up with, not where they were going that was creating their joyfulness.


It’s All Made-Up!


I think the words of Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens and Homo Deus, and talking about the changing face of work, sum it up rather well,

“… the end of work will not necessarily mean the end of meaning, because meaning is generated by imagining rather than by working. Work is essential for meaning only according to some ideologies and lifestyles… People in 2050 will probably be able to play deeper games and to construct more complex virtual worlds than in any previous time in history.


“But what about truth? What about reality? Do we really want to live in a world in which billions of people are immersed in fantasies, pursuing make-believe goals and obeying imaginary laws? Well, like it or not, that’s the world we have been living in for thousands of years already.”

Of course, our external circumstances have some practical impact — how much we get paid dictates where we can live, whether we can send our children to private school and what kind of holidays we can go on.

But the meaning we assign to all of that comes from our imagination.

It’s made-up.

It doesn’t dictate our well-being and it doesn’t — it can’t! — make us happy. That comes from the very nature of being human.

With love,



P.S. I realise UBI is a sophisticated discussion, and I’m not attempting to capture it all here. The notion, though, that there is a link between ‘good work’ and well-being is fundamentally the wrong way round.

Since the concept of work is so clearly made-up, I can make it whatever I want. The more well-being I have, the more I can create something that looks like ‘good work’ to me. Like the two people who found the same job stressful and not-stressful — each of them created that meaning and associated it (wrongly) with the job.

We live in a world of our own imaginings, which can be immense fun or it can be immensely hard. Either way, let’s not pretend it’s the same as truth.

You’ve heard a snippet of what I think about some of these issues — I’d love to hear some of what you think…

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Are You Blaming Yourself for Things That Look like ‘Mistakes’?

Are You Blaming Yourself for Things That Look like ‘Mistakes’?

I’m generally someone who likes things to move along pretty quickly. I get an idea, I like it to happen. I’ve learnt, though, over the years, that life sometimes has a way of confounding my plans, and that, actually, things work out better if I just go along with it (after the requisite sigh, of course ;-)).


This outlook also gives me a much healthier perspective on things that look like ‘mistakes’.


I had a simple demonstration of this a couple of weeks ago. It was the last call of a client’s programme and I was looking forward to our final check-in.

I got on zoom and waited. And waited. But my client didn’t show. I emailed to check on her and it turned out she’d written it in her diary for the wrong week.

She was apologetic, contrite about her mistake, and we rearranged the appointment for the following week.

“Don’t worry,” I told her. “These things happen; it’s a simple mistake.”

The next week rolled by, and it was my turn to get it wrong — I’d written down the wrong day. We laughed, and she even joked that I’d intentionally missed the appointment to make her feel better about her mistake. Ha!

All in all, it was a couple of weeks before we could speak again and her project had moved closer to launch.

While she’d been feeling good at the time we’d originally arranged to speak, things now looked very different. She was doubting herself, second-guessing herself, unable to see clearly and spiralling down into over-thinking mode. She was even thinking of calling the whole thing off. It’s at times like these that we least feel like reaching out for help — and it’s when the right kind of support can make the biggest difference.

We had a great call. I left her feeling calmer; able to see where she’d been wrapping herself in a misunderstanding, able to get perspective, to quiet the noise in her head and see where to go next. In fact, the timing couldn’t have been better.

So, you see, we never know whether what looks like a mistake in one moment can lead to something working out for the best.

I know this is a trivial example and you’re probably thinking about all those times when you really did “get it wrong.”


But I don’t know that there’s an order of magnitude when it comes to mistakes.


Think back — have there been times when you’ve kicked yourself for being late, only to find the problem was resolved without you. Or times you didn’t get a job, only for a better one to come along?

I’m not saying there’s a grand plan at work here (although who knows, maybe there is?!), I just want to point out that playing the blame game doesn’t help anyone. What’s done is done. We never know what’s around the corner so why not look forward to it, rather than look back at things we can’t change anyway…


…especially if there’s a chance that what’s in front of us is even more exciting than what’s behind.


Have a fantastic week, go easy on yourself and maybe experiment with letting go of some of the things that looked, at the time, like ‘mistakes’. Who knows, they may be the best things that ever happened to you.

With love,


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My iPhone, the Weather and Controlling Results

My iPhone, the Weather and Controlling Results

A couple of times this week the subject of creating results has come up in client conversations. (which you’d expect when people are trying to do things in the world!)

The specific conversations have been around the relationship between what we do and what actually happens.

Those conversations reminded me of the ridiculousness of trying to make the world do what we want when we want it…


The world doesn’t do as it’s told!


Because I like to get outside at some point in the day, I’ll often check my iPhone to see what the weather’s likely to be doing, and then plan my time accordingly.

However, the weather doesn’t always do what it’s told — how annoying, right!? The forecast predicted sunshine, so how dare the weather have a mind of its own!

It’s obvious, of course, that the weather isn’t created by the pictures on my iPhone. The phone is merely attempting a prediction based on past experience and some algorithm of wind and pressure patterns.


It’s the Same with Results


This is pretty much how it looks to me when we’re too attached to what we expect to happen in life…

We do stuff, and we create a prediction in our mind about what’s likely to happen based on past experience plus our internal algorithm of imagined interactions with people and events around us.

Yet we’re surprised when the results don’t occur exactly as expected.

Sometimes we’re more than surprised — we get irritated, or anxious, and then we try everything possible to bend reality according to our prediction, rather than seeing and responding to what’s happening in front of us.

I’m out of flow,” was how one client put it.

Of course, she wasn’t out of flow; she just didn’t understand the science of forecasting, and the relationship between action and results.

She thought she had control, but in fact, there’s a black box in the middle. Something unknown and unknowable.


You’ll drive yourself crazy doing that!


It’s easy to see in the weather example — in fact it’s so obvious as to be laughable — but much harder to catch in real life.

To me, what my clients were describing — their frustration at results not coming in the ways, or at the time, they expected — was exactly like my annoyance at an unexpected rain shower.

“That wasn’t on the forecast!”

The futility of trying to predict, and therefore control our results is exactly the same as me trying to control the weather and force it to act in accordance with my iPhone’s prediction.

Even though forecasts are sometimes right, that doesn’t prove a causal link. If the weather changes, it’s absolutely not a result of something that happens in the back of the iPhone.

When we understand that there isn’t a linear relationship between actions and results, we’re much more likely to be at ease with the randomness of life, and be able to act on opportunities that seem to come out of left field.

I say “seem” because that weird thing that happened isn’t an aberration, it’s simply the way the world works.


Get Used to It


When we understand that most of our results — or at least the opportunities that can lead to results — come from places we didn’t expect, didn’t predict, and can’t control, then we can relax. We don’t need to control the outcomes; just as I don’t attempt to control the weather.

Sure, we can still run some scenarios according to what our internal iPhone tells us, but it’s wise to laugh and pick up the pieces when things don’t turn out as planned. Because that, my friend, is the gorgeousness and the magic of the creative process.

With love,


P.S. As soon as you see your plans and predictions for what they are — one version of a possible future based largely on what happened yesterday in metaphorical ‘weather-world’, then you can take yourself and what you’re doing a lot less seriously. And that, by the way, frees up time and energy to do more of what you want and have fun doing it!

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When ‘Clarity’ Becomes One More Thing to Worry About

When ‘Clarity’ Becomes One More Thing to Worry About

I was at a women’s group last week, a small, select gathering of people working to solve global challenges, and one of the members was talking about the funding for her project ending at the beginning of next year. Still a way off, but she was considering her options for what to do next.

Well, when I say ‘considering’, I could see that it had become worrisome for her. She wasn’t worried about the project closing; rather that (she thought) she needed to have clarity in this moment about what she was going to do next year.

“I want to do something different, but if only I could pin down what I’m good at… I’d know exactly what to go and do!”

It looked like a real problem to her.

When something looks like a problem to us, the natural instinct is to try to solve it. And that’s where the discussion went.

Some of the women offered her strategies, places to start: “You need to track your values.” “Have you thought about doing a strengths’ audit?” These are decent enough strategies, only they solve a different problem.


I Always Try to Look Deeper


When I’m coaching — or even in an everyday conversation such as this — I want to understand both the experience someone is having, as well as what they believe that makes that experience look true.

In this case, my friend believed that clarity about the future would give her a sense of security now.

She thought that uncovering what she was good at would give her relief from the ‘problem’ of uncertainty. In other words, she believed that doing something would help her feel a certain way.

The premise is wrong.


A Feeling, Any Feeling, Can’t Be Created ‘on Demand’


And, even if it could, a feeling does not lead to an outcome. Whenever we do something because we think it will give us a feeling, we’re on the wrong track.

Which was the misunderstanding my friend had about the way things work. As was everyone who was offering her that practical advice.

Sure, she could do all those things, and more, and they would probably be fun. But, if she (and they) thought that a values exercise or a strengths’ audit was going to give her peace of mind, then they were wrong.


We Already Have What We Need


Peace of mind can exist at any moment — it comes and goes in the natural ebb and flow of the day. Some moments we feel it, others we don’t.

It isn’t related to our external circumstances; to having job security, to knowing what comes next, or understanding our values. Those are all things we layer over our human-ness — like the wrapping paper around a gift — to create an external picture of who we want to show up as.

The wrapping is nice, but it isn’t who we are, and it makes no difference to how we feel. My friend could feel more, or less, secure right now, if she relaxed into the natural flow of her emotions, and didn’t try to force a relationship with an imagined future.


A Year Is a Long Time


Even if she came up with a clear idea today of what she wanted to do next, who knows whether she would still want to do that in six, or nine months time? Any ‘security’ she imagined would come from that was completely made-up. As all feelings are.

She was creating the ‘not knowing’ as troubling, and then worrying it, like a dog worries a bone. The more she worried, the more paralysed she was going to become — and the less action she would be inspired to take. A certain recipe for even more insecurity!

She could just as easily create it as exciting, as a journey of exploration towards an (as yet) unknown destination.


Accept the ‘Not Knowing’


Accepting where we are, in her case, accepting that she doesn’t have all the information she needs, and then taking action from a place of exploration always looks like the more fun option to me. And the more productive.

Are you living in a misunderstanding?

Where in your life are you trying to do something to create a feeling?

Because feelings don’t come from our external circumstances, they don’t come from what we have, or don’t have.

As soon as we can see that, then we can choose to take the actions that inspire us. The actions that lead to the changes we want to create in the world.

Have a fantastic week, knowing that you are in exactly the right place and you can choose to create whatever you feel inspired to create in the world.

With love,


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The Subtle, yet Important, Difference Between Inspiration and Motivation (The Key to an Inspired Life and a Stress-Free Day)

The Subtle, yet Important, Difference Between Inspiration and Motivation (The Key to an Inspired Life and a Stress-Free Day)

In conversation with a client this week about why she was feeling so demotivated about her work, I realised that she wasn’t seeing the difference between getting down to work, whether we feel like it or not, and choosing to only do work that inspires us.

At first glance, it looks as if those two concepts describe the polar opposites of the same idea — that we should (or shouldn’t) wait for inspiration to strike.

But they don’t.

The distinction between them is at the heart of why some of us do work that inspires us (and reject the projects that don’t), and also go through our day happily moving from one task to another with zero stress and without waiting (or even expecting) to feel inspired.

We get a lot done and we love the work that we do.


How to account for the apparent contradiction?


Choosing Our Projects Versus Choice in the Moment


There’s a difference between choosing our work and the projects we commit to, and choice about which task to do next — even when it may not, in that moment, feel inspiring to do.

This was the part my client couldn’t see.

She knew that being in a low mood (or any mood!) had no relationship with the items on her to-do list, and that she could work whether she felt like it or not. Yet she was puzzled when I challenged her to give up on a project that didn’t seem to inspire her.

But I don’t understand,” she told me. “If I wait for inspiration before I do anything, I’d never get anything done!”


Suddenly I realised that she did not see the subtle, yet important, distinction between state of mind and inspiration.

State of mind — whether we feel motivated, whether we’re tired, or bored, anxious or even excited, plays no role in whether we get on and do things. Those emotions aren’t giving us any useful information about whether it’s a good idea, or not, to set about our to-do list.


At the Same Time, We Have a Choice About What to Do Next


It’s like a relationship. We can love someone and still go through ups and downs with them. We can choose to watch the movie they prefer over our choice of movie because it’s in service of the relationship. And we value the relationship more than any in-the-moment perceived hardship of watching a mediocre movie.

I like to write when I’m inspired, when the ideas are flowing. But, since I also write something for my community every week, the inspiration doesn’t always come on demand.

I can still make a start. Or, I can put the writing aside and choose to work through my emails, reach out to a new connection, or work on something I’m setting up for a client.

I don’t have to be inspired about those activities, because I’m inspired by the bigger commitment to write regularly for you, to connect with people I meet, and to create the best service I can for my clients.

The inspiration exists separate from my mood in the moment.


The Distinction Between Inspiration and Motivation


I realise this can look like a very subtle distinction, I didn’t even see it clearly myself until I was exploring it with my client. But there is a difference, and it’s what frees us to choose work that inspires us, yet never need to wait for the motivation to get started.

Have a great week and here’s to you creating more of the things you feel inspired to create in the world.

With love,



P.S. Once my clients see this difference, and begin to work with it, soooo much more space opens up for them to create amazing change in their organisations, their day-to-day life, and, ultimately, the world. Oh, and did I mention it makes life a lot easier?

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