By Guy Dauncey –

Many years ago, I lived in London, United Kingdom, in a house four us had bought together. Being self-employed, I was always on the look-out for work. My book The Unemployment Handbook had been published five years earlier, and I had acquired some skills, so I decided to set myself up as a Holistic Careers Counsellor, attracting clients by placing a brochure in a progressive church. By ‘holistic’ I meant work that would bring fulfilment and meaning. The phone started ringing, and I was in business.

Boy and man both wearing shirt planting tree seedling in park. Photo: Maxim Lupascu

I would ask my client to write a two-or-three page autobiography, and then to think back over their lives and write a paragraph each about ten things they had done that left them with a strong sense of achievement and inner pride. Could be at work, at home, on holiday—anything. I would absorb it all, then analyze their achievements using a skills chart.

The technique comes from Bernard Haldane, an American careers counsellor who was given the task in 1945 of helping returning soldiers to find civilian work at the end of World War 2. Most had no idea what they wanted to do, he found, and their resumés were more like obituaries, referring only to their past, not their future.

He realized that we have two kinds of skill—natural and acquired. You can take ten people and ask them to cook all day. At the end of the day all will be weary, but some might be good weary, because they have been using their natural skills, not just their acquired skills.

When a client arrived, I would ask them to talk about their achievements. I would share the results from the skills list, and we would explore a range of career possibilities. As we talked, I could feel the inner energy for each possibility. Let’s just say it’s one of my natural skills. It became quickly apparent which ideas were abstract and which had depth and energy. We would hone in on the one with the most energy, and I would provide advice with regard to applying for a course, getting a training, exploring the field of interest, or seeking work. After two hours, they would go away with a plan of action.

One client I remember clearly was a woman named Ellen, aged 29. Her parents were working class and had never been to college. She excelled at school and won a place at a good university. She excelled there, too, and went on to do a Masters degree, which made her parents really proud. She came to me because she felt inwardly unfulfilled, as if something was wrong.

Sitting in my attic studio she talked through her achievements, and I absorbed everything I heard. One of the achievements she was most proud of was making small wooden boxes and selling them in the Portobello Street Market. Her ten achievements told me that working with her hands was probably a natural skill, and as she spoke about this, I could feel that her enthusiasm was strong. She had felt obliged to continue with her academic career, she said, because it meant so much to her parents, but she just couldn’t continue. Together, we developed a plan that would enable her to train in woodworking, and she left on a positive, buoyant note.

Most of my clients left feeling satisfied. There were only three kinds of people I couldn’t help: those who needed personal therapy because they were sabotaging their own potential; those who didn’t have stable housing, which I quickly understood was a prior need; and those whose minds blocked out any new possibilities because what they needed more than anything was a good holiday.

Today, I wish I had time to use the same process to help people who want to find work that will make a difference in the world and help us solve the climate and ecological emergencies. There is so much that needs doing, but each of us must endeavour to find the magic place where our path of service allows us to express our natural skills, so that we can be joyful and fulfilled as we work to change the world and not get burned out. -GG

Guy Dauncey is author of The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming and Journey to the Future: A Better World is Possible. Learn more at


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