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.
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.
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!
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