Life’s Work: Reinventing Yourself

Photo is of Grace Barut. She is wearing a turquoise shirt. Her hair is down. There is the shine of a light in the background.
Grace Barut

As the world evolves, how do you pivot with it? In the last edition of the Life’s Work series, I found out how Angel Edmond was keeping up with the pace of changing times in Life’s Work: Focusing on Faith and Justice. For this edition, I reconnected with my friend Grace Barut. Originally, we met through mutual friends while I was on vacation in Hawaii almost a decade ago. We have kept in touch through social media. Recently, I wanted to learn about how she is approaching her life’s work in a world of transitions. Join me in finding out how Grace redesigned her path and opened herself up to more opportunities.

This Q&A has been edited for clarity.

Tell me about yourself.

I am someone who has reinvented herself in the workplace repeatedly through the decades, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes out of desire fueled by curiosity.

The need to reinvent myself as my original field of choice—writing in journalism—evolved, led me to work for some 30 years as a journalist, reporter, editor, writer, and account executive for magazines, newspapers, corporate communications, marketing, public relations, and general communications. My career has taken me to staff positions in New York City and writing assignments in San Francisco, Singapore, Jamaica, and nationwide. 

My love of writing transferred to working in university public relations; reporting on mass killings, politics, religion, military affairs, natural disasters, and general news for the world’s largest news outlet; helping oversee communications for 16 public schools; and serving as communications director for a ranking member on the Judiciary and Energy & Environmental Protection committees at the Hawaii State Capitol.

My paternal grandparents immigrated to Hawaii from the Philippines. My maternal great grandparents arrived from Puerto Rico. My maternal grandmother and my parents were born in Hawaii; I was born in California. I earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from San Francisco State University.

What does the term life‘s work mean to you?

It means purpose-driven actions using the talents I’ve been given to accomplish goals, tasks, or endeavors—whether described as “big” or “small” —that help others and that as a result, bring meaning and satisfaction to my life.

Do you have something or some things you consider your life‘s work?

I consider offering and trying to do my best—whether on the job or in a volunteer capacity—the top quality and characteristic of my life’s work. On the job, I derive satisfaction seeing my employers and clients trust and depend on me to use my skills to help them achieve their goals. In a volunteer capacity, I aim to help those in need, especially the sick and elderly. However, I am reminded of the blessing of helping others when without fail, I leave at the end of each day or night feeling like I am the one who received the greatest benefit. This is because doing volunteer work for the infirmed and the aged fills my heart with the type of joy, peace, and contentment that can only come from what I see as honoring God by my serving others.

How has your life impacted your work?

Feeling extremely shy and possessing many traits of an introvert since my early childhood paved the way to express myself through writing. My tendencies toward enjoying quiet time alone and my love of reading—instilled in fun, creative, and loving ways by my mother, who is an avid reader and who knew that reading was the key to learning—seemed to naturally lead me to writing.

It was a caring professor in an expository writing night class, who introduced me to the thought of attending college. I took her class just for fun (yes, my idea of fun!) when I was in my 20s, working full time as a secretary and wanted to satisfy my craving to write. Neither of my parents attended a 4-year college and earning a bachelor’s degree or higher was never discussed as an option for me. The trajectory of my life changed through that teacher; she literally called me into her office and after talking with me, guided me from Step A of thinking about what field and major I wanted to Step Z of applying to college and dorms as well as for financial aid.

How has your work impacted your life?

My work took me to places I had never dreamed possible and opened my previously sheltered world—having grown up in a rural part of Hawaii in a lower-middle-income family—to experiences, people, and situations far beyond my environment. The chance to learn from mentors, employers, colleagues, volunteer recipients, interns, family, and friends provided lessons to apply in work and life.

What do you consider to be the highlights of your life‘s work?

  • Experiencing the joy and satisfaction of feeling what it is like to get hired at my target companies to do work that fuels my passion and that often does not feel like work because I enjoy it so much.
  • Traveling first- or business-class to worldwide destinations for writing assignments during which we travel writers and editors would savor dinners prepared by world-class chefs; stay at top-rated hotels—in one instance, each room featured a butler; and explore destination areas with expert guides.
  • Recognizing opportunities to diversify and reinvent in the workplace, which led to adventures, people, places, and life events that spanned far beyond my imagination as someone who grew up in a blue-collar family in rural Maui.
  • Positively impacting, I hope, some lives along the way by weaving volunteerism into the fabric of my work whenever and however I could. Hospital ministry and praying with/visiting patients on the oncology, neurology, and cardiology floors affected me the most. Interacting with hospitalized people who are in life-and-death situations and encountering their grace and humility is a lifelong gift I will always cherish.

What have you learned through your experiences?

I have learned that following my heart and passion—with a well-balanced mixture of reality, research, awareness of trends, and careful planning—has led to my happiness in various work fields.

I have learned that possessing a “wide-eyed” curiosity and openness to opportunities, people, ideas, and places can lead to broadening my world and experiences.

I have learned that when I was lucky enough to study under women who had earned success in their fields, saw qualities in me that I did not know I had, singled me out for opportunities, and encouraged and supported me, that it turned out best when I pushed my fears and doubt aside, and said, “Yes” to their visions. They believed I could do more; they were right. I learned that true mentors can be trusted.

I have also learned that it is okay to change work and life goals as time passes. Through the years, people and the world grow and change. It makes sense that their work can too.

What do you hope to experience in the future?

I hope to see people who are in the workforce possess the opportunities, support, and ability to discover, reinvent, and blissfully live their joys. I would like to see an “A+” level of work-life balance for all who are engaged in any type of career and volunteerism.

How do you hope the workforce evolves in the future?

I hope it evolves to include the mechanisms and environment to achieve the hopes I listed in the answer directly above.

What action steps can you take now?   

I can vote and continue to vote for leaders who staunchly and meaningfully support women, minorities, all ages of workers, and everyone in the workplace. I can take the time to help others in their work-related issues. I can remember the women who helped me along the way, selflessly giving of themselves without expectation of receiving anything in return. I can endeavor to replicate their enormous-hearted efforts by paying it forward.

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