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  • Writer's pictureTrish Driver

The secret to professional happiness? It's moving beyond small talk.

The 1998-99 IBM Pre-University Employees - 20 years on. Thanks to Dan B for the photo.

Yesterday was pretty much the perfect day… It had the bookends of my professional career, including a reunion with the people I started my working life with 20 years ago, and bringing me bang to the present with an awards ceremony with one of our amazing clients during the day. I’m feeling in quite a reflective mood this morning, after having heard the stories of the people I’d not seen for far too long, and hearing what they’d learned collectively over the 20 years since we started work together as a bunch of fresh-faced 18-year olds.

Throughout my life I’ve been utterly terrified of both these kind of events – huge get-togethers with lots of people. And I’ve finally realised what it is about them which unnerves me. I really struggle with “small talk” – I love hearing about people’s lives and passions and the stuff which REALLY matters to them. And that was the really great thing about both the events I went to yesterday – there was no small talk.

My day was spent celebrating with people I’ve worked with over the last twelve months, people who started off as clients and are now friends. The conversations I have in the course of my work take people beyond small talk really rapidly – talking about inclusion, mental health, bias and the incredible things which happen when we get this right – all these things mean that people share things with me which really matter to them. And that is a huge privilege.

Equally, the gift of spending a year working, living and partying together when we were all really young was that last night, even though 20 years had passed since most of us had met up, we slipped straight into the stuff which really mattered. It felt like collectively we’d decided that if you have to cram 20 years of updates into an evening, then the best way to do it was to skip all the surface stuff and talk about the things which are actually important.

One of the conversations which really resonated with me focused on people’s realisations about the importance of culture at work, with more than one person talking about the growing sense through their careers that they weren’t prepared to compromise by working somewhere where they felt they couldn’t be their real selves at work. You could see the journey people had been through to get to that realisation – the discomfort of years trying to fit into a space where you don’t feel like you vs the relief and comfort of finally getting to a place where you can be who you really are, and people love you for it.

Which takes me full circle – yesterday afternoon, I stood on a stage with the amazing client project team I’ve been working with at Bauer Media for the last year. We won the “Gamechangers” award for the team of people creating real culture change in the business. The pride I felt being celebrated alongside this team of passionate activists is something I can’t quite put into words even 24 hours later. As I said to a lot of people last night, I feel incredibly lucky that I get to spend my working days doing something I really love, being completely true to myself, and helping other people to do the same.

I started A New Normal because the 20 years of my career so far brought me to the realisation that equality, inclusion and authenticity aren’t just important – they are absolutely vital. There’s so much unfairness in the world, so much inequality of opportunity, so much structural discrimination built into life. Social and cultural change are two of the key drivers behind this business, because the reality is that culture follows where business leads, and this business is my opportunity to influence where I can, and to spread that influence through the brilliant clients and individuals I work with. If you’d asked me twenty years ago if this is where I’d be now, I wouldn’t have had a clue. Now? I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

You can read more about the work we’ve done with Bauer Media on our case studies page.

At A New Normal, we work in partnership with our clients to great lasting and impactful change in their businesses. If you want a truly inclusive business to be your new normal, why not get in touch?


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