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David Pace 0:01

Hi, my name is David Pace. 


Alex Barilec 0:02

And I’m Alex Barilec and this is Pace Yourself, a University of Utah College of Science podcast about wellness. 


David Pace 0:09

And today we’re going to talk about vocational wellness. So there are eight dimensions of wellness, and vocational wellness is one of them. And the definition that I’ve got from the National Institute of Health is that it’s defined as gaining personal satisfaction and enrichment from one’s own work. And since we’re at the College of Science, that includes academic work. So if you’re a student, that means the work that you’re doing in the classroom and lab and as well as a job after graduation. So what do you think, Alex? How are you doing today? How are you well?


Alex Barilec 0:45

I’m feeling great. I think that something that, you know, I really love about my job is that, you know, working in higher education is meaningful work. We’re helping other people day in and day out, specifically working as a career coach. I’m meeting with students one on one for 30 to 45 minutes, and I can see the impact that it’s having and I can, you know, glean a little bit into their life. So that’s one of the elements today. But I think to start really broad something that we’re going to be talking about is personal satisfaction and life enrichment and how the work we do, which is the way we spend most of our day, is aligned with our goals and our values and our lifestyle. And all of this can be really challenging for people to dive into and to understand for themselves. So what we thought we would do is go through six questions that you can ask yourself to check in and understand. You know, how am I doing when it comes to vocational wellness? And so the first is, is my work engaging? 


David Pace 1:51

Hmm. To be engaged if I had to just wing it on a definition like that, it’s like, are you interested in it? Does it occupy yourself? Does it move into your body and your mind and your soul and set up camp? And do you are are you simpatico with that? I guess that’s what you would mean by engaging. What do you think it means? 


Alex Barilec 2:14

I think of flow. I think of the – 


David Pace 2:17

Ooh, Good word. 


Alex Barilec 2:18

Term flow from *Insert fancy name here*

David Pace 2:20 


Alex Barilec 2:21

Whose name I like to say because I finally learned how to pronounce it. 


David Pace 2:24

Tell us who he is. 


Alex Barilec 2:25

I believe he was Hungarian, but he is the father of flow. 


David Pace 2:28

You’re Hungarian. 


Alex Barilec 2:29

I’m Croatian


David Pace 2:31

Croatian ah, close, okay. 


Alex Barilec 2:33

So when I think of flow, I think of effortless effort and performing at our best. So when I think of is my work engaging? This is kind of the feeling that I go for, and for me, when I’m talking with students, I find myself in that place. I enjoy conversation and it’s really engaging to me. 


David Pace 2:52

Yeah, I would say that the flow for me is as a science writer here, I experience that in an interview when I’m interviewing somebody, mostly scientists, mostly students that are doing and studying things that I have no background in and and just the conversational approach having been, you know, my training is in communications and literature. So I like to think of everything as being a conversation and that give and take that you have in a really cool flow conversation is really what I aspire to as well. And I think if we have that conversation with our job is what I hear you saying, then that’s cool. That’s the answer to the first question am I engaged? 


Alex Barilec 3:38

And not only is it cool, there is a body of research that’s showing that if we’re more engaged with work and we feel that we’re performing at our best, it increases our overall well-being and our life satisfaction. So this is a really great, like jumping off point. The second question to ask yourself is, am I doing work that helps others? And what’s important about this question is this brings in the question of meaning, which is also a key predictor of life satisfaction. So when I think and I share this earlier with my work, I think that, you know, when I’m meeting with students one on one, it’s clear to me that they’re at a stage of learning and growth and development in their all potential and to be able to maybe learn from some of my experience and couple that with my training in human growth and change I think is really helpful to see, maybe I can help them avoid some of the mistakes that I made. So how do you think about and measure meaning in your work when you think about doing work that helps other people? 


David Pace 4:41

Well, first of all, to respond to this notion, it’s great working in a university because there are so many young people and it’s exactly that. They’re little pods of potential walking around. It’s really inspiring to be around that because you realize what your own journey has been and meaning, which is what you brought up as being central to a lot of wellness dimensions. It’s definitely connected to spiritual wellness as well. Why am I doing this? You know, those are existential questions that a spiritual practice hopes to answer. So what was your question again? 


Alex Barilec 5:23

Do you find like you’re doing work that is helping others? 


David Pace 5:24

Oh, yeah. So I got a little sidetracked there in the flow of student life here. Yeah, I do. I personally do. But I haven’t always I had a job for 20 years that I didn’t really care about it, but it was a great job and I would do it again. So let me explain. It was and this is why I think it’s important, probably as a career coach here at the University of Utah maybe you can talk a little bit about this. But I fell into a job. I was a flight attendant for 20 years for a major carrier. And I was so embarrassed to be a flight attendant that I didn’t tell anybody that I was I was just like, I’m just doing this for a couple of years before I go back to graduate school because I thought it was like being a dental assistant or something with wings, you know? But in the end, I really learned to love having a job that I did not have to take home with me having a job where I didn’t have to think too hard about it and it allowed me to go to graduate school full time. It allowed me to do the writing, the creative writing that I wanted to do. I had all this layover time that I could do and I didn’t have to worry about relationships because everybody would come and go pretty rapidly. Even the flight crew, you know, I might be with them for three days and then I wouldn’t see them for two years. I bring that up because your meaning doesn’t necessarily have to be connected to your job. And I always called it as a job. I never called it a career. And so, you know, when 9/11 happened and we were living in New York, that it was maybe time to get out of the airline industry. And then other things happened that brought us back to Utah. Then I realized, no, I want to start my career. And that has to have meaning. My job now has a lot of meaning. I’ve always been a writer. I’ve always wanted to express myself and help others express themselves. 


Alex Barilec 7:26

Yeah, I think something that you point out there is that the path is winding. And when we think about these questions, these are really like personal invitations for people to consider. And when I think of asking myself the question of is this work engaging or do I help others or the other questions, the thing that comes to mind for me is, is rank ordering these for ourselves, right? And at certain stages of our life, it might be more important that our work is engaging. Or for you, it sounds like, you know, one of the other dimensions will ask, and this is the third one is, is this work that fits with the rest of my life? And it sounds like for you, working as a flight attendant answered that question really solid for you, right? It was work that allowed you to go to graduate school and do other things that you were passionate about and that you pursued. And I think that that’s really important because two mistakes that sometimes we we fall into is thinking like, well, is this job really high paying job and am I going to make a lot of money or maybe this is a job that won’t be super stressful and I won’t have to take it home with me? And those are two questions people ask themselves. But I think that these other three that we’ve laid out, bring a little bit more depth and nuance to them. So the third one is finding work that fits with the rest of your life. 


David Pace 8:52

Yeah, I want you to answer that question. I’m not sure that I might. You know, your life changes, you know, everything’s moving. So, what fits with your life now may not fit with your life later, but I think more important than that is, again, returning to meaning and does this fit my values? I can do pretty much anything as long as it fits my values. And so I’ve had a variety of jobs since the airline that has always been about working for nonprofits, quite frankly. And I like that because of the mission driven aspect of it. And, you know, I also found out that nonprofits are just businesses as well. So there was a little cynicism that got baked in there after a while, but it nevertheless was a conversation that I was having inside of myself all the time. Like, you know, this fits my life and my values, you know, the decision to live where we did made the University of Utah very convenient for that,  to take that job when it came up, because I cared about, for example, not commuting. I didn’t want to do that. And for a lot of reasons, both environmental and time and convenience wise. So, yes, I would have to say that my job does in fact fit really well into my life right now. And it’s the first time it’s really done that, you know, being a flight attendant is not very easy. That’s not very convenient at all. Yeah, especially for the person you’re married to. Yeah. So things have changed and yeah, I would have to say that I like my job that way. I hope others achieve that. How about you? 


Alex Barilec 10:46

I think to answer that question, I would actually bring up the fourth question, which is are you doing work that you’re good at? And for me, the answer to that question is really important for me right now at the stage that I’m at and as well as the work that I do here at the you as a career coach. So I found through experimentation that coaching was really the path for me. My first job out of undergrad, I worked at my alma mater. I did a year of service and I was coaching hockey there. I was helping lead retreats and then I was helping coach and teach in physical education and it was really the coaching piece. I was coaching high school hockey that really struck me as something that I enjoyed and that I seemed to be pretty good at. And so through the next few roles that I took in my early career in training and development, I really prioritized coaching and finding opportunities to help people grow personally and professionally. And I think what’s important when we think about vocational wellness is that being good at something brings a sense of achievement, right? And that sense of achievement helps promote well-being. So I think of being good at something by matching our skills with the problem. And sometimes I think that we pursue interests over things we’re skilled at. And there are certainly areas I’m really interested personally in the area of well-being. But if you know somebody cuts their finger, I’m useless. I don’t do well with blood. So my interest in well-being had to be steered away from, you know, the medical realm because it wasn’t something that I was skilled at, even though I’m interested. So that question is, you know, doing work that you’re good at. 


David Pace 12:30

I noticed you have a Band-Aid on your left hand. I hope that that doesn’t come off because I’d hate to hear you scream about the blood. 


Alex Barilec 12:37

That would be the end of the podcast. 


David Pace 12:42

Yeah, I think that that’s a really good question. I had a long, long date with the imposter syndrome over whether or not I was a writer. I never felt like I could tell people that I was that because it sounded like I was, you know, trying to blow my own horn too much and that I was trying to be a Hemingway or something. But in fact, I found out that I was a good writer and it was a skill set that I think this goes into career coaching for you what you’re doing. Alex, Which is that I thought that a writer was just a creative writer, you know, or maybe a journalist, but nothing else. And I, either had to be writing as a journalist about something I really cared about. Or I was a theater critic for a while or had to be writing my own stuff that was going to make me, quite frankly, Hemingway. But what I found out here at the College of Science was that, hey, I got this great skill and I can do it. I can write about something that I don’t know anything about because I can research it and I can talk to people and I can humble myself and I can take that skill and drive it home. So here I am writing about science, you know, mining and chemistry and biology. And it’s been absolutely invigorating. It’s just been it’s been like riding a roller coaster. And I’m really happy to be here doing that. 


Alex Barilec 14:16

That’s awesome. I think that, you know, what your story brings up for me is expanding the way we approach vocational wellness. And I think, you know, one way to do it is to think of the job title that we’re going to possess. But something that you’re talking about is there’s all sorts of nuance, little niches of all sorts of worlds, right? Writing being one of them. 


David Pace 14:36

Tons of them yeah.


Alex Barilec 14:36

And the way that I like to think to expand our idea of what’s possible so we can find those creative niches is thinking about, what is a problem space that really keeps me up at night. What’s something that I want to like, really help, you know, do in the world and make a positive impact? And then what skills do I have already and how can I use those skills to help solve that problem? I think when we use those oftentimes the job title becomes a little bit more clear for us, or it just helps us think about ways to create meaningful work, right? If we can answer those questions for ourselves, we can be more engaged, we can do things we’re good at, and we can find these creative paths and solutions. 


David Pace 15:19

Yeah, I would agree with that wholeheartedly that titles are a dangerous thing to pin your body to as well as salaries, quite frankly. 


Alex Barilec 15:30

Yeah. And so I think that brings us to the fifth question, which is doing work that doesn’t have major negatives. I think one time sometimes having one major negative, whether it is a long commute or really low pay or really unsupportive people around us or a toxic work environment or maybe working for an industry that you really don’t believe in, and these are just a few negatives that come to mind. But sometimes having one of those negatives can really outweigh a lot of the other positives. And you know personally for me, having a long commute as can be really challenging, that’s a a negative that I often grapple with, you know, in my current role because I think that I love doing work that I’m good at and that helps others. And that’s what brought me to the U. But sometimes a negative for me can be really, you know, it can be physically, mentally, emotionally challenging on my wellness. And sometimes I wonder whether or not it’s impacting my ability to to do good work. 


David Pace 16:28

Yeah. Figuring that out can be really tough. I’ve been I’ve worked with toxic people and I’ve probably been a toxic person myself to others. But it doesn’t matter how good the job is if you you can’t respect and communicate and work with somebody, your boss or others, it can derail the whole thing. The best job I ever had was one that I had to give up because of that. 


Alex Barilec 16:55

Yeah. What’s interesting about this, this thread is that’s actually the sixth question is do you work with supportive colleagues? Right. And what I love about this is that the Harvard Happiness study they’ve been doing for around 85 years now, you know, when we think of our life’s arc, we think of our career being a big part of it. And we think of, you know, maybe like the monetary or the skill aspect. But the Harvard Happiness study showed that the the best predictor of happiness later in life is the personal connections that we have. And if we’re spending a lot of our time at work and I think this is a good time to shout out 80000 hours, which is actually where a lot of this information comes from. So 80000 hours, the team over there has tons of great career resources. These six elements and questions actually come from their website. So if you found this useful, do go over there and check out their information. But 80000 hours is the number of hours they estimate that we spend in our career. And if you’re going to spend that much time, I think one of the important elements of being well at work is spending it with people that you get along with, and that can mean a lot of different things. 


David Pace 18:00

So the writer and editor in me must ask this question Is it spelled eighty or is it the number 80? 


Alex Barilec 18:07

The number 80, yeah so 80,000.


David Pace 18:13

Okay, 80, 


Alex Barilec 18:14


David Pace 18:15

Beautiful, I’ll have to look at that. 


Alex Barilec 18:17

Yeah, it’s a resource that, you know, I think as a career coach I use a lot and I think it really weaves its way into this and David, I think the last thing that I thought that we could just briefly touch on is this is a area that can take a lot of thinking and personal reflecting on. It’s something that can take some time. You shared a story about how your path vocationally is winding. What are some tools that you’ve found useful that have helped you to explore some of these questions and get some clarity around them? 


David Pace 18:51

Oh, wow, that’s a tough one, because that’s part of that conversational model that I was talking about with yourself and it’s very hard for me to get clarity about a lot of things I use writing to do that. Pros and cons, a list of pros and cons. I like to ask the question, What is the worst thing that could happen if I take this job? 


Alex Barilec 19:16

That’s a great question. 


David Pace 19:17

And or if I marry this woman or okay, that’s not a good example, but what’s the worst thing that could happen if I make this decision that I have to make today? And then if I can live with that, then usually it’s like, look, Dave, you’ve got to lean into life, because my tendency is to pull back. So I have to talk myself into jumping and hoping that the parachute opens. 


Alex Barilec 19:45

Yeah, that’s a really that reflex to do that is something that’s really important. I’ve heard Andrew Huberman call it limbic friction. The emotional friction of it’s essentially like I’m scared to do this even though there’s no predator in the room, right? Developing the strength to do that. Is a really powerful internal mantra.

David Pace 20:10

Yeah, no, I like that. Since we’re using phrases and stuff, I like functional tension, like when I’m on the ski slopes, which I’m not skiing anymore, I’m not going to pretend I do. But when I was on the ski slope, there was that functional tension where you have to be falling down the hill. Come on, let’s just face it. But is it so fearful and so dangerous that it’s going to derail your ability to be your best? But if that tension isn’t there, then you might just stay on the bunny hill for the rest of your life


Alex Barilec 20:41

You’re in the back seat, it’s a dangerous place to be. 


David Pace 20:44



Alex Barilec 20:45

So I wanted to share just a couple of other tools that that I use to stack onto your questions, and maybe I’ll do this at different stages of the game, because we do have a wide ranging audience here. So for students, you know, undergrad/graduate students in the early phases of exploring vocational wellness, the strengths finder was really helpful for me and really helped me understand. 


David Pace 21:08

What is that?


Alex Barilec 21:09

Strength Finder is a tool that’s put on by Gallup and it helps you understand the dimensions that you’re strongest in, which can help you point you towards, you know, as we’re talking about these questions like work that you’re good at and work that’s engaging, if you can understand, your strengths. Like one for me is I’m a relator. 


David Pace 21:27



Alex Barilec 21:27

Which leads me to be very inquisitive and very strong in connections and relationships, which is really important in one on one coaching. Yeah. So that’s a tool that I found really helpful in the middle stages, you know, working and learning a little bit more about your personality, I found useful for people in the mid stages of their career. It kind of like is the next level of the strength. And then at any stage of people, I think that finding an outlet, whether it’s a professional coach or a therapist or someone to think through and talk through these ideas with and to chart out pathways forward and different like, you know, ways of understanding your values and really getting to know yourself. I think that’s been a tremendously useful tool as well. And then the final one would be patience. 


David Pace 22:14

Trust the process. 


Alex Barilec 22:16



David Pace 22:17

Writers have to do that all the time. When you look at that blank sheet of paper, it’s like, yes it’ll come. 


Alex Barilec 22:22

Yeah sometimes that’s what your career is right, it’s like a blank sheet of paper.


David Pace 22:28

Well, you’re a trove of brilliant information on career development. I’m really glad that you’ve shared all of this. 


Alex Barilec 22:35

It seems like I found work that I’m good at it and engaged with. And I really appreciate you sharing personal stories because I think your career path and the way in which your stories illuminate these ideas hopefully can be really helpful for people. 


David Pace 22:48

I hope so, too. It’s been a pleasure. 


Alex Barilec 22:51

Awesome. See you next time. 


David Pace 22:53

All right. We’ll see you next time. 


Alex Barilec 22:55