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Nomad Vibes Strong

It's Tuesday in Medellin. Nomad vibes are high in this reasonably-sized café in Zona Rosa in Medellin. This jungle of a city. I’ve never seen anything like it. Bamboo and palm trees and streams running up against the concrete infrastructure. Cafes and bars and restaurants piled on top of one another, like some bohemian jungle dream. I smirk and think of Portland. Hipsters would love it here.

Hell, I love it here.

It’s been three days and I’m not sure I want to leave except to find the next place I love as much as this one (maybe even more). I love that I can sit in a café in the middle of the city and smell what I might on a hike through the forest. I love that it’s fairly populated, that the conversation around me is lively but not to the point of distraction. I love that while the street is crowded with little shops and restaurants, it’s not too crowded with people—and a good number of the shops have yet to open their doors a little after 11am on a Tuesday.

 

—WONDERING ABOUT THE WANDERING—

Clumps of expats and nomads sip coffee around the trendy wooden tables in the late morning sunshine and swap stories of being dropped in the jungle with nothing but what they could carry, setting up new communities in desolate places, volunteering at festivals to get free access, meeting a fellow nomad tens of thousands of miles from home who happens to be traveling with the girl who grew up next door. I don’t know these individuals, but we are of the same tribe. And we know it. The searchers. The wanderers. The adventurists. The explorers.

I don’t get up and talk to them today; I’m not feeling especially social. Just a smile and a polite nod here and there does the trick though. Earbuds in, Nahko belting bridge-building anthems through my brain, a sweet sliver of sun peeking through the greyer bits of the morning to warm my bare shoulders… And I am at peace with my Macbook. I am thinking about what I will create next. I am thinking about what these strangers around me are creating as I type away here. I am wondering about the wandering and whether this love affair with the allure of the unknown will ever end for me.

I long to understand what makes us this way—the nomads. The wanderers. The infinite searchers. Is there some common thread in our genetic makeup? Some similarity in our neurological patterns? Does it have something to do with circumstance? With mindset? Or is it different for everyone?

 

—RELATING & REFLECTING—

A Paisa from another era paces thoughtfully past the open café-front in a button-down, an oversized fedora, and a leather-sheathed machete for the fourth time since I sat down, carrying a sparse white Styrofoam box with what look like potted plants and perhaps a trough. I watch him and wonder what his aim is; he must be walking the block or something. But unlike other artisans and peddlers we’ve seen in our travels, he does not stop to ask patrons if they’d like to buy flowers. He simply keeps his cadence, continuing on past the café time after time.  

I can relate to him—or at least the story I tell myself about him, in my extremely limited perspective. That is to say—I have walked the same patterns for a great deal of my life. I have found comfort in the footfalls of the familiar. I came to love the variables I could observe from the safety of my well-worn rhythm. But I realized, like many of us, that too much comfort can kill.  

While I arrived in my "first stop" city just 66 days ago, the preparation for this adventure began long before that—the logistic, of courses: applying to Remote Year, wrapping up my life in California, purging the majority of my belongings, getting rid of my apartment, working out insurance, budget, what to pack—and handling the thousand other interstitials that come up when you attempt to transition to a lifestyle where the only "home base" you really have is inside your chest and your mind (and your laptop, hah). This is not to mention the emotional and interpersonal aspects of leaving your home country for an extended period of time. The support and encouragement of my friends and family was absolutely critical to my eventual departure into nomad life.

Fire comes to mind when I try to explain the sequence: the moment I bought in to trying this new way of living, the moment I snapped the match against the matchbox and stared longingly at the life I'd come to know as status quo, the deep breath as courage somehow sent my wrist the power to flick the flame toward the familiar and watch the world I know burn down slowly, leaving only the most important of things standing—leaving only that which I truly love, and a newfound void demanding creation. Demanding purposed action toward giving the best of myself back to this world—if I can manage to unearth it, that is.  

What does that look like? For now, I believe it begins with an exploration of a series of themes and topics that have emerged over the last decade, as I moved across the US, working tirelessly in tech and innovation while simultaneously fighting to find myself, my voice, my purpose. It is my belief that once we live a life aligned with our values and interests, founded on a conscious understanding of our purpose, we come into a state of being whereby we can literally achieve anything we imagine. 

Throughout the course of this next chapter in my life, I want to explore, analyze, and share tactics for moving freely and easily, as individuals and collectives, into that purposed state of being. I want to reduce the amount of time and energy we spend trying to pin down our purpose (and a meaningful application of that in the world) so that each of us can spend more of our lives in the peace and passion that comes with moving through the world intentionally and, ultimately, altruistically. I want all of us to lean into a life where we follow our curiosities freely. The intentionality comes with introspection and self-awareness; the altruism comes with understanding how what is unique in each of us fits into the macrocosm of the collective, and so contributes to the very evolution of our species. 

 

—TRANSIENCE, A MOVEMENT, AN OUTLIER—

The implicit transience of life as a nomad is not without whiplash but as I reflect on the events of the last month, year, two years, five years, I start to see the thread that pulls through my actions, experience, and growth—all the phases and events that brought me to this. They unravel so gracefully in the retrospective lens of my mind, each event fitting neatly into the proverbial toolbox of lessons, wisdom, courage, and strength I would require to do what I am doing now. 

The outlier, the thing I didn’t count on, was having a family like the one I’ve found through Remote Year to accompany, challenge, support, and empower me (and hopefully vice-versa!) on this beautiful and at-times-terrifying adventure. And here’s the thing. While Remote Year (Meraki—I’m looking at you) is definitely ruining my life, the nomad community is bigger than you or I may even imagine. I mentioned earlier in this post how I felt among my tribe sitting in this café with strangers, because “nomad vibes” are high here.. It's true. We're all connected in our insatiable quest for the next great adventure. 

There is a movement afoot.

The wanderers are at work making this world a little smaller every second. And I am both humbled and honored to be a tiny part of this revolution.

 

 

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Dancing with the Danger Zone

Cage diving with Great Whites off the coast of Guadalupe Isle, MX... this 16' gentle giant was ready for his close-up—and took my breath away. 

Cage diving with Great Whites off the coast of Guadalupe Isle, MX... this 16' gentle giant was ready for his close-up—and took my breath away. 

This post, if you’ve been following along, was intended to be a reflection re: my first month as a true digital nomad, Mexico City, and the subsequent move to Bogota this past weekend. But somewhere between painstakingly managing to get the previous post published last week and dragging myself to the Bogota City orientation Monday evening at our co-working space, it hit me—not for the first time but perhaps the hardest thus far—I’m absolutely terrified. 

In November 2016, I stepped away from my role in tech and dedicated myself fully to following my dream. 2017 for me will be an international nomadic existence, traveling the globe as I launch a large-scale research project investigating the state of innovation during this beautiful, complex time in which we live.  With the infrastructure of the Remote Year program, I'll be living in a different city around the world every month for the next year, with eighty other "digital nomads." Unlike other major life and career decisions I've made in the past, the decision to pursue this path came without weeks of worried consultation with colleagues, mentors, friends. The call to leave my "successful," stable life behind for the unknown hit me like a ton of bricks—and for maybe the first time in my life, my intuition lead my pragmatism to trust that all the logistics, opportunity costs, and benefits would culminate in the greatest choice of my life. (Also the scariest.) 

Enjoying the Silicon Valley sunshine on a ride home from work in my Jeep. 

Enjoying the Silicon Valley sunshine on a ride home from work in my Jeep. 

After my first taste of Bogota, a Sunday stroll down the main drag, which the city closes down every weekend for the endless fitness junkies that call this place home (so much fluorescent spandex), I headed back to my apartment and proceeded to fully implode. 

Fear of failure. Self-doubt. Regret. Guilt. Nostalgia… I missed my old life—a steady paycheck from my gainful, meaningful, challenging position in the heart of the most sought-after innovation org at a major Blue Chip company in Silicon Valley, a couple uncluttered rooms of my own on the first floor of a beautiful Victorian house in downtown San Jose, Saturday morning drives in my Jeep Wrangler out to the Pacific Coast Highway—top down and tunes loud… Oh, and that (miniature) claw-foot bathtub that I sank into on Friday evenings with a book and some piano music trickling in from the iMac on my big oak desk in my home office. 

And now, just a month into a year (hopefully more) of this endeavor, I was shutting down. Something wasn’t clicking. The adventure adrenaline was wearing off. The distraction of getting to know eighty new people and new cities was settling into something more normal. The romance of running like hell after the things I’d always dreamed about, but which felt too big, too fun, too risky to ever earnestly pursue evaporated into pure, unadulterated fear. We’re talking full breakdown mode.  

I curled up on “my” bed in Bogota, wondering what the hell I’d done. I’d burnt it all down. Got rid of my possessions, my apartment, my main source of income. I longed for my comfort zone. The problem was that the familiarity I wanted no longer existed. The irony is that’s exactly what I hoped would happen; that’s exactly why I chose this path. 

So why, I wondered, did I want so badly to retreat? What was it about that comfortable space in my past that seemed so pacifying in the midst of all this angst? And, most importantly, how the hell was I going to stop feeling awful and get back to enjoying this incredible experience? 

In retrospect, I was dancing with my “Danger Zone.” To understand what that means, I dug into the science of comfort zones. 

 

COMFORT ZONE: Dirty Word or Resting Place?

Maybe this is not your take on it, but I’d always thought of a “comfort zone” as a place where the best of me—my drive, my creativity, and my potential—went to die, or at least to take a really long nap. Turns out this is a pretty unilateral view of the concept. 

The term has several definitions; I like this one from Wikipedia: A comfort zone is a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person and they are at ease and in control of their environment, experiencing low levels of anxiety and stress. In this zone, a steady level of performance is possible.

The concept allegedly originated as a reference to a temperature range that was not too hot or too cold—comfortable. In actuality, we have mice to thank for the more widely accepted origin of comfort zones, which stems from the results of an experiment conducted in 1908 by two psychologists named Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson (who I guess you could argue deserve a little more credit than the mice..). 

Yerkes and Dodson investigated the impact of stressed states on performance. In the course of their experiment, which produced what is now known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law, they noticed a few things:

  1. When the mice were not stressed, the behaved normally, existing in what we call the “Comfort Zone.” 
  2. Arousing anxiety levels for the mice showed increased performance from the animals, but only to a point. From this Yerkes and Dodson defined a state aptly termed “Optimal Anxiety,” wherein slightly elevated stress levels produce a jump in productivity. You may know this space as the “Growth Zone,” the “Expanded Comfort Zone,” or the “Learning Zone.”  
  3. There is a point where optimal anxiety rapidly turns sour—if stress levels get too high, performance tanks. Many sources refer to this state as being in the “Danger Zone.” 

Those familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs may recall that key to our establishment of comfort zones is a feeling of safety which satisfies our reptilian brain and allows our minds to function at a higher level of cognition. As I dove a little deeper into my research (sending my computer into cardiac arrest with an absurd number of open browser tabs), I wound up finding a number of relationships between comfort zones, fear of failure, procrastination, anxiety, growth mindset, impulsiveness, neuroplasticity, resilience, core motivators, social learning theory, and behavioral economics (to name a few)—but that is far too much to try to address in one blog post.. So I’ll stick to some gems that amplify a few important reminders that I think are going to help me manage when I get stuck or avoid my comfort zone for too long, forget to rest, or enjoy the growth zone so completely that I lean in a little too far and wind up in a danger zone situation. 

 

ESCAPING THE DANGER ZONE

Practicing balance with my fellow Remote Chris before our 10mi hike up the Iztaccihuatl Volcano just south of Mexico City, MX. 

Practicing balance with my fellow Remote Chris before our 10mi hike up the Iztaccihuatl Volcano just south of Mexico City, MX. 

So how do we best leverage the notion of comfort zones and optimal anxiety to create a headspace that is healthy and productive? I have a hunch that the solution may lie in moderation and balance… And in taking a deep breath when you wander into your danger zone, acknowledging that’s what’s going on, and having a plan that works for you to temporarily bring yourself back to a resting place in your comfort zone.  

If you’ve made it this far, dear reader, you deserve a prize. This is a wicked long post but I’m going to finish what I started; we’re almost there—I promise. 

I’m no expert, but I wanted to offer a strategy I began to use a few years ago, following a similar brush with my danger zone when I relocated to Silicon Valley from Boston, without knowing a soul in my new hometown. I did something I think a lot of us do when we’re overwhelmed—I made a list of things that might help me. 

My list for “Escaping the Danger Zone” broke out into four main categories: 

  1. The low-hanging fruit on the “to-do” list—sometimes this included things like “eat lunch,” “shower,” “put gas in the car,” and so on—just easy tasks that I could cross off the list to get a couple dopamine hits and some momentum to escape fear’s gripping paralysis
  2. Activities I thoroughly enjoyed that had a low barrier to entry (5 mins or less to get into them) that would give me a burst of happiness or gratitude or creativity
  3. Tasks I had to face but didn’t want to or didn’t know where to start—the ones that sit in the back of your mind and gnaw away at you slowly as they become bigger than they actually are—some of these are the types of things that would fall into the “adulting” category… The key was to start and realize that if I proceeded one bite at a time, I could usually eat the proverbial elephant
  4. Outrageous, foreign, or just new activities I wanted to try that I had always been afraid of doing or avoided because they logically took a backseat to other “real priorities” (or, as I’ve come to realize, to time spent stressing about “real priorities”) 
Hanging on with all I've got while learning to boulder in San Jose, CA.

Hanging on with all I've got while learning to boulder in San Jose, CA.

This may have been my first really tangible attempt at capturing a plan for balance/resilience, though I had no idea that’s what I was doing. At the time, I was just trying to survive the shock of leaving behind the life I’d built in Boston. I was just trying to cope with the feeling that came with forsaking all things familiar in exchange for the unrecognizably foreign. And I was barely hanging on. But here’s the thing. After I cried in my room for a full ten minutes, terrified and deeply alone as I stood toe-to-toe with some hefty demons, I made a silly list and then had the most exhilarating feeling I’d ever experienced—autonomy, independence, capability, and a strange sense of freedom from failure… because the only way to truly fail would have been to curl up in a ball and refuse to try.  

Something changed in me that day. Slowly, in fleeting moments and flashes, I began to crave the curveballs life had to offer. And when I got stuck wallowing in self-doubt or paralyzed by fear, I set out to create a new relationship with fear… one where I used it to my advantage in unusual, seemingly irrelevant ways. I would find an activity I could sign up for in minutes that I was wildly scared of doing and then I’d hold myself to doing it. The best example is probably sky-diving (I really hate heights). Others included things like learning to fly a plane, going after my motorcycle license, learning to hang-glide, diving with great white sharks—the list goes on but I digress. 

For me, at times, embracing fear in a very straightforward manner as a way to get myself to react differently to more “serious” fear, fear of failure, that hit me in my professional and personal life—as insane as it sounds—worked to a certain degree. Not always, not permanently, but sometimes. And it fundamentally changed my relationship with fear. 

Timelapse capture standing on Cliffside Drive in Santa Cruz, CA. 

Timelapse capture standing on Cliffside Drive in Santa Cruz, CA. 

On the topic of changing our relationship with failure, Carolyn Gregoire offers a quote from John Gardner’s Self-Renewal in her Huffpost article, where he reminds us that “we pay a heavy price for our fear of failure. It assures the progressive narrowing of the personality and prevents exploration and experimentation. There is no learning without some difficulty and fumbling. If you want to keep on learning, you must keep on risking failure—all your life.” In my last post, I shared some tactics I use to keep mapping and expanding my individual “renaissance.” I believe the sentiment is critical if I want to continue to make learning in a purposed manner a priority, because failure is integral to learning. 

The lesson that eventually landed for me, just this past November, is one that I believe is deeply rooted in my longstanding dance with the same emotions I experienced last weekend in Bogota.  Looking at myself and my life, it occurs to me that I am most uncomfortable when I’m too comfortable. That’s when I get stuck. That’s my biggest fear. That’s my most destabilizing imbalance. 

The day I decided to quit my job was so full of intuition, signs, encouragement—hell, I’ll say it—magic… I knew, beyond any shadow of a doubt and for the first time in my life, that I had to swallow the opportunity costs, let go of the things I created to comfort myself, and take a shot at my dream. I had (and some days still have) no clue how that works, looks, or shakes out. 

Turns out that was much easier felt, imagined, envisioned, and even decided upon than actually done. Nearly every day between giving my notice (October 2016) and landing in Mexico City (January 2nd, 2017) was a mess of anxiety, chaos, fear, and occasional excitement or peace. 

Celebrating self-expression with my fellow Remote Lily after a ten mile trek up Iztaccihuatl.

Celebrating self-expression with my fellow Remote Lily after a ten mile trek up Iztaccihuatl.

“Everyone’s reaction to stress is different, of course — your comfort zone is not mine,” writes Alina Tugend in the NY Times. I’m finding that moving between zones is very much a highly customizable rhythm that only we can establish for ourselves. It’s mental and emotional hygiene we don’t talk much about or teach in any structured way; it’s up to us to decide how far we want to push ourselves toward self-actualization. As George Ambler aptly puts it, “In this sense, leaders are self-made and not born, they are developed, not promoted. Leadership is a learned skill that is developed as you step out of your comfort zone.”

My point is this: the world needs what is uniquely you. It needs what is uniquely me. Is it always easy, comfortable? Nah, not a chance. I’m scared; I’m shaking in my boots. And I’m trying to find some semblance of courage each day to deepen my honesty, my humility, and maybe remind you that if you’re scared, you’re not alone. I’d be willing to wager you’re doing the same in your life.  If you’re terrified, I’m with you. I’ve got your back. And I hope to hell you’ve got mine… because I need whatever wisdom you’ve got so that I can keep growing, too. 

How do you navigate between zones? What have your experiences with fear, self-doubt, and the danger zone taught you? What are your go-to strategies for creating that healthy balance we all need to thrive? 

I’d love to hear other perspectives on this one—so if you’re feeling like helping us all out, leave a comment and let us know what your beautiful brain has to share. 

 

 

 

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PURPOSE TRIANGULATION SERIES | Part 1: VISION

We've touched on how important it is to make the conscious decision, regularly, to live intentionally. In my last post I highlighted some simple steps to get started with that process.

The next step in living life on your terms, in my humble opinion, is what I call "Purpose Triangulation." As I've said, we are cumulative beings—the result of millions of moments, interactions, influences, opportunities, choices, and opportunity costs. Understanding and accepting that is key to creating a cohesive vision and subsequent set of realistic goals to get you there. 

So how do you begin to create a realistic vision for yourself, one that allows you to design and build the life you want?

Purpose Triangulation can often feel like trying to follow a stream that weaves through a deep, dense forest of life experience. This shot, captured in Glacier National Park in Montana, USA, reminds me that though sometimes difficult to navigate, the path ahead is stunningly beautiful.

Purpose Triangulation can often feel like trying to follow a stream that weaves through a deep, dense forest of life experience. This shot, captured in Glacier National Park in Montana, USA, reminds me that though sometimes difficult to navigate, the path ahead is stunningly beautiful.

I'd argue that this is a task best broken down into chunks, which is why I’ll be doing a Purpose Triangulation Series here on The Revolution Collective blog. Today we’ll start with part one, where we’ll concern ourselves with creating the vision portion of Purpose Triangulation. As this series of posts continues, we’ll move into the action that organizes and operationalizes the insights from this first set of exercises.  

Like the idea of Purpose Triangulation itself, creating the vision is something I’ve broken out into a few small exercises with big impact. For our purposes, I'd like to talk about this in two parts: (1) Self-Awareness & Personal Projection, and (2) Renaissance & Revolution. Today we’ll take these two areas and examine some activities to help you outline the early stages of your vision toward Purpose Triangulation.

Upon pulling together some of these activities, I grouped four of them and executed them inside a fairly small window of time. The exercises you’ll read about below, as well as the Opportunities-Objectives Mapping and Time/Energy Analysis activities we’ll talk about in the Action portion of this series, all took place in the space of one Saturday. The value of this is not to be missed—creating the environment, time, and mindset to complete a set of exercises like this is a commitment. When you approach them all in the span of a day, or a few hours, it keeps the information fresh in your mind. There is always benefit to taking a step back, but small breaks with relatively quick returns to this process will prove optimal for the first round.

 

VISION Part 1: Self-Awareness & Personal Projection

As I started to dive into this process, I found that the best place to start was with gaining an authentic view of who I am and, perhaps more importantly, who I want to be. Again, you can go back and reference some of the exercises I recommended for living intentionally as you begin to play with the activities below. The key here is that you’re working on reserving judgment and creating an honest picture of who you want to become and how you want your life to expand and evolve in the next year, two years, five years (the timeline is up to you).

 

Exercise 1A: Picture Yourself and Project Your Future "Perfect" Self

To distance yourself from the judgement that comes with being truly honest about what you want, I recommend doing this exercise in the third person—that is, telling the story not as "I" but as "she" or "he." So find twenty minutes to clear your head, sit down with a piece of paper, and write freely. On one side of the paper, write about how you (he or she) is now; then flip the page over and write the story of your future self.

Using words, phrases, or sentences, paint the picture of the woman (or man) you are now and the evolution of that person—the person you want to be in a year, five years, ten years. The “now” piece is an honest self-assessment; the “future” piece is an honest self-projection—the story of the best, most fulfilled version of yourself.

1. The NOW: Who is she/he?

2. The FUTURE: Who will she/he become?

For each piece of this exercise, ask yourself... What does she like? What are her values? What does she prioritize? What skills does she have (professionally, personally; intellectually, emotionally)?  What are her strengths? What are her weaknesses? What doesn't she do, like, care about? What makes her happiest? What makes her struggle? How does she see herself? How does she want to be seen? Who is important to her? What does she give up for what she wants? What does she hold onto that she no longer needs? What does she have (yes, be materialistic here if that is your truth—and don't judge yourself for it!)? How does she behave? What motivates her?

Anything and everything you can possibly think of that might be a part of the most perfect version of yourself should be captured here. General and specific statements are okay—just get going. J

 

Exercise 1B: Vision Board

If you are a visual person, more drawn to pictures than words, this is an excellent exercise for you. I used to think this activity was super cheesy, but having participated in it on a couple occasions with friends, I've found it's actually very useful. 

The idea is this: take a blank “canvas”—if you want to go analog, grab a poster board from your nearest arts/office supply store; if you want to go digital, open a blank PowerPoint or even a new Pinterest board. If you’re going analog, grab some magazines, scissors, and tape/glue; digital route will have you googling photos.

On your blank canvas, start to collect images that signify goals for yourself, things you want to become or achieve in the next year of your life. Create a collage that represents this vision for your life in the future. When you’re done, save it as a photo, hang it in your room, make it the background on your laptop—just put it somewhere you can reference from time to time. Visual representations are great reminders and motivators as you try to grow into the next version of yourself and reach your objectives.

Shot from a booth at the Makers Faire 2016 in Sunnyvale, California, USA. 

Shot from a booth at the Makers Faire 2016 in Sunnyvale, California, USA. 

VISION PART 2: Renaissance & Revolution

When I think about personal growth, I like to break it out into two pieces—Renaissance and Revolution. Renaissance represents in this context a rebirth of interest in learning. Hopefully this is not an entirely new interest for you, but rather (as it was for me), a renewed interest in targeted learning experiences, practices, and endeavors. Revolution, then, as a follow-on to Renaissance, is where and how you want to apply your cumulative life skills and interests to pursue new growth experiences, activities, career paths, hobbies, and so on.  

 

Exercise 2A: Defining Your Personal Renaissance

Step away from the first exercise, where you spilled out all the ways you want to be in the future, most “perfect” version of yourself. In this exercise, focus on leaning into your curiosities. The main question you’re answering here is: What do you want to learn? Intellectually, physically, organizationally, emotionally—where are your growth areas? Are there things you’ve started to learn that require more time to become adept, or an expert? Are there things you’re unsure about learning but for some reason keep crossing your mind? Maybe you want to learn CPR, yoga, coding—maybe you want to learn how to be more social, more focused, more relaxed, more serious? Maybe you want to learn how to fly planes or how to finance living abroad. What skills don’t you have that you’ve found yourself desiring? Write it all down here. Anything and everything that peaks your curiosity.

Remember to reserve judgment—even continue using the third person (“she” or “he” instead of “I”) to distance yourself—nothing is too big or too small, too complex or too petty. It’s all important to the big picture.

Some sample statements (aggregate snippet of mine and some friends’ first rounds):

*Notice some of these statements are specific, some are general—both are okay at this stage.

  • She knows how to fly a plane
  • He speaks Spanish, English, and Japanese (semi-fluently) 
  • She understands how neuroscience impacts business and productivity
  • She has an MBA (focused on X, Y, Z)
  • He has a PhD in Behavioral Economics      

 

Exercise 2B: Envisioning Your Individual Revolution

Following a similar process as the exercises above, use the third person and try to let yourself dream big as you move into this exercise. Using statements, words, phrases, quotes—whatever works best for you—describe the outcomes you want for your future self. The big question here is: What do you want to do/create in your life? Think about the way you might want to change the world, your lifestyle, or improve the lives of those around you—how your gifts, skills, passions and curiosities (cumulatively or individually) could lead to some sort of forward motion, movement, or initiative in life.

Some example statements (aggregate snippet of mine and some friends’ first rounds):

*Notice some of these statements are specific, some are general—both are okay at this stage.

  • He has written a book (about X, Y, Z)
  • She has started a company (to X, Y, Z)
  • He is financially autonomous
  • She creates opportunities for individuals to achieve their dreams
  • He spends time with her family and friends
  • She constantly seeks out new people and challenges (by X, Y, Z)
  • She owns a house (in XYZ)
  • He travels internationally
  • She has worked in a startup environment (doing X, Y, Z)
  • He dresses well and carries himself confidently
  • She volunteers regularly with non-profit organizations
  • He helps underprivileged women prepare for new careers
  • She has taught one child to read
  • She spends time outdoors (doing X, Y, Z … in order to P, D, Q)
  • He speaks publicly to increase awareness (about X, Y, Z)

 

So What’s Next?

Looking up, admiring the breathtaking growth of this tree, from sapling to "Father of the Forest," in the Redwood Forests in Northern California, USA. 

Looking up, admiring the breathtaking growth of this tree, from sapling to "Father of the Forest," in the Redwood Forests in Northern California, USA. 

This is a lot for one blog post… and for those who participate, it signifies a huge step in the direction of triangulating your purpose. But what I’ve shared above is by no means the complete process (which is iterative and ever-evolving). What we’ve discussed here is all about creating a VISION of who you are, who you want to become, what you know, what you want to learn, and what you want to change in the world. Getting your arms (and your head) around what that vision entails (or doesn’t) is the foundation for figuring out what your path ahead looks like—what gets included and excluded—and how we go about making your vision into reality.

Purpose Triangulation Series | Part 2: Action

The next step is to take the insights garnered from these exercises and place them into the context of your current life, opportunities, and reality. In the second part of this Purpose Triangulation series, we’ll talk about how to realize your vision using organization, phasing, and opportunity mapping exercises.

Stay tuned and, as always, please share any feedback, tips, questions, or requests in the comments! 

 

Up Next: 

  • Remote Reflection: One Month on the Move (Mexico City, MX) 
  • Millenials—Not Just a Generation—A Mindset

 

 

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A Practical Guide to Living Intentionally

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A Practical Guide to Living Intentionally

If you told me a year ago that my life would look the way it does today, I probably would’ve slapped you. 

In my last post I touched on intentionality as the gateway to living the life you desire. As I write this, I’m sitting in the hot Mexican sun on a balcony in Cancun with a fellow digital nomad, after flying in from Mexico City last night. Today, I worked from the beach, the pool, and this balcony. The rest of 2017 includes residing in a different city each month, learning new languages, writing my first book, and connecting with my Remote Year family of eighty, along with local businesses, entrepreneurs, students, professors, and community leaders to excavate some truths about how innovation happens around the globe during this Emergent Era. 

Intentionality brought me here, and it continues to move me in the direction I want to go. Scrap that; I continue to move myself in the direction I want to go.     

 

Find What Makes You Happy. Then Prioritize It... Fiercely. 

My father says something to his children regularly; “You can be anything you want, but you can’t be everything.” I spent the better half of a decade scoffing at him and at the thought, proudly professing that I intended to be everything… And if I’m being honest, secretly thinking, “I already am.” 

Alright. So you’re everything. I’ll accept that premise. How do you begin to string all that juicy goodness together into one coherent life, chock-full of passion, meaning, and all the “everything” you have within? Intentionality, at this point, becomes a game of curation.  

Let’s be very clear about this one—being, having, or doing anything you want is different from doing whatever you want. In fact, in many cases, it requires the exact opposite. In order to get to a space where you can be anything you want, you must first set yourself up for a life that allows you the space to spend the majority of your energy pursuing that one thing. 

The first step, then, is to examine the most important question: what do I really want? 

Elizabeth Gilbert, best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love, has an awesome TED Talk about the drive to keep creating wherein she talks about finding your “home.” Home, in this case, being “whatever in the world you love more than you love yourself. … That thing to which you can dedicate your energies with such singular devotion that the ultimate results become inconsequential.” I love this definition of “home.” For Ms. Gilbert, “home” is writing. And for you? 

I don’t know, Erin. How the hell does someone answer that?!

Easy, tiger. You’ve been answering this question all your life. Figuring out what you want requires you to get comfortable playing the role of curator: triangulation, analysis, self-reflection and awareness, and context. So when people ask me how or where to begin, I always say the same thing: what do you love most? Where is your happy place? What do you find yourself gravitating toward in your work, your hobbies, your life?  You don’t just create your purpose (though that’s part of it); you find it. 

You’ve been leaving yourself breadcrumbs just by existing the way you do in the world. 

 

Get Comfortable Playing the Role of Curator.

My Moleskine journals have traveled the world with me starting in May 2010, and still do. 

My Moleskine journals have traveled the world with me starting in May 2010, and still do. 

In my first post, I cited five easy steps to get started with intentionality. One of those is keeping a journal. What does that do? It gives you one place to record your feelings, activities, reactions, desires. Journals are a veritable gold mine for discovering your home. If you have one, go back and give it a read. What trends or patterns do you see? Things you love? Things you hate? Things you didn’t realize you do as often as you might in actuality are killer clues to help you get to the point—to your “home.” Keep in mind, also, that a “journal” doesn’t have to be a Moleskine full of ink—it can be an Instagram account, your Facebook, your photos—the list is endless. Just pick a place and get started. 

Interviewing, for example, played a huge role in my self-awareness and life curation. When we look at our “careers,” whatever they may be, and distill all those years of blood, sweat, tears—victories and disappointments—down into an elevator pitch for a potential employer, we are forced, as with any storytelling endeavor, to pull out the most salient points and highlight them. 

So how do you talk about your story? If you had five minutes to tell someone why you’re exceptional, what you want, what you’ve done, what you’ve failed at, what you’ve learned, what you despise, and what you’re curious about—what would you say? 

Understand also that “home” does not always look like one simple thing. This is where the curation piece comes in; once you pull the major themes out of your “journal,” list them all. They may or may not seem related. That’s okay. Lately, my list looks something like this:

This list is far from exhaustive, but it serves as a decent illustration of a starting point. When you see all those things laid out, you can begin to imagine some ways of being that start to tie pieces together.

I used a couple reflection/mapping exercises, which I’ll be sharing here soon, to get to this point—living life according to what is most important to me. Most people look at those living life intentionally, focused on what they consider most important, and think it happened overnight or by some divine intervention. It doesn’t. It’s messy. It takes time. It happens in small moments and revelations that eventually coalesce into something beautiful.

Say you wake up one morning and realize nothing in your life aligns to your passion, purpose, or happiness. You quit your job, sell your belongings, and board a plane to some beautiful destination to think and figure out who you are. We’ve all heard this story before. And for some people this might work, however, I’d recommend a much more pragmatic approach to shifting gears and transforming your life. I’ve had many friends, colleagues, acquaintances look at my current situation and marvel… The truth is, my journey to intentionality began years ago. So did yours. More on my personal story later—let’s get back to you.

 

Strap In—This is a Marathon, Not a Sprint.

We’ve talked a little about finding what makes you happy; the next step is to prioritize whatever that is. As I’ve said, the path to purposed living is not a short jaunt down the road—it’s a commitment that requires patience, persistence, and nurturing. There are three key things that come to mind in terms of setting oneself up for success here: getting organized, starting with the step in front of you, and playing by your own rules.  

1. Get Organized. 

Organization. Bleh. Killer of creativity. What a drag. …False. As a natural “type B” personality, organization is a learned skill for me. I used to avoid it as I believed the above—that order must surely be the enemy of creativity. In some ways, sure, chaos begets creativity. Just as procrastination can give you the beautiful gift of thinking on your feet, disorganization can deliver a few gems of innovative thought as you detangle bits and pieces and receive insights therein. The time it takes to set your life up in a set of clear systems, tools, and automated practices can take away from the time you spend actually creating amazing content.

However, the downside to disorganization is dark. A lack of clarity around unfinished business can (and, I’d argue, will) sit in the back of your mind and eat away at the energy you spend doing the things that truly matter—whatever that is for you. So set a schedule for yourself. Start with an hour. Make a list of the things that you avoid dealing with, the issues and obstacles that require an irritating departure from the things you actually want to do, and begin there.

1.     List your responsibilities and categorize them.  

2.     Automate, automate, automate. Get a good view of your productivity tools and how you best leverage them to do as little as possible to keep the trivial bits of “adulting” on track.

3.     Make a plan for the things you cannot automate.

4.     Schedule time for regular check-in maintenance.

5.     Audit and iterate over time. Are there ways you can further simplify? Better tools? Tasks or responsibilities that are not relevant to your focus? Save some time to repeat steps 1-3 so you are sure to be using your time and energy most effectively.

Remember—you are not the only one trying to get organized; there are a ton of articles, videos, and conversations with friends that can help you find little gems to get there. Use them.  

 

2. Start with the Step in Front of You.

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This is a big one. Most people give up on their dreams because they loom so large that they must surely be unattainable. As humans, we like to fit things neatly into boxes. Dreams don’t work that way. Attaining them is often a battle, a struggle—at times full of fear, uncertainty, and failure. When I get overwhelmed I like to think of something a great friend once said to me when I was nearly paralyzed with stress preparing for a career shift and a year abroad.

“Start with the step in front of you.” Wow. What a concept. I’m sure you’ve heard something similar before—I have too. Chunking, breaking things down into bite-sized pieces, eating the proverbial elephant… All ways of saying the same thing. But for some reason, when I feel overwhelmed this doesn’t require mapping out all the pieces and attacking one.. it keeps the barrier to entry even lower—just look for that next foothold. One thing to take you forward.

The results are usually incredible and often surprising. So give it a shot. Do one thing today, no matter how big or small, to bring you closer to finding or living in alignment with your passion and purpose. Getting started is more important than just about anything else.

 

3. Play by Your Own Rules.

“Opportunity Cost: the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.” You might know it as “FOMO,” or “fear of missing out.” We are constantly bombarded with external influence—friends, media, work, relationships, adventures, new skills—a million possibilities for how to be, how to spend our time and energy. Once you focus yourself on your dream, you must defend it… sometimes even from yourself.

I like to think of it as playing by my own rules. Some of my close friends have very different careers with different hours and expectations, which occasionally resulted in our deep conversations extending out into the early hours of the morning on a weekday. Bringing myself to the following workday with only a couple hours sleep was something I could handle once in a while, but would’ve destroyed me long-term. So I learned to compromise and say, “It’s 11pm… I’ve got to head out.”

There is an (ever-expanding) set of activities that move me in the direction of my objectives and a plethora of possibilities that take me in alternative directions. It’s just a matter of moderation. I won’t assert that only making choices in strict alignment with your purpose is the way to go; flexibility, distractions, unrelated opportunities can definitely still hold value.

 

All this to say... If you follow your heart, you cannot fail.

I'd love to hear your strategies and practices for living intentionally... If you have tips, experiences, or questions to share, please leave a comment! 

 

Up Next: 

  • Step Two: Triangulating Purpose
  • "Millennial" is a Mindset—Not a Generation

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You Make Your World.

Have you ever paused for a moment, amidst all the chaos and pressure of your daily life, and wondered, “Wait—why am I doing this? Why am I here? Where am I going? How did this happen?”

I’m not talking about viewing your day-to-day routine and activities as meaningless, but rather as a series of random or repetitive events, happening at the speed of light, through which you move almost unconsciously. I’m talking about a cycle of similarity, comfort—dare I say—complacency?

Maybe you’re sick of doing the same thing every day. Maybe you spend hours on commuting, at a job you care little about, or just have trouble seeing any real cumulative impact to the activities that make up your life. Regardless, if you’ve ever come to this point in your life, you know immediately that you have two choices: continue in tepid ambivalence or find a way to make a change.

When this moment hit me, I was caught up working ninety hour weeks in tech at a job I actually really cared about, but outside of which I spent very little time or energy building the rest of my life. While the work was rewarding, I had the “brick wall” moment after winning an award that meant a great deal to me, because it acknowledged the impact I’d had on my colleagues through the work I’d spent years pouring my existence and energy into evolving. After the big moment and subsequent celebration with co-workers, I went home to my beautiful place in California and cried alone in my bedroom. My work had been acknowledged, I was honored and humbled, and yet I felt nothing but a profound emptiness. A void I’d been distracting myself from for what I am now sure had been decades. A deep denial of self, despite my avid belief that I was walking the path made for me. 

You see, I’d been tricked. I was living a life that I had been taught meant “success.” When I told people where I lived, what I did for a living, how I spent my time and energy, they all marveled at the picture I’d painted for them. And sure, it was a beautiful picture. A great story… for them. The thing is, as you may suspect, it is not for our parents, our peers, our professors to define success for us; that is a task that can only be undertaken by each of us. It should not be taken lightly, but rather with reverence and regularity.

Okay. So where does that leave us? Once you’ve gained an awareness of the above, you might wonder how the hell you’re to start moving in the right direction. Don’t freak out. Just take a deep breath, celebrate this little (read: HUGE) awakening, and read on for some simple first steps to get you going.

 

Step One: Choosing Intentionality

Alright—this one may sound obvious but it is absolutely critical. Once you’ve become aware of the desire to evolve your lifestyle into one of purposed action, there is a choice to be made. Like many important decisions in life, this is not a choice made once and never revisited; it is a daily, sometimes hourly, set of choices to remain “tuned in” and dedicated to the path ahead of you.

Let’s talk for a moment about what “intentionality” means. For our purposes, this basically means thoughtfully directing the elements your daily life. Think of yourself as a designer or an architect—you have one life and full control of what that life looks like. If you need some help putting the (very limited) time we have as humans into perspective, this article offers great visual representation of life broken down by the relationships that matter most.

You’ll start to pay attention to how you spend your time and, more importantly, your energy. You’ll analyze the value of any given activity against your goals. You’ll need to carve out time to reflect and nurture the vision you set for your life.

It’s easy enough to say—just decide you want to make a change… it is much more difficult to actually implement the motions that will help you achieve your desired results. So now that you know “buying in” is the first step, let’s talk about some tactics you can employ to help keep this point top-of-mind until it becomes a habit.

1.     Find Five Minutes, Twice a Day, to Pause

2.     Keep a Journal

3.     Schedule Time to be Unscheduled  

4.     Create a Purpose Statement

5.     Simplify, Meaningfully

 

Up Next:

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