‘I worked as a corporate lawyer in London during the day and trained to become a monk at night’

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Eloise Skinner was on a silent retreat as part of her training to become a monk – yes, you read that right – when her phone vibrated.

It was an email from her boss at the corporate law firm where she worked. Despite being on annual leave, she’d have to answer this.

Sitting in her room at the monastery, she typed back a response.

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Integration is important to Eloise: “Really developing your interests and paying attention to your passions, cultivating the things that give you energy and then formulating that into the design of your own life.”

“I was starting to feel a conflict between the corporate path I’d wanted to pursue, and what was actually going on in my personal life, which meant having to do corporate emails from my monastic retreat during my annual leave,” says Eloise.

“It doesn’t have to indicate ‘OK, you need to quit your job tomorrow’, but it’s a longer-term question of whether that conflict can be resolved.”

Born on a council estate near Aldgate, East London, Eloise’s family had relocated several times while she was growing up to be near the schools where her parents – both teachers- were working.

Eloise did not have a religious upbringing, but discovered her faith at 18, to the surprise of her friends and family.

By 2016, aged 24, she’d become an active part of her local church and had started to ask bigger questions about life and religion.

She was recommended a year-long programme by her church leader which would train her in a monastic community.

Based in Lambeth Palace, the programme, called the Community of St Anselm, was designed for Christians aged 20-35 and started by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

As the website puts it, it is “a year of prayer, study and service to the poor, during which they will live by a challenging Rule of Life inspired by the monastic tradition”.



The programme, called the Community of St Anselm, was run for under-35s

“Informally, we called it ‘Monk School’,” says Eloise. “It was what they call a new monastic community, or monastic experiment, where…they place you within a community and they try and see how it goes to apply some of the older Benedictine or Ignatian practices to your life as a millennial – or modern – monk.”

For some of the more traditional monastic ideas, like celibacy or a monk’s vow of poverty – where monks pledge never to have more than six possessions – this meant finding a modern interpretation.

“In this kind of context, it’s about not spending money on stuff that you don’t need; keeping track of how you’re moving through the world in terms of how you spend your money,” Eloise explains.

“Celibacy is also a little bit more up for interpretation as to what it means for a modern monastic person, depending on the community and tradition.

“For many people, it means thinking about who you form intimate relationships with and being quite careful and intentional about who you partner with.”

The training began with the Rule of Life commitment, which, as Eloise defines it, is a pledge to live by the shared set of values and principles held by the community. These include humility, community, integrity, learning and silence.

“You’re really committing to live in a certain way,” says Eloise. “That means that even though you go back to your normal life, you take elements of the community with you always.”

Eloise’s cohort came from a mix of backgrounds, some studying to become pastors or theologians and others simply taking a year to focus on faith and meaning. There were 16 residents who would live at Lambeth Palace, and 20 non-residents.



The clash between the monastic teachings and Eloise’s everyday life led her to question which she found more important

Eloise had applied as a non-resident, which meant that she continued to live at home in London and to go to work during the day. She would attend meetings, teachings and retreats after work, at weekends and on her annual leave.

Just before starting, Eloise had been working as a trainee in her company’s New York office.

“The contrast of coming back from the Wall Street district and straight into a monastic community was interesting,” says Eloise.

“It was really, really difficult to hold on to [the monastic teachings], especially being in corporate law…It definitely causes a bit of a value friction between the way I was living my daily life and the commitments that I had in the monastic programme.”

Answering work emails on a silent retreat was an example of this, as well as the challenge of choosing silence in a world full of noise, particularly social media.

In many ways, being immersed in the monastic community on retreats made honouring these commitments easier.

“If you’re wearing monastic robes every day and you’re living in a monastery and sleeping with huge religious imagery above your head, then it’s a little easier to remember what your priorities are – and you might not even have access to your phone or social media,” she says.

“The challenge is: can you hold onto whatever you’ve learned when you immediately have to get a train back into London, get on the Tube and go back into your life?”



Eloise undertook monastic training from 2016-17

In fact, Eloise initially kept her monastic training from colleagues at work, only revealing what she was doing with her free time when the Archbishop of Canterbury requested to interview her at the office, and she had to ask permission.

Six years on, Eloise says she feels changed by the programme.

“I think most of us would say that we do actually look at life in a different way – not always in an obvious ‘it transformed everything about myself’ way, but you have a better perspective on what matters, you know a little bit more about who you are, you know how you react to certain circumstances and certain conditions of life,” she says.

She credits the training for kickstarting a re-evaluation of her own life – for beginning a search for purpose and fulfilment, and encouraging her to give back to other people.

Initially, she developed her passions alongside her work as a lawyer: she started teaching yoga and meditation and began training as an existential therapist.

By January 2021, she’d reached a crossroads. After five years in law, she could become a mid-tier associate – “that’s when you really have to start thinking about your future as a lawyer” – or she could take some time out.

“I wanted to take a bit of a pause and see what else was out there. Obviously, this was during the pandemic, so it was a ‘now or never’ type of feeling,” she says.

Although she kept it open-ended, Eloise set herself a year to develop her business, One Typical Day, a digital platform to help students discover their first careers, and to launch her new enterprise, The Purpose Workshop, helping people navigate a sense of purpose in life.



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She also planned to work on her third book, which will come out in September.

Yes – Eloise, now 29, is a force to be reckoned with. Alongside these pursuits, she teaches Pilates, yoga and mediation, has a podcast, About Wisdom, and keeps her 17.4 thousand Instagram followers engaged with regular content.

There’s a focus on fulfilment – in guiding others to identify their priorities in life. One Typical Day, for example, is influenced by Eloise’s own fortuitous journey into law.

At the age of 14, she was a witness to a traffic accident and was called to give evidence in court. It gave her first-hand experience of how lawyers worked, and planted the seed about law as a potential career.

“Careers are brought to life when you can see them and experience them for yourself… and the whole process is heavily skewed towards people with time and resources. We need more products that are doing that, but without any kind of elitist element to them,” she says.

In this quest for purpose – and in helping others to find theirs – has Eloise found her own?

“I’ve definitely come closer to it over time – I very much started out on the path-finding journey thinking that there was going to be a single answer at the end of it,” she says.

“[I’ve come] round to the understanding that purpose is an evolving concept. I would say I know loosely the kind of things that I’m focused on and the way I want to be in the world.”



Eloise Skinner completed a year-long training programme to become a monk at Lambeth Palace

Integration is key to this for Eloise: bringing disparate elements of your life – your passions, your interests, the things that give you energy – together into your everyday experience.

At the end of the month, it will be a year since Eloise gave up law – and the end of her trial period. Does she see herself going back?

“I think going back into law is still quite far on my horizon,” she says.

Instead, she’s planning to see where the development of One Typical Day takes her. “It’s always a process of just learning that there’s so much more out there.”

In monastic training and throughout her career, Eloise has done more soul-searching than most. She speaks in terms which can seem daunting (the idea of “purpose”, for example) – but it needn’t be, she insists.

“All of this work figuring out what you want your life to look like and trying different things – this is exciting work, because the most personal, meaningful thing that you get to do is design your life and yourself and figure out who you are and what you want, she says.

“It can be the greatest adventure – it sounds like a bit of a cliché, but [it’s] the greatest journey to go on.”

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