When Your Job Stops You From Being True To Yourself, What Do You Do?

You Plan Your Great Escape – That’s What!

Learn Through Stories
Learn Through Stories

A Case Study: Niamh’s Story:

Your very existence is threatened when you’re not living your WorkLife true to who you really are, as Niamh painfully realised.

Niamh had worked in Employment Law for three years. She had chosen law as a profession because she believed by helping people, she could play her part in making the world a better place. This was important to Niamh. She chose this particular area of law because she wanted to help to make people’s WorkLives better. 

And she did, she had done really good work in helping individuals and organisations achieve better working relationships and conditions. She felt good about that. But, and there was a but, a very big but – her own WorkLife wasn’t reflective of the good WorkLives she had helped those individuals and organisations achieve together.

Niamh worked long hours and found it hard to do or plan anything outside of work because she was at the firm’s beck and call. She felt they owned her. She didn’t like that, nor did she like that her work demanded being desk-bound for hours on end. She tried to speak to Karen, the managing partner who oversaw the development of associates, about what was important to her in her WorkLife. Niamh told her she loved outdoor pursuits and wanted to make time for this because she believed it was integral to her mental and physical health and wellbeing. 

Karen replied by saying she could make time for her hobbies provided they don’t require firm weekday or long-term weekend commitments because she needed to be available at all times to cope with the ebb and flow of her work. She suggested that Niamh needed to be more efficient with her time and that she could use the company onsite gym to maintain good mental and physical health and wellbeing if that was a concern. She finished by saying that would allow her to squeeze in an hour most days, and on really busy days, it would just mean she didn’t take any other breaks and could eat at her desk.

Niamh wasn’t happy about how the conversation had gone, but she didn’t know what else she could do, and so, she continued as she had been doing—working long hours, grabbing time when she could for the outdoor pursuits she loved. 

One of which was paddleboarding. Niamh would escape whenever she could and spend as long as she could on her board at a nearby lake. Those snatched moments were both invigorating and relaxing, and Niamh always felt rejuvenated afterwards.

Then the pandemic hit, and along with the rest of the people at her law firm, Niamh was forced to work at home. Long hours desk-bound shifted from office to home. In-person meetings shifted to zoom calls. 

It was something that happened following on from one of those zoom meetings that caused Niamh to question her WorkLife truth.

Niamh and Karen had been on the call with a new client. It had gone very well. Then just as they were finishing up, Karen asked Niamh to stay on the line. As soon as everyone else had left the meeting, Karen said: “Niamh, it would look better if you wore more make-up when you’re on zoom calls. It would help you to look more professional. Looking professional, as you know, is important to help to win new business.” That was it. Karen then abruptly ended the call. She hadn’t give Niamh time to respond. This was probably just as well because Niamh was dumbstruck. She wouldn’t have known how to respond had she been given the time. 

Niamh was seething. Despite needing and being expected to stay at her desk, she shut down her laptop, got dressed in her paddleboarding gear, loaded her board onto her car, and drove the short distance to the lake, which thankfully was within the radius allowed during covid restrictions. The sport was allowed as long as you went alone. That suited Niamh just fine. She needed to be on her own. She needed to clear her head. She needed the escapism to figure out her escape plan. She needed a plan to escape the law. 

But that plan was going to take time. Niamh had a lot to figure out. All she knew was that she wasn’t living her truth in her WorkLife. She was denying herself the very thing she was helping other people with – to achieve better working relationships and conditions. She was denying her own truth of what was important to her.

Niamh had to continue to turn up at her laptop every day while she was figuring things out. She also continued to escape to the lake and paddleboard as often as she could. It was summer by now, and the longer evenings made it easier, as did working from home. 

From a safe distance, Niamh got to know her fellow paddleboarders, one of whom was Charlie, who owned the paddleboard rental shop on the lake. Because of the pandemic, it was currently closed. Charlie shared with Niamh that he didn’t think he’d re-open it, saying he had recently turned sixty, and he wanted to make time to do other things. He said the pandemic had made him realise how life can suddenly come to a standstill and that when things got moving again, he wanted to get moving with them. His children and grandchildren were scattered around the world, and he wanted to spend more time with them. He also wanted to travel with his wife, Claire, to have more staycations, and to see more of the world, when that became possible again. He said he had loved running the business, but the time had come to hang up his paddleboard and oar. 

Niamh told Charlie about her WorkLife situation. On hearing she was figuring out how she could escape, he smiled and said it was planning his great escape from the world of corporate finance that led him to open his paddleboard shop. He said it was the best decision for him, his family and his WorkLife.

Niamh opened up to Charlie about how she felt her real truth was that she wanted to work for herself. She said she was sick of being told what she could and couldn’t do, how being told to wear make-up really was the final straw. But how although it had shocked her, it hadn’t surprised her. It had brought her back to when as a student, there was a lecture on what women could wear in order to be taken seriously in the workplace. She said the signs of the controlling world she was entering had always been there. She had initially thought she could live with them. She no longer felt that. She felt being part of the corporate world, she was losing her identity, authenticity, and truth. 

Niamh really needed an out. She really needed to be able to be herself in her WorkLife. She felt being her own boss was not only the way to achieve this but also the right way for her. She wondered aloud to Charlie if running a paddleboard rental shop could be what she was looking for.

Charlie talked Niamh through everything about running the business. He answered her questions, shared his knowledge, experience and wisdom. He was a sounding board helping her think through everything that would allow her to make the right decision. He was a mentor in the true sense of the word. His approach was so different to Karen’s, whose role it was to mentor Niamh. 

As a mentor, Karen hadn’t helped Niamh in moving her WorkLife forward as a lawyer. However, in the end, it was her ‘make-up’ comment that had caused Niamh to know that enough was enough. That was the comment that had started Niamh to plan her escape from the law. Now she believed she had her escape route. So, in the end, she had Karen to thank for moving her WorkLife forward after all. 


Niamh decided to buy Charlie’s business. Because of his background in finance, he was able to connect her with the right people to help fund the venture. He mentored her throughout the process. And when she closed her laptop on her final day as a lawyer and immediately headed to the lake, Charlie was waiting there with their fellow paddleboarders, ready to hit the lake together in celebration of Niamh’s great escape.

Niamh had arrived at a place where she was living her truth in her WorkLife. The skills and experience she had gained throughout her training and work as a lawyer stood her in good stead in running her own business. She was really good at it, and she loved being her own boss. She also loved that she was making a living out of something she enjoyed so much – paddleboarding. 

Niamh loved that she could still play her part in making the world a better place and to help to make people’s WorkLives better. This was because as soon as the world started coming out of the pandemic, people began to make more time for what was important to them outside of work. For many, that was spending quality time with family and friends, doing things together that helped maintain good mental and physical health and wellbeing. For some, that was heading to the lake and taking up paddle boarding. That pleased Niamh because she knew so well the benefits paddleboarding brought to WorkLives. 

Three Steps To Planning Your Great Escape Assignment

We all need to escape from time to time, whether that’s making time to do something important to you on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, such as getting out into the great outdoors or whatever else that may be for you. Or whether it’s planning your great escape from a WorkLife that’s holding you back from living your truth, from being your authentic self.

Step One: Take time out. 

As often as you can to do something that you find both invigorating and relaxing. Something that makes you feel rejuvenated afterwards. Something that clears your head, that gives you the space you need to plan your escape. As paddleboarding did for Niamh. 

Step Two: Become your own mentor. 

In Niamh’s story, you learnt she had two mentors in her WorkLife. One was bad – Karen. The other was good – Charlie. The thing is, not all mentors are created equal. You may already have great mentors to surround yourself with, and if not, hopefully, as with Niamh, you will find a great mentor, like Charlie, who will act as a sounding board to ensure you make the right decisions to grow.

With or without a mentor, it’s also important to learn how to move intelligently on your own. You can do this by becoming your own mentor.

The most essential aspect of becoming your own mentor is to cultivate wisdom from experience. To achieve this, you need to fine-tune your self-awareness in everything you do. 

When you succeed at something, you need to access what went well. You can do this by asking yourself: 

What actions brought about this success?

When you fail at something, you need to access what didn’t go well. You can do this by asking yourself: 

What actions caused this to fail?

This self-awareness is critical to building wisdom for yourself. Wisdom is the crucial component in being a great mentor.

Step Three: Take a risk. 

Executing a great escape involves taking a risk. Taking a risk is what is going to drive you forward. It can be both scary and exciting. The important thing to remember is that you can take it one step at a time. Repeating as you go:

Step one to clear your mind continuously, so you’re open to what could be possible. Building on your ideas to first form, then build and refine your plan.

Step two to continuously develop your own wisdom in being your own great mentor by evaluating and learning from your successes and failures. 

Words Of Wisdom

It takes perseverance and determination not to allow your truth to be intimidated. You need to be fearless to be truthful to who you are at all stages of your WorkLife. 

If you found this post helpful, you may also like to take a look at The School Of WorkLife books, which are designed to help you fine-tune your learning, development and growth in the areas that are most important to you.


Published by Carmel O' Reilly

Carmel O’ Reilly: WorkLife Learning Practitioner & Writer Author of WorkLife Book Club, Your WorkLife Your Way and The School of WorkLife book series. Created to help you manage your WorkLife Learning. Blogger & Podcaster: Telling people’s powerful stories about WorkLife challenges & successes Founder of www.schoolofworklife.com My guiding statement is to help people pursue their WorkLives with greater clarity, passion, purpose and pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.