6th February, 2024

The Most Powerful Question You Can Ask Yourself About Your Work

With Rachel Morris

Dr Rachel Morris

Listen to this episode

On this episode

If you were in a life-or-death scenario and the only path out was over hot coals, would you take it? Of course. But when it comes to situations that are making us uncomfortable or even miserable, we seldom want to experience that discomfort to get to what we know will be better for us.

In this quick dip episode, Rachel explores the importance of considering the long-term impact of our work, and offers a single question you can ask yourself right now, to discover what you really want to do with your one wild and precious life.

If you’re on a burning platform or in a situation that could get worse, you can make a change – even if it’s a small one. Any change can help you break free from the status quo.

Show links

Reasons to listen

  • To discover the importance of considering the long-term impact of your work on your well-being, mindset, character, and relationships
  • To learn practical steps to recognise short-term discomfort, assess risks and benefits, seek external perspectives, and take action towards positive change
  • To understand what happens if you ignore the impact of your work, and how to create a fulfilling work life by addressing this problem

Episode highlights


Walking across hot sand


The burning platform


What is your work doing to your mind, your character, and your relationships?


Should I stay or should I go?


Where to go for guidance


Taking action

Episode transcript

[00:00:00] Rachel: There were lots of us at the moment really very happy at work, but the thought of making a change, either completely changing our jobs or careers, or maybe moving practice or moving where we work, or maybe even just altering the role that we do within our work, that feels too scary to contemplate. And so many of us just fear the change that might come and we think what if? What if it goes wrong? What if I fail? What if it’s worse than now? What if, and it keeps us paralyzed and we never make the change that we need to.

[00:00:38] So today I want to talk to you about the one question I have found really galvanizes us to make that change. This is a You Are Not a Frog quick dip, a tiny taster of the kinds of things we talk about on our full podcast episodes. I’ve chosen today’s topic to give you a helpful boost in the time it takes to have a cup of tea, so you can return to whatever else you’re up to feeling, energized, and inspired. For more tools, tips, and intoo.Hts to help you thrive at work, don’t forget to subscribe to You Are Not a Frog wherever you get your podcasts.

[00:01:16] IntroRegrets of the Dying: A Perspective

[00:01:16] Rachel: I did a podcast with Gina Scull a couple of years ago now I think about Regrets of the Dying, a book that she wrote in which she’d gone and interviewed a load of people who were probably within the last year of their life. And the regrets that they had were all about things that they didn’t do. Very few of them were about things that they did do.

[00:01:37] And what stopped them, what stopped the making changes, for example, leaving a really bad relationship, moving towns, going, traveling, trying to do something different with their lives, well, it was fair. Mainly fair about what people were, think about them. Fair about letting other people down. Fair about doing the wrong thing. And the problem is we’re asking ourselves the wrong question. We’re asking what if. What if this happens, what if that happens? We’re not asking ourselves what if not? What if I don’t make the change? What are the consequences going to be there?

[00:02:12] Walking across hot sand

[00:02:12] Rachel: I want to share an idea with you that was shared with me by my friend and mentor John Parkin. John wrote the F it books and that’s his philosophy. He now runs a community called the Super Relaxers where he teaches people how to be ridiculously relaxed.

[00:02:26] Now I was talking to John last year when I was feeling really quite burnt out and thinking actually, is this a situation I need to deal with urgently or is it one I can maybe just tolerate. And just see how things go? And he made this analogy.

[00:02:39] So imagine you are on a beach, you’re lying on a sun lounger. And you’re starting to feel a little bit hot, a little bit thirsty and a little bit hungry. And across the other side of a beach is a wonderful ice cream shop. The ice cream shop sells drinks, it sells lovely, cool ice creams. And you can imagine if you were able to go and get an ice cream, you’d feel a lot better.

[00:03:01] The problem is you’re the other side of the beach. You’re on a sun lounger and you’ve forgotten your flip flops. And in order to get over to that ice cream shop, you’ve got to walk across the hot sand. You’re probably just going to stay stuck on your sun lounger because actually the joy of getting our ice cream property is not worth the discomfort of walking over the sand. So that motivation of a really great thing isn’t quite as strong as the discomfort that it would take to get there.

[00:03:30] Now contrast this to maybe lying in bed one night and your house for some reason is set on fire. The only way out is a door that’s across the other side of the room. You’re going to have to walk across a very hot, maybe even burning floor to get to that door. But the door will keep you safe and it will save your life, probably. Would you hesitate? No, of course not. You would go straight out of that door. You wouldn’t care about the discomfort on your feet at that point, because you needed to save your life. You need to get out there.

[00:04:05] And this is really frustrating. Isn’t it? It’s frustrating that we’re not so motivated by the ice cream. That we tend to be much more motivated by the burning embers that we need to run across to get ourselves to safety.

[00:04:20] The burning platform

[00:04:20] Rachel: So my question is why doesn’t this apply when it comes to our careers, to our work, to our workplaces, to relationships? Why do we fail to see this banning platform? Even though we know that’s going to motivate us? Well, I think there’s a couple of reasons for this. I think a, we don’t actually see that burning platform right in front of us because we are stuck in this very, very short feedback loop. We think, oh, it’s a little bit uncomfortable now, this stop isn’t great for me. Or this role isn’t suiting me or this relationship isn’t really working, but oh, it’s maybe a little bit better next week. So yes, it’s a little bit uncomfortable, but. It’s not that uncomfortable. I don’t really need to make a change cause maybe it will get better. So there’s a little bit of hope that things are going to improve, that keeps us there, at least at the moment.

[00:05:09] You see the reason most of us stay stuck in roles that we don’t enjoy jobs that we don’t like careers that don’t suit us is that we can see that we might be better off somewhere else, but it’s not quite uncomfortable enough for us to go right now. We’re sat on our sun lounger, we can see the ice cream, but we’re not quite hungry or thirsty enough to go and get the ice cream or walk across the sand to get our drink.

[00:05:33] And familiarity, familiarity with our circumstances is easy, it’s more comfortable being uncomfortable if it’s a known discomforts. And the imaginary discomfort of what might be there in the future can often just stop us doing anything. So we’d much rather just stay in a position that doesn’t really suit us or feels uncomfortable, then make a change and risk failure. But this is where we’re making a huge, huge mistake. We are paying far more attention to the short term discomfort and hurt that might be cause rather than the long-term harm that may be caused by not making that change.

[00:06:15] This is why you see people stuck in really difficult relationships or toxic ways of acting, because actually to make that change just takes too much effort and is really uncomfortable.

[00:06:26] And because we very much live in the present, we are very attuned to the short-term hurt that can happen by having a difficult conversation or maybe feeding that we’ve, we’ve let people down. We wants to avoid that at all costs, but we don’t take the long view. We don’t look and see what is going to happen if I don’t make the change.

[00:06:46] What is your work doing to your mind, your character, and your relationships?

[00:06:46] Rachel: Recently, I came across a question in the book by the school of life, all about how to find fulfilling work. And the question really made me think. And here it is. What is your current work doing to you as a person, to your mind, your character, and your relationships?

[00:07:05] And it doesn’t have to mean just work. You could say, what is your current role? What’s your current workplace? What is your current partnership or relationship or specific job description? You know, you can get as granular as you want. But what is it doing to you as a person, or your mindsets, your character and your relationships?

[00:07:27] Now, this is the burning platform that would spur me on. Because we’ve all seen it, haven’t we? We’ve all seen those colleagues that are so ground down by their job and you can sit in them. You could see, they look terrible. They look tired. They haven’t been looking after themselves. They are really struggling. They’re earful. They’re getting angry quickly. Things just seem to be going wrong for them left right and center. And you just want to go to them What is this job doing to you? But they’re in it, and the platform isn’t quite hot enough for them to have to make a change. So they tolerate it and they tolerate it. But six months, one year, two years down the line, things haven’t got any better because they very rarely do. And they are burned out. They’re really struggling and they end up in having to make a change.

[00:08:14] Should I stay or should I go?

[00:08:14] Rachel: So if you’re in a position where you’re feeling a bit stuck and you’re not sure if you do need to make a change or not. Then ask yourself that question. What is this current situation doing to you as a person, to your mind, your character. And your relationships? Take the long view, not the short term view cause yes, short’s him changing might be uncomfortable. Of course it will be. But actually long-term how much discomfort is there going to be? If you don’t change?

[00:08:44] Secondly, make a couple of lists. If you like to like puzzle this out, on one side of the paper write What will happen in six months or a year if I stay here or if nothing changes? And on the other side, write, well actually What might happen in six months or one year if something does change? What are the risks, but what might the benefits be? And what is it I’m really scared of? And you might want to go back and listen to the episode with Corrina Gordon-Barnes, Should I Stay or Should I Go where we talk about how to get over the fear of the uncertain and the unknown?

[00:09:19] Where to go for guidance

[00:09:19] Rachel: Then I suggest you get some help with this. Talk to your friends, talk to your family, ask them that question. You say, say to them, well, you know, if I was doing exactly what I’m doing now in a year’s time, what do you reckon that will be doing to me or how our relationship, or my character? Can you see that it’s affecting me now, and how is that affecting me? I get a third policy opinion. Often you’ll be surprised at what they say. They would have noticed. They really well.

[00:09:46] Or they might say actually, I think you’re pretty happy now. I don’t think it needs to change anything. And that’s useful for them. To be able to notice and tell you that, but make sure you are trusting your own intuition.

[00:09:56] So talk to your friends, talk to your family, and you might also want to talk to a coach, someone who can be really unbiased and just helped you get really, really clear in your thinking and about what you want.

[00:10:07] Taking action

[00:10:07] Rachel: And finally, if you are feeding that there is any sort of burning platform that may be getting worse for you, then change something, anything. You don’t need to go off and do a massive, great big career change. It might just be changing what you do after work on one day a week. Or dropping one tiny role from your job to give you a little bit more space in the day. Or it might be going for a walk at lunchtime and giving yourself a proper lunch break so you can see compress and feel better for the afternoon. But if you carry on doing what you’ve always done, you’re always going to get what you’ve always got.

[00:10:43] Conclusion

[00:10:43] Rachel: So if you find that those questions like, oh, where do you want to be in five years time? And what’s your obituary going to be like, or what they’re going to say at your retirement do? If you find that that doesn’t really motivate you, then ask this killer question. What is your current situation going to be doing to you in the longterm to your character, your relationships, and ultimately how you thrive in your one wild and precious life?