This is a post in a series on life design.
Let’s get clear on one thing first. Why the hell do you want to change things up?
Chugging along in life is totally okay. You can stay part of the bigger machine and do your thing. You can clock in and check out, do the evening-weekend combo of groceries/gym/brunch.
That is totally okay. I promise. No judgment here. I know a ton of people who do that and love it.
But let’s just say that there is this hot, hot heat in your belly. One that whispers, “I don’t want this. We can do better here.”
Or perhaps it sounds more like, “GET THE GODLIVING HELL OUT OF HERE.”
I was the latter. I started my job four days out of university. I’d gone to the fancy school with the high achievers, fresh off a high school run that saw me trying super hard and being involved in everything. I was like a character out of an after school special, going from marching band practice to editing the school paper to volunteering at the school reunion to looking out for student safety.
I didn’t say I was the cool kid in the after school special.
I did a lot in order to be liked, to be safe, to be in control. To get the good grades. I was trying to get a handle on life after my parents split, I moved to a new country, my dad died. I think I took a lot on just to prove that I could. That the weight of marching around the school track with a bass clarinet would push down all my feelings and tears and devastation. That instrument is really heavy.
I got through university and started to panic about what came after. I remember sitting around the kitchen table, with my mom and stepdad, talking about what my undergraduate degree might set me up for. I had a lot of ideas, but I also had a lot of expectations for myself. That I should have a job with a cubicle and a phone and a computer and retirement savings plans. That I should have something that would require pencil skirts and blouses. That I should start at the bottom, and work my way through that organizational chart. That I should be doing what everyone else was doing.
So in a panic, I took that job four days after moving out of university, and in a whirlwind of moving, shopping and adulting, I was sitting at that cubicle with a phone line, a computer and a blouse. It was safe, and it was predictable. I was doing what I should, and in someway, it was an antidote to the aforementioned confusing life.
Over time, that little voice got louder and louder, the one that was urging me to go. I had grown in a place that had allowed me to flourish- to a point- and I was ready to figure out what was next, a luxury I hadn’t given myself when I first started in that cubicle.
I realized that for a lot of my life, I had let the expectations of others chart my life course. I failed to listen to my own self and my own intuition. I settled and then was romanced by the stability of the working world. And always trying to measure up to friends with bigger paycheques and better cubicles.
When I realized that I had to confront this bullshit rhetoric and really decide for myself, I had to get back to basics. I found that finding my “passion” was a little too ambiguous for me, and I needed more of a foundation to build my life on. Enter values.
Values were the key principles that helped to define my life. I asked myself:
• What is important?
• What resonates with me?
• When do I feel in my flow and when do things make sense?
When I got clear on my values, picking five that really, deeply resonated with me, I began to see how I could bring value to the world. When I had those five values in check, I could tap into what I was meant to do. For me, that was starting my own business. That was being a guide for people to figure out their lives. That it was being creative, and sharing my story.
With my values, I sank into the work of boundaries. Coming into these felt like a big permission slip to define my life. I knew what I valued and what principles kept me grounded and moving forward. But one of the most powerful exercises I did (and continue to do) was outlining my boundaries. I asked myself:
• What do I want?
• What do I not want?
What an exhale. Creating a black and white look at what I wanted was so refreshing- I had never truly asked myself that, but rather let myself get swept along with what I thought I wanted. What I thought the path was.
Moving into what I wanted, and creating a bold line between that and what I didn’t want, also allowed me to peer into the future. Where did I want to go, what did I want to do? These were powerful questions that focused on all aspects of my life, not just my career.
I did all of this, still at my job. I realized early on that I needed to have a solid plan geared towards my next level in life. Doing this self-discovery was powerful. It motivated me in the low points, and gave me something to work towards outside my cubicle. By outlining what I wanted in my life, I could start the next step— reverse engineering my life to make it so.
A final note: whatever you want, where ever you land with this step, remember: if you want to change, do it. No one will do it for you.
Acknowledge that doing this is not a task to be taken lightly. You are literally opting to take a step out from predictability and comfort, but stepping into a better life.