Make sure you’ve got a career you can go back to”

That was what my mum told me. I didn’t understand what to do with that at the time. But I knew it mattered and treated her work wisdom like my high-value inheritance.

You see my mum died of cancer when I was 14.

For 20 years I thought my mum had explained, ‘career defines you’. I pelted my way to the board of global PR firms – never satisfied with titles, salary or status. Because there is always more if you have unquenchable ambition and feel like your life depends on it.

My husband had to remind me to have the children we wanted!

And that intersection of career and motherhood was when my mum’s death shaped my choice at a career crossroads I hadn’t even seen coming. For the first time, I wasn’t scared of living without career success, but felt a new and undeniable pull to mothering.

So I aborted my career mission – with lots of feelings and no particular plan.

My mum had suggested that life works in chapters: career, motherhood and back again. I worked very hard at believing her! I loved motherhood but also felt stuck in a cycle of trying to solve my career problem on my own. For years.

‘Going back to’ … a career in PR wasn’t good advice after all. It was like wearing shoes that no longer fit – uncomfortable, unwise and painful if you keep doing it!

So I started a cycle of trying lots of potential ‘routes’, in a very scattergun way – for years. Finally, one enormous problem (no career ever again) loomed larger than anything else. I gave myself permission to stop speeding into solutions that were based on what I had already done.

I dug deeper, and took a far more considered approach. Eventually, a 2nd degree in psychology became my pathway to career redesign (as a very mature, mature student!).

And that’s how I followed my future while my hopes were still vague – which worked better than a decade of diving into solutions based on strengths I had already proven.

Today, I help people who feel stuck at their own career crossroads. They have a growing feeling they need to redesign their career, but feel blocked from taking action. And worried about that.

I know our careers won’t be what they could be unless we have absolute clarity about what matters most. And act according to that insight at every choice-point we face. And that helping people realign work they love with what matters most feels more like a calling than a career.

This work I love is how I heard something new from my mums’ old advice when I had a horrible health hiccup of my own. For me, the alive-and-aligned feeling of my work felt like oxygen and that stood out in such contrast to the difficult time I was moving through.

Noticing what mattered about that, I felt huge gratitude and absolute clarity. Life is too short to give up on career-life synergy. I decided to edit my inheritance, and today I tell my own children (and my clients…and actually everyone in the orbit of this conversation):

always have ambition to thrive – and never stop acting on it”.

We should all get to do work that feels mission-driven. And that’s the only ‘should’ worth catering for in career redesign.

Death is a powerful agent of authenticity when used to plant purpose.

As I write, I recognise the thought of death can be difficult – perhaps, especially this year. The discomfort is also why thinking about how you want to be remembered is an important step towards making choices that add meaning to what you do.

It might help to know the power of perspective comes because the mere thought of death has a habit of highlighting our obligations to ourselves. And liberating us from those outside expectations holding us stuck when we choose to conform instead of transform.

I notice over and over again that thinking about death guarantees a heightened strength of purpose for clients finding it hard to grasp ‘out of reach’ thoughts about how to be purpose-driven.

If you’re serious about your ambitions to thrive, try this and in 3 steps, you’ll see for yourself:

1) If you live your life with purpose, how will you be remembered? Write your own legacy (a heartfelt statement as if written by an important other) spelling out how you want to be remembered.

2) Listen to your legacy. Then consider how to get there. Record your legacy statement on your phone and listen back after a few days – with your eyes shut, imagining who is in the room after you’ve gone. As you ‘eavesdrop’, imagine hearing others giving value to these most important things about you. And know they’re pointing out your purpose.

3) Imagine time is running out to make transformation happen. Reverse-engineer the appreciation that resonated from your legacy into an organising pathway. Letting your legacy spark specific steps you can take today is how you know the concrete steps you plan are purposeful – even when you don’t know what the vision is.

I hope knowing how, will help you use your legacy to follow your own future. Starting now…


  • Helen Hanison

    I'm a leadership coach helping seasoned professionals who are at a crossroads, with a growing need to redesign their career but feeling blocked. And worried about that. Together we make a plan realigning work they love with what matters most so they can finally make aligned, confident transformation instead.

    If you'd like to receive actionable advice about redesigning your career, I'd love you to sign up:

    My story could be called 'from career to motherhood and back again'! With a 20 year 'tour of duty' in the worlds' largest PR firms, I came to a career crossroads after I transitioned from woman to mother. I got lost for some years and having moved country (and back again), and tried a bunch of different ideas both sides of The Pond, I went back to University for a second time - to do psychology. My efforts were well rewarded with first-class honours, an energy ‘reset’ and clarity about the fresh career ladder I wanted so badly. I had found Leadership Coaching and subsequently completed a (rigorous!) programme of training with the world’s largest coach training institute – CTi and have since become a narrative therapist too. Now I love that my commercial edges and marketing savvy work alongside my brand of positive psychology coaching, and know the integration is a powerful one for my clients. I passionately believe we only get to feel as alive and aligned as I do today, if we shape work we love around what matters most and that has synergy with the life we want to be living. In some ways my story represents the hard way to figure what work-life synergy looks like. And that's what I help others with now. If you feel stuck and wish you knew how to make a plan to change that, I'm happy to offer a complimentary clarity conversation. Just email me - [email protected] - and we'll organise that.