Acclaimed Public Speaker and Coach, Bernadine Jayasinghe Shares Her Keys to Happiness and Success at Work


The post-COVID era ushered in a new wave of thoughts and values surrounding work; both the meaning and the impact work has on our lives. As a result of mass layoffs and lockdowns, many Millennials were given a generous period of time to introspect; to reflect on their current career paths, and whether or not it’s something that truly brings them fulfillment. Work is rapidly shifting, with 95% of knowledge workers stating hybrid work as their preferred work model. The old paradigms are dying, and so are people’s perspectives of their self-worth in relation to work.

More people will be inspired to work at companies that align with their purpose and values. Yet, this brings on another unspoken problem.

For some, passions and hobbies come intuitively—there are always the people that have dreamed about doing what they’re passionate about for work (opening a restaurant, starting an acting career..etc.). But there’s also a significant segment of the population that has yet to discover what they’re passionate about, let alone, find what their purpose is. Many, for the majority of their working lives, have lived by a ‘do or die’ attitude when it comes to work; so long that they’ve lost what really drives them, what makes them fulfilled and happy. In fact, the additional pressure to “follow your passion’ can sometimes lead to more confusion and stress.

We’ve seen obvious testaments that massive financial and business success does not equate to happiness and fulfillment. Depression, suicide, anxiety, and chronic stress plague the nations that happen to have the most economic output. So, how can one find more happiness and success at the same time? To Bernadine Jayasinghe, a public speaker, corporate trainer, and media personality, being able to do what you love is one of the key definers of success She shared with us the lessons on success and happiness she’s learned from a decade of working with organizational clients and speaking to over 100,000 people around the world.

Interviewer: What’s your personal definition of success?

Bernadine Jayasinghe
With permission, Bernadine Jayasinghe

Bernadine: My personal definition of success is simple; finding inner peace and being able to be genuinely happy for others’ happiness and success.

Interviewer: When you coach your clients, has there been something that surprised you? Or do you find common trends in what people struggle with?

Bernadine: When we ask who wants to be happy and successful, 100% of them say yes. That’s their wish, goal, and target. But when we ask them what they really mean by happiness and success, most of them are confused. Many raise their hand or say it without giving it some deep thought about it. 

To achieve anything in life, whether that be materialistic or inner peace, you must first discover yourself, and understand who you are. Who do you want to be? And why do you want to be that person? When and how are you going to get there?

These questions are crucial to finding the purpose of your life. Having clarity of purpose, setting clear targets, and working hard towards them while enjoying the journey are what matters.

Other common things people struggle with are confidence, communication, and mental health.

Confidence: It’s common for many people, especially overachievers, to compare themselves or their journeys to others. I always tell my clients to compete with themselves, and not with others. Life is like a marathon, you can’t judge who the winner is by coming halfway through the marathon and not knowing how many laps the runners have completed.

Whatever obstacles we come across, we need to keep running, keep practicing, and most importantly, believe in ourselves and be confident.

People who look for the “perfect time” to start, never end up starting or starting too late. You need to start right now and work along the journey. Consistency, willingness to learn, and dedication will help you to reach your goals. You have to start somewhere to go anywhere in life.

Communication skills: Effective communication is essential and the key to success.  Many people get nervous about communicating their ideas with others because they fear what others will think if they make a mistake. This can be due to a whole slew of reasons: a language barrier, stage fright, phobias..etc. The only way to get past this boils down to the 3ps (practice, practice, and practice), wherever you go. Remember this equation: effective communication equals productive relationships.

Mental health: Most of my clients experience stress, depression, and anxiety because of work pressure, societal high expectations, social media standards, and global inflation. Many struggles to find happiness, joy, balance, and inner peace.

Struggles are a normal and inevitable part of life, and how you react to them is what will decide your future.  I carry around an acronym for people that are battling challenges— “ BAWLL yourself”  (Be yourself, Accept yourself, Work on yourself, Learn about yourself, and Love yourself).

This is your life and your story and you need to live peacefully. Most importantly, live and enjoy the journey. You have full control over how you write your story.

Interviewer: If you were given only 3 soft skills, which ones would you pick and why?

Bernadine: It’s hard to pick but I would choose:

Communication skills, leadership skills, and creativity.

As I mentioned before, communication is essential. A great leader needs to be an excellent communicator, so they can forge productive relationships with their teams, and inspire.

Leadership skills encompass many soft skills: empathy, problem-solving capability, self-awareness, and influence. Great leaders breathe life and power into organizations to help them grow and flourish; they also help shape new leaders.

Creativity is essential because the world is always fluctuating, changing rapidly, and is very competitive. To become successful in the world, you need to be creative, innovative, and unique. That way, even if things change you’re able to adapt yourself to new conditions and continue to survive and thrive.

Interviewer: What are your thoughts on how leadership can be transformed starting from the lower levels?

For a tree to grow well and bear fruit one day it needs to be nurtured and watered. Some trees naturally grow stronger but most trees need consistent nourishment to grow. Similarly, leadership is a trait that sometimes people are born with, but most times, you need to discover the leader in you. Sometimes you need to be guided, motivated, and empowered in order to do that.

It’s easier to plant seeds in individuals who are in the early stages of their careers. It’s easy to mold clay but not the pot. But the good thing about humans is that with time, clarity, and direction, anyone can change for the better and embrace change when they realize the truth of leadership and life.

Leadership at all levels is a paradigm, in which regardless of your position, title, tenure, or compensation, you relate to your company as if it’s your own company. 

Leaders are born and can be created too if the proper skills can be taught, improved, and transformed. To be a leader you don’t have to have a title. So I believe that it should definitely start and extend from the foundation level to all levels. Because there’s so much to learn, grow, and conquer as a great leader, when you start working on it from the basic levels, as you accelerate up the ladder, you’ll be in a better position to empower more leaders and steer them in the right direction with greater positive impact.

Interviewer: How did having broadcast communications skills (ie. radio/tv) help translate into organization training skills? What’s your advice for people who feel stuck in their careers and don’t know how to approach a new field?

Bernadine: I always encourage people to ask themselves: What are you most passionate about? What are your strengths, talents, and interests? What makes you happy and increases your energy? Who do you want to be?

Find the answers to these questions. Always listen to your heart and soul, and decide from your mind. 

If you feel stagnated, explore the reasons why you feel this way and how you can work on improving it. I believe it’s important for people to follow their passion, do what they love, and love what they do. It can be a lifetime goal to make your passion into your profession, but in order to do this, you need a certain level of self-awareness. There needs to be some alignment with your skills and passions.

To give you an example, I started my training academy when I was 18, then worked hard continuously to develop my skills, knowledge, and experience. I took on a corporate job at a certain point to gain experience and develop a network.

While I was lecturing, training, and working on my institute, I stepped into media which became my professional hobby. That ended up giving me a range of experience about the world, how to handle pressure, communicate effectively, and many other skills.

My broadcasting experience has helped me immensely in how to present with confidence, speak to the point, and gather information at light speed.

Being stuck and stagnated hurts your growth; in fact, it’s an opportunity cost. Instead, if you wish to explore a new field or industry, first, do good research and see whether or not you truly like it, and why you want to pursue a career in that field. Analyze whether your talents, capabilities, and passion align with that field. Then, come up with a plan and a growth trajectory.

Never quit everything you have, to jump into anything. First, analyze, research, plan, and prepare. Don’t put both your legs into the river to test the waters. When you feel stable and see a future, that’s when you can put both legs into the water and start swimming.

Interviewer: Emotional intelligence (EQ) was overlooked for a period of time, especially in terms of high-paying careers. Women (in general) tend to have high EQ — what is your advice for people who have naturally high EQ in terms of tapping into their strengths/potential?

Bernadine: Having a high EQ means you are blessed and already have one of the keys to success. Individuals with high EQ have a tendency to be more attuned to their feelings and that of others, which makes them more empathetic, mindful, agile, diplomatic, and genuine. 

Some researchers suggest that emotional intelligence can be learned and strengthened, while others claim it is an inborn characteristic. Although EQ is an inborn characteristic for some and some are said to have naturally high EQ, interestingly, our brain’s plasticity can increase our emotional intelligence if we are ready to put in some effort.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to manage both your own emotions and understand the emotions of people around you. Five key elements of EI are: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. 

People with high EQ can identify how they are feeling, what those feelings mean, and how those emotions impact their behavior and in turn, other people. 

Humans are not robots and It’s not possible to control how someone else feels or behaves. But by identifying the emotions behind their behavior, you will be able to have a better understanding of where they are coming from and how to best interact and deal with them.

According to research, people with strong emotional intelligence are more likely to succeed than those with high IQs or relevant experience. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is definitely a crucial skill for leaders and employees.

I encourage people that have EQ to tap into their strengths and learn how they can use their potential to create a positive impact on themselves and the people around them and the world.

Conclusion: The Future of Work?

Work has traditionally been associated with financial reward and reputation—will we observe an evident change in the next decade?

Currently, we are already seeing pushback from the workforce in the media: quiet quitting, 4-day weeks, and similar rhetoric are all forms of consensual micro-aggression from an audience that’s tired of baring their skin and teeth for jobs that don’t truly fulfill them intrinsically.

More conversations around work and purpose are bound to come up, as more people take work into their own hands; creating lifestyles and businesses that revolve around their life, instead of the other way around.

And it makes sense in a way, the more passionate you are about the work you’re doing because you feel in line with your purpose, the more likely you’re going to put in more hours— which cancels out the ‘quiet quitting’ phenomenon.

Bernadine’s insights on soft skills, leadership, and getting granular about your purpose in life serve as a healthy reminder that it’s normal to not have it all figured out and that securing your piece in the purpose puzzle takes time and intentional deep internal reflection. Nevertheless, it is possible for anyone to become incredibly happy and successful at doing what they love.

Naomi Peng
Naomi Peng
Naomi is a business journalist who specializes in crafting the most inspiring stories about entrepreneurs, the startup world, and investment trends.