What happens if you have a myriad of interests, ideas and goals for what you want to do in your life, but don’t know how to make them all fit into one big vision?
We think we have to choose because we haven’t got enough time to satisfy them all, and they represent fifty different jobs and industries.
We think we have to compromise.
We think we can’t have everything, we have to decide which ideas we want the most and stick with that.
We wonder whether we’ll even like it if we get it.
Take my interests for example.
Who has a life where you get to talk to people over coffee (or organic rooibos tea), travel, do photography, write, have ideas, work with creative people who are talented, fun and lovely, share funny stories and things that inspire you and have technology that you love. And learn languages, go and sit in Italian churches, eat yummy pasta and fly BA all the time? Who works when they want and gets to dance as much as they want. Who has spent a few months at a time with their family and determines their own schedule? And learns about random subjects such as the financial markets, church history and how cars work? And goes on wonderful sailing trips on the rolling seas?
ME! I actually have this life NOW!
It’s amazing compiling this list because last week I was reading with wide eyes, my early notebooks with these random words in which represented my ideal life: sailing, writing, photography, dancing, Italy, good food, technology.
I didn't make it fit into what I had then (as it’s so easy to think we have to do). I dreamed it, envisioned it, and then created it.
Ok so HOW did I do it?
I wrote it down
It’s all very well having the ideas in your head, but the separate thoughts you have can bang up against each other and seemingly conflict. Not to mention that when you have squillions of ideas about what you want to do, they can be quite hard to keep track of. When I harnessed my thoughts, dreams, activities I loved to do and wanted to try, subjects I’ve always thought about studying and ways of being, feelings, ideas, desires, by writing them down, it made them real.
My ‘One big piece of paper’ exercise (I know - succinctly named!) appears in my ebook (you can get this for free when you sign up to my newsletter) because it gave me a great moment of clarity. There was something satisfying about seeing ‘yourself’ - all you hope and dream your life to be about - in one place, even if just in a spider diagram!
It makes it real because by writing it down, you’re acting as a witness to your soul. It cements the value or your ideas, a little gravitas for a desire. Writing things down means you can go back to them, as a reference, and in later time: a comfort, a way to centre yourself or an inspiration.
I began to draw a picture
Just in my head at first.
I asked myself where I would live, what would be there every day, if everything was perfect. I felt myself there in this wonderful picture and asked myself what I was doing. If I had everything I wanted (and you really have to ‘pretend’ you’re there, get into the zone type thing) what was I doing? Gradually a picture of me speaking emerged. I’d already been able to see myself writing regularly and I had done some coaching by then as well, so I wanted to include coaching as well. I was dancing several times a week, I had time for yoga and a leisurely morning routine and I was speaking another language fluently.
The picture you create can take a little time to unfold. My advice is: notice what’s coming into the picture and if it doesn’t absolutely make you excited, get rid of it. If you’re worried about how much it costs, don’t. Just let yourself dream. The ‘How will it all happen?’ panic can also be a way to trip ourselves up. Just knowing we want it is the most important for now.
My picture also includes learning, and I now have specific 'learning time’ scheduled into my week, because I know that learning (however random the subject) is really important to me.
I got specific
For some of us, when we look at all the activities on our one big piece of paper, we’d be right in wondering how we would have time to do them all, because that’s a lot of classes or weekends taken up if we signed up to starting all the things we long to start.
So get specific. I started asking myself questions around all the vague words I’d written down. One word that was coming up for me was ‘sailing.'
Did I want to be a sailor? How many times a year did I want to sail? Would I like to own a yacht or just borrow one? Who did I want to sail with? My answers led me to realise I loved the experience, but I didn’t want to embrace the whole lifestyle, or be creating income from it.
This takes the pressure of the big leaps we make from ‘If I want to sail all the time, I need to buy a yacht...where will I get the money?’ to ‘What experience do I want?' and 'How often do I want to have this experience?’ [See more from last week’s post on identifying the experience.]
Barbara Sher has a great exercise which helped me get specific around things I loved to do. Firstly, I made a column list of 20 activities I love to do, that make me feel alive, that I’ve dreamed of doing and I wished I could do. Then beside each one I would write:
- How long since I last did the activity
- Whether it was spontaneous or planned
- Whether I would do the activity alone or with someone
- Whether it costs money or is it free
- How often I would like to do the activity (daily, occasionally, weekly, annually etc)
[She had a few more categories but I found these to be the most helpful see her book Wishcraft, Chapter 3, exercise 7] Mine had things like ‘eat sushi’ ‘sing’ ‘read in the sunshine’ and more vague ones such as ‘travel’ and ‘learn things’.
This gave me two extremely helpful insights.
1) the more specific I was about the activity (for example, 'reading books in the sunshine') the more easily I could see myself doing them, and not only that, but I could see how many of the activities I could get started with quite easily.
and 2), I had to think about how often I liked doing each activity or how much time I wanted to be doing the activity in my dream life.
Again, just putting it all down on paper helped me get clear. And getting clear prompted me to get going.
Back to sailing. If you’re a subscriber to my newsletter, you know I love the sea. I had been on a wonderful sailing trip a few years before (my first experience sailing as an adult) but I had just been a passenger, I hadn’t crewed for anyone.
With sailing, I felt that I was prevented from getting very specific around my wants, because I didn’t know what it would be like. So I found a way to test it out, to experiment with what I liked about the activity and what parts I enjoyed and didn’t enjoy. I used some savings and, taking advantage of a long weekend, I booked myself on an RYA Competent Crew sailing course. It was wonderful! And it clarified this: that I liked to go on extended (overnight) sailing trips rather than day trips, I enjoyed sailing with at least 4 other people in a larger yacht and would satisfy this desire by going at least once a year.
If it’s a ‘new’ activity for you - try it out. I had written down ‘fencing’ as an interest (possibly because of Colin Firth’s efforts in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice). And one March day a couple of years ago, I satisfied that desire by taking an introductory fencing course - a morning of learning the basics. This was enough for me, I just wanted to have a go.
The right time
One of the items in my notebook and on my big piece of paper was ‘History' and one of the specifics was 'learning about the Tudors'. I’d learnt about Henry VII and the War of the Roses, Henry VIII and all his wives and Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada at the beginning of secondary school. It had intrigued me then and yet I could hardly recall much more than the bare facts. Later on, during college, I’d submitted a piece of coursework on the Armada, and I’d even looked at a history degree course when applying for University.
Yet I’d forgotten about this interest, until I was browsing through netflix one cold winter’s night, wanting to watch a good story. I came across Showtime’s TV series The Tudors. This version does admit to historical inaccuracies (I quite often flicked between Wikipedia pages! to see what was artistic license) but it’s very good fun to watch, with lots of drama.
I haven’t done everything yet. I still have interests to incorporate and factor in. Yet I no longer panic that I have to choose between them or settle for some version of something I don’t want. I know I don’t have to choose, I have to get clear. I may have to experiment or try it out, but I know that will mean clarity on how it all fits together.
So - your go! And feel free to ask questions in the comments below.