Below is a little illustration I posted to Instagram, which many of you (as in like… DOZENS of you) commented on with a collective AMEN and I figured that served as an indication to me that this topic might be one worth going deeper on. When I posted this image, I remember the exact state I was in, and maybe it’s one you can relate to it.
Just a few moments before I had realized I was feeling uncharacteristically tired (typically an indicator something is out of sync), so I took a second out of my day to ask WHY? (High five for recognizing my own indicators that something is off; Double five for getting curious about it!)
Without realizing it, over the previous few weeks I had let myself drift back into an exhausting state of “success chasing.”
“Success chasing” is what I call the state where I’m fueled more by my desire for external validation than I am by my satisfaction with internal validation.
When we think of someone “successful” what attributes immediately spring to mind?
A person who is has name recognition perhaps, whose work is visible on a larger scale than most. Someone who makes good money, maybe has a fancy title, has accumulated accolades or milestones that are recognized as metrics of achievement.
But that’s the thing… all of those attributes have to do with sources of external validation.
External validation is validation that comes from outside of us. It’s a feeling of satisfaction that is dependent upon the opinions of other people. It’s when other people say they like us, or other people offer us accolades and acknowledge them, or when other people see we’re financially well off.
But, external validation is a fickle beast. If your happiness or sense of contentment relies on the opinions of other people, you’re entrusting your happiness to someone other than yourself—and that’s a risky move.
Internal validation, on the other hand, puts the control back in your own hands. Internal validation comes from within us. It’s a satisfaction that doesn’t rely on the opinions of other people, only the opinion of ourselves. For me, internal validation comes from recognizing that my actions match my values, plain and simple.
“For me, internal validation comes from recognizing that my actions match my values, plain and simple.”
Therefore, that is my definition of success: making sure my actions are in alignment with my values.
External validation is a hole that can never filled. When we reach a milestone and get a pat on the back from our peers, it’s not as though we stop craving that feeling of success. Instead, we keep chasing the next opportunity to feel that way. Hence, “success chasing.”
Now the trickiest part of success chasing is that it often disguises itself as motivation. And motivation feels like a very good thing—it fuels us to go after our goals.
The problem, though, is when motivation is coming from a place of lacking—the distance between ourselves and that external validation we crave.
We see what we want. We realize we don’t have it. We work hard to get it. Right? Well unfortunately that particular line of logic also means that our work is stemming from what we don’t have.
The world around us not only feeds us messages reminding us of what we don’t have, but it also makes it pretty clear there are a few traditional things we should have: million dollar businesses, big girlboss-y teams to nurture, and a rapidly growing fan base.
But… there is an alternative based on internal validation instead.
There’s another kind of fuel that actually comes from internal validation instead. It comes from recognizing not what you want to achieve but how you want to feel. Not what you want the outcome to be, but what you want the process to be.
Instead of success chasing, it’s what I call creative satisfaction (satisfaction as in fulfillment, literally the opposite of lacking.) It’s that feeling that you’re designing your life in a way that’s deeply aligned with your values. It’s a fullness; an integration.
And that feeling creates its own kind of fuel, a different kind of propulsion that isn’t rooted in a sense of lacking or deficiency. Instead it’s one that’s rooted in abundance—an overflowing sense of joy, authenticity confidence.
Here’s a little diagram to show you the difference as it sits in my head (I’m a sucker for diagrams!):
In our culture, we often label the external validation framework as the one that outlines the path to “success.”
Why? Because it’s the one we can see.
It’s the one that gives us things we can measure like money and followers and best-selling books and website traffic.
The other framework is much more personal and intangible. Oftentimes, the only one who can even identify it or quantify it is the person engaging in it.
In fact, most of us would probably agree that out of the two, it’s the only one that’s really sustainable.
Again, in the traditional version, the joke is actually on us because we never actually catch up to that nebulous benchmark of external validation. We experience tiny milestones along the way, but without cultivating a practice of appreciation, we end up staying in that “hungry” state, resulting in an excruciatingly endless hunt.
And the other framework? Well that’s the one I finally came around to with my revised definition of success in that first illustration.
I found my way back to it by reminding myself that every Monday morning I wake up with equal amounts of peace and excitement. No dread, no expectations hanging over my head, no orders to follow. I’ve reached a point in my professional life where I thankfully control every facet of how I run my business, and that includes NOT waking up on Mondays in a frenzy. It also includes making things I love, that I’m proud of, and answering ultimately to my intuition.
As a sensitive and creative soul who values flexibility, that is my ideal. That is living life in alignment with my values.
Another reason to shift our success metric from achievement to alignment is because it removes the need to constantly compare ourselves to others.
Throughout my career, there have been several times when self-doubt has crept in my head as I’ve seen someone doing something similar to my work and the question has popped into my head:
Is there even room for one more personal growth blog?
Is there even room for one more acrylic abstract artist?
Is there even room for one more online business in a sea of so many?
Have you asked yourself a version of this too? My guess is you have because this is a cunning way for our Fear to stop us from ever trying or pursuing the projects that call to us. “There’s already so many ____________ out there, why should I even bother.” That’s a convenient way for us to excuse ourselves from making things or taking a risk, isn’t it?
But it’s a question born out of a scarcity mentality about how the world works. What does this idea of ROOM mean anyway? It assumes that there is one Table of Valid Successful People and that there is a finite number of chairs around that table.
But that’s kind of BS, right? Life is not a zero sum game. There is no such table, and there certainly isn’t a finite number of ways for us to become Valid Successful People.
And that’s when you start to ask yourself: What is “success” anyway?
This question of “room” inadvertently defines success based on achievement rather than alignment.
When we ask ourselves “Is there room for me?”, what we are actually asking is “Is there room for me to be successful?” We don’t realize it, but it’s our ego hungering for validation and fearing failure.
No longer do I define “success” exclusively in the sense that people buy my products or like the things I make. Those things rely on achieving some form of external validation, and I’ve found that no matter what milestone I hit when pursuing external validation, ultimately it only leads my ego to hunger for more or to aim even higher. In other words, it’s a recipe for dissatisfaction.
On the flip-side of that, however, alignment-based success says that my goal is to design a life and business where I can live out my core values on a daily basis. That is the source of all things good for me: happiness, satisfaction and freedom.
So when I ask “Is there room for me?” and I do so in the context of comparison or self-doubt, I’m slowly allowing myself to drift right back in that old achievement-based success framework, one where something isn’t worth doing unless I can gain financial success and visibility. That’s NOT what I want my life to be about chasing after.
When I shift this framework back to alignment, I can ask the question again, this time with a clarifying addition:
“Is there room for me to do the work my heart is calling me to do?”
When I frame it that way, I’m able to see that the primary goal in pursuing this idea or project in the first place is to express my core self. To follow a hunch or a passion or a curiosity or desire that is stemming from inside the deepest part of me.
And when I frame it that way, I can see much more clearly this definitive answer: YES.
There is room for me and there is room for you and there is room for us ALL to make the things we’re called to make. There’s a galaxy’s worth of infinite room where we can all try and learn and experiment and teach and lift each other up as we do so.
If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this article and my wacky diagrams, it’s this:
Keep in mind though, if you do select Diagram #2—the path of alignment—you WILL have to choose it over and over and over again. Your instinct WILL be to drift back into Diagram#1 and into the chase for external validation. You’ll want the milestone, the public pats on the back, that glorious feeling of being accepted into the tribe of humanity.
Trust me though, all of that will ring hollow compared to the glorious, sustaining satisfaction of being accepted BY YOUR INNER SELF every single day.
Last week I came across an interview of Maria Popova, founder of Brain Pickings, on 99u.com and this excerpt that speaks to this notion perfectly:
“…I frequently get emails from young people starting out and asking, ‘How do I make a successful website or start my own thing?’ And, very often, it’s tied to some measure of success that’s audience-based or reach-based.’How do you build up to seven million readers a month or two million Facebook fans?’ But the work is not how to get that size of an audience or those numbers. That’s just the byproduct of what Lewis Hyde calls ‘creative labor,’ which is really our inner drive. The real work is how not to hang your self-worth, your sense of success and merits, the fullness of your heart, and the stability of your soul on those numbers—on that constant positive reinforcement and external validation. That’s the only real work, and the irony is that the more “successful” you get, by either your own standards or external standards, the harder it is to decouple all of those inner values from your work. I think we often confuse the doing for the being.”
A few weeks ago I was gifted a Five-Minute Journal and every day the journal has a line for you to write your own “I am” affirmation—a guiding belief that you can repeat every day to yourself. Here’s mine:
I challenge you to redefine your own idea of success and write your own “I am successful because” statement, one that acknowledges the way(s) that you are already a success—to no one else but YOU.
Remember, this doesn’t mean that you have to stop striving, stop wanting to be better, or stop trying to create a brighter life. It just means that you take a moment of gratitude for how far you’ve already come.
When you already feel successful, you move forward from a place of abundance, not scarcity.
When you are fueled from that place of creative satisfaction, you’re striving from a sense of peace, not poverty; fullness, not famine. From a place of WANT, not from a place of need.
I hope this article has given you the permission you need to redefine success on your own terms. Be careful not to confuse the doing with the being, dear friends.
Over the years I’ve dealt with feeling lost on many occasions. Whether it was taking my first step into the world of entrepreneurship (working for myself) or leaving behind a “successful” business (IWearYourShirt).
Feeling lost seems to be part of the human equation. Something we all have to deal with at different times in our lives, whether we like it or not.
In May 2013, I attended a small conference in Fargo, North Dakota. I’d never been to Fargo before and the only thing I knew about the conference was that I was a speaker, and it was going to be a small, hand-crafted event put on by my friends AJ and Melissa Leon (of Misfit Inc).
Backing up for a moment, at the time (May 2013) I was running my IWearYourShirt business and things were in a huge state of flux. Actually, let’s just call it like it is: My business was failing completely and I was 100% burnt out.
My IWearYourShirt business had been my life-blood for the previous five years. It changed me as a person. It brought me amazing opportunities in life. It taught me so many lessons about running my own business. It also helped me build my first (awesome) community of friends, followers, and customers. But IWearYourShirt also took over my life, robbed me of all my time, and left me $100,000 in debt and 50 pounds overweight.
When my wife and I boarded the flight from Jacksonville, Florida to Fargo, North Dakota, I knew I was at a breaking point. Something had to give, I just didn’t know it would happen in front of a room full of strangers.
Let’s back up even further for a moment. In 2007 I left the 9-5 corporate world to start my first entrepreneurial venture. I took a huge risk to leave a super comfortable career as a web designer, to start my own design company with a friend. I had my first inkling of feeling lost at my comfortable 9-5 job. I felt out of place sitting in a beige cubicle. I felt incredible resistance to mundane meetings. I certainly didn’t see my work as meaningful, nor was I ever proud to share it with anyone other than my boss (for his approval, so he’d keep paying me).
I felt the least lost when I was in control of my day and my decisions.
As it turned out, working for a corporation or in my own first design company I realized I wasn’t really passionate about web design, websites, finding great clients, or any of that. I found that I liked working for myself and calling all my own shots. I felt the least lost when I was in control of my day and my decisions.
During the year and a half that I ran my own design company with a friend, the idea for IWearYourShirt came to me. I remember that idea giving me an incredible feeling of purpose. It wasn’t even a business yet, heck there wasn’t even a logo for it, but the idea itself gave me hope. It gave me a direction to go in. It gave me something that felt bigger than myself and something truly unique.
The first time I ever got over the feeling of being lost was when I chased a big idea and allowed it to have space in my life.
Having a mini emotional-meltdown on stage in front of a room of strangers helped me realize I was lost and forced me to start dealing with feelings I’d been internalizing.
Getting back to the beginning of this story, being a speaker at Misfit Conf presented me with a weird opportunity. I wasn’t new to public speaking and sharing my IWearYourShirt story with a room full of strangers, but this was the first time when I felt like I would be a fraud if I pretended everything was okay. If I just stood on stage and spewed the same stories I’d done the previous few years at countless speaking events around the country.
Instead, as I took the stage in front of 100+ people I didn’t know, I decided to admit I was feeling lost.
I remember sitting on a chair and saying out loud, “Normally I’d tell you all the good things I have going on in my life, but I can lie to you or myself any longer. My IWearYourShirt business is failing and I have to be honest about it.”
I don’t remember the next 45 minutes of my talk. That’s the honest truth. All I remember is snapping back into focus, seeing a room full of people with tears in their eyes, standing and clapping, and me feeling an incredible weight lifted off my shoulders.
For the first time in five years, I’d told a group of people that things weren’t going well. Every day prior to that I’d put on a face and a show.
I’d pretended and forced myself to say that life was perfect. I thought if I didn’t do that my community would abandon me and no one would pay me money ever again.
I stepped off the stage to a group of 100+ strangers who welcomed me with open arms. Where I’d been thinking people would ridicule me for admitting things weren’t going well, I was instead met with love and encouragement (truthfully I think Misfit Conf was the best possible place I could have had this emotional meltdown – that group was/is something really special).
I had been dealing with feeling lost for months (maybe even years) leading up to that talk in Fargo, North Dakota. But instead of trying to acknowledge being lost, I suppressed my feelings and didn’t change anything. I tried to strong-arm my way through my problems, not realizing that I was merely putting tiny band-aids on a gaping open wound. When I took the stage, poured my heart and soul out, and was accepted for my failings, it was as if a switch was flipped.
My wife and I boarded our flight back to Florida and we spent the next few hours talking about everything we’d change.
But without change, I realized I’d just keep digging myself further and further into a hole. I’d ignore problems and I’d hurt myself and the people around me that I cared about most.
At that same conference, another speaker took the stage and his name was Joshua Fields Millburn. With his beautifully coiffed hair, he spoke about his life and how lost he had been at certain times. His story really resonated with where I was in my life and I was eager to learn how he solved his own issues.
That’s when I learned about minimalism. Not about getting rid of everything you own and only having one chair in your entire home, but looking at everything you own (and choose to spend your time on) and deciding if those things are actually bringing you value.
It may sound silly to say that getting rid of a few household items made me feel empowered, but it’s absolutely true. The stuff we surround ourselves with takes more of a mental toll than we can see. When YOU are the one to remove something from your life that is no longer serving you, it feels great.
My wife and I started with our closet, getting rid of garbage bag after garbage of clothing we no longer wore. Clothing from our time in college. Clothing from when we were another size in our lives (damn you teenage slender years!). Clothing that we bought on a whim because we thought retail therapy would make us feel better about the things we had going wrong in our lives. It may be hard to believe, but my wife and I spent multiple hours in our closet laughing our way through getting rid of mountains of unused items.
From our closet, we moved on to other rooms in our home. It didn’t happen in one weekend. Our process of decluttering took weeks/months. But then I decided it was time to apply minimalism not only just to the stuff in our home, but also the business we ran out of our home: IWearYourShirt.
On May 6, 2013, I shut the doors to my IWearYourShirt business. As weird as it may sound, posting a status on Facebook about closing down my business felt better than most things had in my life at that time.
We re-painted our office, which was decorated for IWearYourShirt and all the videos I had been filming on a daily basis at that time.
From that day, we’ve continued to embrace minimalism in our lives. We sold everything in our home and kept only what we could fit in our small VW SUV and moved clear across the country to California. We’re proud to call ourselves minimalists, and we have way more than one chair!
Okay, truthfully, we only own three chairs and two stools, but that’s all we need.
In 2014 my wife and I ventured back to Fargo, North Dakota for our second Misfit Conf. We spent the entire previous year rebuilding our lives and businesses. Getting rid of the things we no longer needed, and for me, sharing more of the thoughts and feelings I was keeping pent-up.
We hadn’t fixed everything in our lives, our businesses were still in flux, we learned three valuable lessons after our second weekend in Fargo:
We all have ideas, goals, and dreams, but most often we are the ones limiting ourselves from making those things happen. It’s not money, timing, or any other factor, it’s giving ourselves the permission to just get started.
I wasn’t able to accomplish what I’d accomplished in the previous year because of luck or good timing. I intentionally changed things in my life and “sat in the chair” as Joshua Fields Millburn says. It wasn’t easy for me and it probably won’t be easy for you. The key is to make a commitment to yourself and to not do it alone. As proud of a person as I am, the best thing I did was give myself permission to start asking for help and being open to the change that comes with that help.
My wife Caroline deserves so much credit here. Not only because she was my biggest cheerleader in me giving myself permission to shut down my IWearYourShirt business and do other things, but also because she is so emotionally tuned-in and could help me navigate the thoughts and feelings I was having.
I was too proud to ask for help. I was too proud to think I could figure everything out myself. I was too proud to ask people smarter than me for advice. I was just being too damn proud.
After the second year attending Misfit Conf, I decided to let my guard down a bit in hopes of figuring some things out about myself. I’ll be the first person to admit that I used to shudder at the idea of reading a self-help book or talking to a coach of any kind.
Acknowledging that I was being too proud made me feel like I was at least taking the first step toward working on these things.
I’m not sure where my too proudness stemmed from. I can’t remember a specific story from my childhood, but I’m sure there’s something there. Nevertheless, I remember being stubborn from a young age and I needed to change that. I needed to let go of trying to be in control of everything, especially my emotions.
While I do see pride as a useful tool in certain situations, it can also be a detriment if you have too much of it.
It might be time to admit this to yourself and attempt to make a change.
This may sound dumb, but maybe you can relate. The question “what do you do?” had thrown me for quite a loop since 2009. Explaining IWearYourShirt to a random stranger in an airport who wanted to make idle chit-chat? That was always a hot mess.
I started to really resent the question especially after I shut down my IWearYourShirt business. I didn’t have an easy answer that quickly explained my weird entrepreneurial endeavors and each time I was asked thoughts of doubt and criticism swirled around in my head. I started to wonder why this question was bothering me so much and if there was a way I could fix it?
After multiple conversations with my wife, we both decided I should just accept that I was in a time of flux and experimentation. Sure, I didn’t have an easy answer at a cocktail party that could quickly define who I was and what type of work I was doing, but that started to not matter once I allowed myself to be doing a “floaty dance through life” (as my buddy Ben Rabicoff put it).
Once I came to terms with the fact that I didn’t need a clear definition of what I did for work to give me self-worth, I started to be more accepting of myself.
I never thought I’d be a writer. Heck, even as I type these words to you, it feels incongruent to the person I pictured I’d be in life. But alas, here I am. A writer. Someone who has typed millions of words, thrown the majority of them away, self-published a book, and written for many major publications. But it didn’t start that way.
Writing became my form of personal therapy.
My journey with writing consistently started with writing little blog posts about life and things that weren’t going so well.
I was incredibly nervous to hit publish and to share the first blog post I ever wrote that was the least bit vulnerable. But guess what happened? People celebrated my honesty. They didn’t critique all the bad grammar and poor sentence structure. They simply appreciated that I was willing to go out on a limb and to share something many people might not.
My writing went from a random blog post here or there from 2012-2013 to a consistent weekly post and email in 2014 to a small group of subscribers (just 400 people). Also in 2014, I self-published my first book, Creativity For Sale.
In 2015 I started writing for Inc Magazine and a few other notable media outlets while continuing to write for my own audience (a group that became known as the Action Army). In 2016 and 2017 I stopped writing for anyone else and only wrote for my own audience on JasonDoesStuff.com.
In just a few short years I went from writing random updates on a Tumblr blog to having over 500,000 people read my writing in 2017. Can you believe that? It’s hard for me to believe!
Maybe writing could be an outlet for you? You don’t have to start by publishing your writing. Maybe it’s just a journal you keep? Or a daily writing practice you do for one hour per day that lives in a Google Doc that only you know about? Give writing a shot, it was instrumental in helping me overcome feeling lost.
While I do believe some solitary activities can help, like writing, if you’re currently feeling lost you should absolutely reach out to someone. Is there a peer in whatever industry you’re in that has been down a similar path to you? Or maybe finding a therapist in your local area that is highly well reviewed? Therapy has such a negative connotation, but people like my wife swear by it (and we celebrate its effectiveness in our house!).
I’d also highly recommend giving minimalism (your own flavor of it!) a try. Decluttering your life can lift more weight off your shoulders than you’d ever imagine.
You aren’t on this journey called life alone. There are people around you who want to support and help you. Be willing to open up to them and be willing to ask for help. It was difficult for me, but it was also the best thing I’ve ever done.
Sometimes, though, I fear the way I talk about personal growth makes it seem as though once we discover what actions we want to take to live as our best selves, that seemingly overnight we’re able to simply make those changes and accomplish just that.
We decide we need to be more self-disciplined so we wake up the next day able to stay focused and on-task, and suddenly we’re living our best life.
We decide we need to rest and take better care of ourselves, so from then on we no longer overwork ourselves and burn out and, ta-da, we’ve changed!
But that’s NEVER how it actually works, is it?
It took me so long to learn this. For so long I tried this strategy: I’d find myself in a moment of “I know I’d be so much happier and brighter if I just did better with xyz.” I knew what needed to change, and maybe I even made better choices for a while, but a month or two later when I went back to my old ways, I felt like a failure. I would judge myself for sliding backward, not making that change.
That awful feeling of letting yourself down… I’ve realized that’s often the most powerful force that holds us back from real growth. We judge ourselves for “failing” and the next time we don’t even try to do better because we’re tired of feeling the guilt and disappointment of not being able to suddenly wake up and do a 180.
But last year I tried something new. I realized I needed to stop making the goal to do a complete 180-degree change in whatever area of my life I was focusing on.
Instead I started asking myself: What if I just focused on trying to get 10% better at whatever I wanted to change?
What if I just focused on trying to get 10% better at whatever I wanted to change?
What if I drank more water 10% of the time? What if I was better about reaching out to friends just 10% more? What if I managed my daily schedule better just 10% of the time?
By changing the goalpost to something so seemingly manageable, I stopped finding myself in the dreaded loop of self-judgement.
Lasting change and living your brightest life ultimately comes down to tiny micro choices. In any given moment, you can choose what feels easy and comfortable OR you can choose what that best version of yourself would choose.
Imagine you are a dial or compass pointed in one direction. Most of us view change as a complete 180 degree rotation to get ourselves pointed in a new direction. Instead, this new philosophy has me viewing change as the sum of tiny 10 degree turns toward whatever that “best” version of you looks like.
Jason calls this 10% better strategy “18 not 180” (which, coincidentally, feels especially appropriate for the year 2018).
So my challenge for you this week is to think of the one or two most pressing areas of your life or habits that you are trying to change, and I want you to try getting just 10% better.
Try rotating those measly 18 degrees, not a full 180. See if it feels easier and more doable to slowly drift toward your brightest life, rather than feeling guilty or disappointed for not being able get there overnight.
#18not180. I’m making it a thing. A gentle reminder. A mantra. A cheat code. Whatever you want to call it, I hope it helps you make 2018 your best year yet.
Thanks for reading!
It could be moving across the country or starting a new job or ending a serious relationship or deciding to start a family.
In general, Big Change can be quite terrifying, mostly because the uncertainty that it brings about is overwhelming. It’s not like you’re swapping out one tiny piece of the puzzle; it feels like you’re busting up the whole dang thing, mixing up the pieces, and starting over again.
That alone is enough to get someone’s anxiety going. But what makes Big Change even scarier is when it’s brought about by something that is not your choice.
Maybe it’s a relocation because of your job that you didn’t see coming, or a landlord deciding to sell your rental property ?, or being broken up with out of the blue, or even a family crisis that completely turns your world upside down. Whatever the circumstances, this kind of Big Change curveball can send you down an especially stressful spiral because on top of the overwhelm there is a lack of control.
I don’t know about you, but uncertainty mixed with lack of control is the recipe for my ultimate cocktail of stress (aka Anxiety On The Rocks… I do not recommend it.)
When we humans start feeling a lack of control, our natural instinct is to reassert it in any way we can. That’s why, when confronted with Big Change, you’ll likely find yourself tightening your grip on whatever reality you feel you’re about to lose.
Your mind will become preoccupied with all the parts of your day or life that will no longer be the same. Things you never paid any attention to will suddenly feel like precious treasures. (During a break-up:) We’ll never brush our teeth together in the morning again… (Or a move:) That barking dog next door is so cute, I’ll really miss him… (Or a shake-up at work:) I know I always complained about that project, but I’m going to miss complaining with Rhonda after our status meetings…
These are not the things we’re actually grieving the loss of, though. We’re actually just grieving the loss of familiarity, of comfort, of certainty.
In our case, this move wasn’t our idea. It was brought about by something completely outside of our control. Our initial reaction to that was exactly what I described above — clinging as tightly as possible to the home and life we’ve assembled over the past year and a half.
My mind became obsessed with all that we’d no longer have around us: the ocean view from our bedroom ?(#firstworldproblems), our perfect walking loop to take Plax on twice a day, our amazing neighbors that are just a few feet away.
The more I focused on these things, the sadder I became for our impending move because it was beginning to feel like a big loss.
What I started to realize though was that while those things aren’t necessarily trivial, they’re not the real source of my sense of loss. It’s not about the ocean— it’s more about losing the certainty that we’ll have a way to connect to nature every day. It’s not about our walking loop—it’s about losing the sense of comfort in a daily routine with Plax. It’s not about moving farther away from our friends—it’s about not knowing for sure that we’ll make the time to hang out and maintain our sense of community.
Once you recognize that the discomfort isn’t necessarily coming from losing the elements of your life themselves but just the overall loss of certainty, then you can work on solving that.
First, find ways to make the uncertainty of the future more concrete. List out all the positive things you know this change will bring.
With Big Change, there’s always something you’re losing but there’s also always something you’re gaining.
The secret to embracing Big Change and minimizing the discomfort of uncertainty is to shift your attention to what you’re gaining.
For us, that’s embracing the awesome new neighborhood and location our new place is in. I’m looking forward to having an entirely new environment to set up my art studio in and my workspace — those kind of changes often leave me feeling renewed and refreshed.
We can also start replacing those “losses” I listed above with new interpretations. Our daily dose of nature becomes the park just up the road. I can start envisioning our new walking route with Plax, and look forward to the patch of grass we have in our new backyard so he can roll around. I can make a goal to host a dinner with our former neighbors at least once a month.
Bringing these new puzzle pieces together might help you feel energized by the changes before you rather than terrified by them.
Once you start to bring your focus to the future and find things to get excited about, the final step is to release that death grip you have on the past.
It makes us feel more comfortable and in control to think about what’s right in front of us, but clinging tightly to a reality that’s expiring only makes moving forward more painful. It leaves us with one foot in one reality and one foot in a new reality. I’ve seen enough science fiction shows to know that’s a recipe for being torn right in half.
So your challenge this week (whether you’re in the midst of Big Change or any kind of change) is to:
Share it on Instagram:
If you’re the type of person that has trouble embracing change or relinquishing control, I know these strategies aren’t the easiest thing in the world.
But I also know that life never stands still for long. The more we can learn to embrace the never-ending process of evolution, the more we can continue to live as our brightest selves, whatever curveballs may come our way.
If you’re not in the midst of change right now, I hope this week’s letter encourages you to take a moment of gratitude for the chapter you’re in. What are those things that you’d miss if you were moving away? Try finding a way to enjoy them today as you would if you were moving soon.
I’m talking about any kind of pain — physical, emotional, spiritual. We experience pain in a way that makes it almost impossible to describe to someone outside ourselves. And for that reason, the experience of dealing with pain can be an immensely isolating experience.
Have you ever had an injury or an illness or even an emotional wound that affected you in such a way that you wished for someone to just climb in your head and share that experience for a second, just to make you feel like you weren’t alone? To have someone say, I know what this feels like and I know how badly it hurts.
I know I have.
The reason I began thinking about this is because I identify as an HSP — a “highly sensitive person.” This designation refers to an innate personality trait in 15-20% of the population in which the wiring of a person’s central nervous system causes “hypersensitivity to external stimuli, a greater depth of cognitive processing, and high emotional reactivity.”
Basically it’s like FEELINGS are my superpower—all kinds of feelings, the good ones and the hard ones.
What that means for my daily life is that I’m hyperaware of sensations in my environment, and I’m also often unable to cut off my cognitive and emotional processing of those sensations.
Over the years I’ve come to accept and appreciate this as a superpower. It allows me to be highly empathetic to others, extremely self-aware, and a simple smell or the heat of the sun on my face can send a wave of the deepest joy throughout my entire being. I wouldn’t trade the capacity for that kind of transcendent beauty for anything.
BUT… because of this trait, I’m quite literally wired to experience pain differently.
Anything from the smallest paper cut, to a pounding headache, to a broken bone, to a broken heart… there is no blocking it out for me. I can’t compartmentalize it or bury it or rationalize it away, and the sensation often consumes my thoughts.
Jason and I often joke about this by referencing my need for a “pain journal” where I can write down the various sensations I’m aware of on a regular basis. The truth is though, while we joke about it and make light of it, when I dig deeper I can admit that my relationship to pain is something that I actually feel incredibly self-conscious about.
I’ll find myself in situations where even the tiniest sensation of pain becomes problematic. For example, since I started my running challenge two weeks ago, my toe joints in my left foot are incredibly sore. Objectively, it’s such a simple and insignificant injury, one that most people probably wouldn’t think twice about. But, with every step I take through our house, a neurological signal pulses throughout my entire body alerting me to this pain in my foot.
That’s when the inner conflict starts.
On one hand, out of self-compassion, I want to honor my authentic experience of pain, however mild or severe it might be. I want to be my own loving guardian saying “This feeling is real, and it’s okay.”
Yet on the other hand, I find myself judging my experience of pain, judging myself for being weak and fragile, and wondering why I can’t push past a simple sensation—especially when other people experience far greater pain or adversity on a regular basis.
This conflict becomes even more heightened when someone else is involved.
For example, if Jason and I are in the gym, I know (cerebrally) that I have to push beyond a certain threshold of discomfort in order to get stronger. But there’s a difference between discomfort and pain, and sometimes an exercise creeps past discomfort and into pain. It could be a sharp sting in my wrist or a tweak of my knee or those pesky sore toes, but suddenly I have to stop what I’m doing and listen to my body.
Those are the moments I feel most isolated because I want to be able to push that pain aside and challenge myself, but I also recognize the reality of what those signals are telling me. I do my best to communicate this to Jason, but the more I try to explain it, the more critical I become of myself and the more alone I feel in my experience.
Now this next part is going to sound strange to some of you, but this is the most honest discovery I’ve made about situations like this. In those moments of vulnerability and isolation, I can feel myself clinging to my pain in a weird way.
I can feel myself defending my pain, and in doing so I hold onto it. I can feel myself wanting to stay there in that sensation, as if to provide my own source of empathy and validation that I can’t seem to find any other way. Can you relate to that feeling at all?
But here’s the danger with that behavior: In seeking someone who will say “this IS real, this IS painful, this IS hard” I only end up giving that pain more power over my thoughts and my decisions.
You, reading this right now, may be someone who deals with chronic pain. To you I just want to say I can’t begin to understand what you go through on a regular basis. It’s possible that this talk of sore toes and weak wrists is so insignificant compared to what you have to deal with (there I go judging myself again?), but I’m hoping you can still relate to how complicated and isolating the experience of dealing with pain is, and in being able to relate I hope you feel seen. I’m betting you too have struggled with just how much attention to give to the very real sensations and challenges you’re facing.
I’m not saying I have the right answers for you or your unique situation, but I’m hoping that my personal lessons from dealing with my own experience of pain might shed light on things in a new way for you.
Universally speaking, I feel it also should be acknowledged that this conversation is applicable to our society at large right now. There is SO much personal pain that is playing out through conflict on a national scale here in the US. There are people—especially those that identify themselves as people of color, immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, the poor—who are likely experiencing emotional pain beyond what I could ever imagine as a white woman of privilege. I know that. And yet I still can feel the collective pain that our nation is trying to make sense of.
Every time someone says “it’s not that bad” or “you’re overreacting” or tries to otherwise minimize the pain that is being felt across all kinds of cross-sections of our society, I see this same phenomenon play out. I see humans clinging to their pain, holding it up and declaring “my experience is REAL and I won’t allow it to be minimized.” That instinct is understandable and truly valuable because my hope is that in sharing our pain, we’re able to become more empathetic to one another.
However, whether it’s on a personal level or societal level, clutching tightly to our pain doesn’t necessarily serve us. Defending our pain only keeps us locked in a room with it, unable to see the light that lives on the other side. But then judging ourselves for feeling pain doesn’t help us either, it only compounds the hurting.
So where does that leave us then? What do we do with this pain that is so very intimate and personal and very REAL, but that doesn’t always serve us in living our brightest, freest life?
Well, the way I see it, we have a few choices.
Option #1: We can let pain own us. We can give it the power to affect how much joy we let in, how many people we let close. We can use it to build walls instead of bridges, and we can cling to it so we feel seen. We can give it permission to make us doubt ourselves and our capabilities. We can let it steer our thoughts to self-loathing or self-criticism or despair. But when we do that, we are letting it define us. We are letting our human experience begin and end with this pain that we feel.
Option #2: We can make room for our pain to exist without giving it ultimate power.
We can let it be seen without letting it stay fed.
We can acknowledge it without cozying up to it.
We can experience it, learn from it, be angry at it even—without letting it cloud all that is joyful and beautiful and hopeful.
I know which of those options I’d prefer for myself.
As I finally put these thoughts to paper, eventually I came to this mantra for myself: “Your pain is real, but it doesn’t have to define you.”
This is what I say to myself so that I can acknowledge whatever pain or sensation I’m feeling—physical, emotional, spiritual— and I can give myself permission to sit with it without judgment. Not to “push past it” or cast it aside. Not to pretend it doesn’t exist or that it’s a figment of my imagination. But it is also what reminds me that I can acknowledge its presence without defending it to the point that it defines me. That I don’t have to cling to it so tightly that I never learn what good things are on the other side of it.
I want to leave you with this incredible video, one that I stumbled across on Twitter months ago but that I had forgotten about until I started reading this week’s letter. It’s the story of Ruthie Lindsey whose path led her to chronic pain but who has chosen not to let her life lead with that pain.
It’s incredibly inspiring, and I hope whatever pain you may be encountering in your life right now, however big or however small, that Ruthie’s story helps you see the light and beauty that exists as well.
That’s what it feels like to live (what we here at Wandering Aimfully call) your brightest life. Your brightest life is the one that allows your innermost, truest, most vibrant self to be expressed.
Your brightest life is the one that allows your innermost, truest, most vibrant self to be expressed.
Your brightest life is the one where you feel free and filled with a sense of joy. The one where you get to the end of each year, looking back on how you spent the majority of your days, and you are filled with a sense of deep contentment and happiness.
It’s one where you no longer dread going to a job that drains you, one where you don’t feel stuck or static any longer, one where you shed every facet of your life that dims your inner light or weighs you down.
Sound too good to be true?
I get it. It sounds like some kind of fantasyland, right? But it’s not. This kind of life DOES in fact exist. It just takes intention and work to get there.
I know because I myself got there through a LOT of trial and error (which I continue to experience and learn from because your brightest life is an ever-evolving target.)
But this is the kind of hard work that is worth doing because it leads you to a life you can wake up and be excited about.
How do you do that? Well, you’re doing it! It starts right here, right now, through intention. We’ll be talking a lot about that word throughout this guide because intention is the secret to controlling the outcomes in your life.
Using the steps outlined in this guide, you will begin to view your life as a craft—a way of sculpting your future thoughtfully and creatively through mindfulness, introspection, experimentation and vulnerability.
You know this is your ONE shot on this earth, and you’re open to a more intentional way of living.
Great! You are exactly who I wrote this (massive) in-depth guide for. I want to share with you every single lesson I’ve learned over the years in my own journey to a more vibrant, satisfying life.
I’ll offer you stories, nuggets of wisdom, and thought-provoking questions and challenges so you can start uncovering the pieces to your own brightest life—beginning today.
PS: Feel free to use the Table of Contents to the right to jump around whenever you like!
Simply put, it’s living a good life on purpose.
Intentional living asks that you recognize only have this ONE precious life, and it matters how you spend each and every moment.
The notion of intention just means with thoughtfulness and purpose, so let me ask you:
Are you thoughtful about how you spend your time and your life? Do you understand the deeper WHY behind the decisions you make and the things you bring into your life?
Practically speaking, for Jason and me, intentional living means constantly checking in with ourselves to see who we are at our most essential core level, what we value most, and how we can design every facet of our lives with those things in mind.
But, before you can truly experience the benefits of living your life more intentionally, there’s one major prerequisite we have to talk about. I call it ownership.
What’s the difference between someone who is able to buckle down and turn their dreams into their reality vs. someone who falls just short, never able to fully realize their potential?
That’s what we all really want to know, right? What is this elusive secret to succeeding in your quest to live the life you actually want?
Well, here’s the important point we have to agree on before we go any further:
There are apps promising to help you stay focused on your work. Blog posts detailing how to start a business. Books to help you be more positive. And those things can be helpful but…
An app is useless unless you own the fact that only you can find the will power within to use it.
A blog post is useless unless you own the fact that your fear is holding you back from actually doing the work.
A book is useless unless you own the fact that you are the source of your negative self-talk.
There’s nothing I can say in this guide, no resources Jason and I can create here on Wandering Aimfully, no catchy phrase I can share on Instagram, that can lead you to the life you want without your commitment to turning those insights into action.
This is where ownership comes in.
To me, ownership is the idea that while we are not always responsible for the circumstances that life throws at us or the cards we are dealt, we ARE responsible for how we react to those circumstance in any given moment.
Life is a series of unpredictable questions, but ownership is about accepting that we get a say in how we answer them.
The first time I made this realization, it occurred to me just how many excuses I was making in my life:
Those things may or may not be true, but one thing is sure:
It took me a while to see my self-limiting thoughts were actually my way of choosing the easier route in my life. Yes, I said easier. I know, I know…if you’ve ever found yourself in a spiral of self-doubt, it certainly doesn’t FEEL easy, does it?
If we accept our perceived limitations, we never have to push ourselves beyond what’s comfortable.
But the truth is, if we accept our perceived limitations, we never have to push ourselves beyond what’s comfortable, and that IS the easier choice. It’s the more comfortable choice. It means we never have to rise to the challenge of overcoming those limitations. Of pushing past what we think is possible. Of OWNING the fullness of the life we’re capable of creating for ourselves.
With ownership comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes FEAR—fear of failure and carrying the burden of potentially disappointing ourselves. (We’ll get into fear in depth later on in this guide.)
So we try to share the load by convincing ourselves that other people share the responsibility for our shortcomings (or, on the other end of the spectrum, our successes.)
Maybe that our ex-boyfriend is the reason we doubt ourselves.
That the expectations of our parents make us fear changing careers.
That our kids need all our time and attention and we have no time for ourselves.
That our partner feels insecure when we succeed or shine in a big way.
That our big successes thus far are only due to one mentor or break we had.
And yes, all those things might be true.
But when we divvy up the responsibility of our choices to other people, we give away our full power to create the life we dream of.
“When we divvy up the responsibility of our choices to other people, we give away our full power to create the life we dream of.”
Every great change I’ve made in my life has come from the realization that I’m responsible for the way I live each day. I’m responsible for how hard I work, for how badly I want something.
There is nothing more powerful or hopeful than finally taking ownership of your life.
If you’re wondering why you haven’t been able to finally make your vision come to life, it’s possible that you’re placing ownership in someone else’s hands. Waiting for someone to choose you. Waiting for the right tip or trick to come along. Waiting for that switch to flip. Waiting for someone ELSE to change first.
There is nothing more powerful or hopeful than finally taking ownership of your life.
If so, then keep reading. Now the real work begins.
Once you begin reclaiming your power and start owning your responsibility for creating the life you want, the next natural question then becomes:
You may already have the answer right now. Deep down you may see the future you want for yourself and you’re looking for ways to break through and go get it. OR…you may reading this right now with no idea what you want, you just know there has to be something better than this.
Whichever camp you’re in, one thing is certain: there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for a happy life.
There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for a happy life.
The answer to what brings happiness and fulfillment is different for every person, and even different for the same person at different times in their life.
That’s why the foundation to living your brightest life begins with understanding who you are at the deepest level.
In my TEDx talk, I speak about this metaphor I have in my head that I like to picture sometimes. I envision every person arriving as a spirit to this world as a unique “color”—a completely one-of-a-kind hue that encompasses the truest mix of our human potential. It represents our unique combination of gifts, talents, personality, likes, and predispositions.
But, as we grow older, the expectations placed on us from other people—society, friends, family, media, etc.—can often dim that technicolor potential. Things like fear and stress and the endless quest for validation start muddying that bright color of ours.
THAT is what your core self represents: the purest, brightest expression of your spirit.
It’s the deepest, truest expression of who you are, separate from what anyone else thinks of you.
Your core self is the part of you that yearns to be free. Deep down it’s begging you to make choices that will allow it to be fully expressed. It’s that feeling in your gut. Your intuition. Your truth. That deeper knowing.
If you learn to listen to it, it WILL lead you to your brightest life.
But learning to listen to your core self is a skill—one that must be practiced.
I like to think of your core self as a super-charged magnet. There are certain things that it will pull in closer to you, and there are things it will repel away from you. Your job is to learn how to pay attention to those gravitational forces so you can better understand what your core self desires.
Let’s talk about some ways you can begin to uncover who you are on a core level.
Going back to your early years can be a great way to look for clues about your core self. In many ways, our childhood selves represent the purest version of who we are. If the goal is to find your truest sense of self, one approach is to go back to a time before the world began influencing your identity.
Or, as Danielle LaPorte once said:
“Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?”
“Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?” – Danielle LaPorte
For me personally, I was always drawn to creative pursuits as a kid. I used to spend hours upon hours doing arts and crafts projects at our house. I’d take over the kitchen table, or spread newspaper out across our garage so I could paint this thing or try out new art supplies or bring an idea to life. With the freedom of exploration and play I carried as a child, I can see that creating was so clearly what I always wanted to do.
And yet, it took years for me to return to this knowing. I almost abandoned this core part of myself.
Listening to what teachers and other adults were telling me, I grew up thinking that my high performance in school is what made me special. One look at my high GPA and adults would often assure me I was no doubt going to be “successful.” That I would “make a great doctor or lawyer someday.”
Even from a young age, the message was clear: art is just a hobby, not something you should aspire to or cultivate.
Thank goodness the inner kid inside me spoke up when I felt myself headed down a road that wasn’t resonating in my heart. It was pretty early on in my journey down the “traditional career path” when I realized the big wig advertising job I had aspired to was a poor fit for me (more on that later). Thank goodness that inner kid said, “Stop chasing whatever you think being ‘successful’ is. Do what brings you joy instead.”
It took many more of these nagging-voice moments to start unlearning who I thought I should be, but remembering that little girl covered in marker and elated with experimental art projects was the first step to remembering a big part of who I was deep down.
There’s no rocket science to this one. A great way to figure out who you truly are is simply to ask yourself. Many people struggle to take the time to quiet their minds and go inward and ask: When do I feel the most ME?
Think of the parts of yourself that heavily influence how you show up in the world, the people you surround yourself with, and what you spend your time doing.
For me, creativity is one part of the equation. I find myself drawn to activities where I can express myself, make things and experiment. I love people who are creative and doing something new and interesting. And, if given an empty block of free time, my choice is almost always to use it to create.
But that’s just one part of me. Over the years I’ve peeled back layer upon layer to understand so many facets of what’s at the heart of me. I’m deeply empathetic and sensitive. I’m goofy and light-hearted. I’m endlessly curious. I can be stubborn and defiant.
Each one of these traits is something I’ve uncovered about myself through a multitude of ways: therapy, journaling, travel experiences, readying books, having a creative practice, etc. I’m constantly looking for new opportunities to spend time with myself and get to know myself better.
Which is perhaps one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give you about intentional living and starting to craft a happier life:
In my book, Your Brightest Life Journal, I begin with a chapter on self-awareness that starts with this quote:
“The greatest thing you’ll ever endeavor to study is yourself.”
Never stop learning about yourself. Never stop asking yourself WHY you do the thing you do or WHY you feel pulled to certain things. These are breadcrumbs that will lead you to your truest core self.
It’s important to note here that the code to our core self is usually a mixed bag, often contain seemingly contradicting elements.
For example, at my core, I feel I’m equal parts intuitive AND logical. These opposing forces play out in different ways in my life in business. I may enjoy putting on my bosslady, make-it-happen, practical business hat, but I also enjoy trading it in for my intuitive, sometimes idealistic, touchy-feely artist hat. Both elements feel like true parts of me.
One moment I’ll find myself watching a GaryVee video, lighting a fire in me to tackle my goals with gusto and approach my work with strategy and logic. Then, later that same day I’ll read a post from Liz Gilbert reminding me to return to my truth and to create wholeheartedly, without worrying about what’s necessary “practical” or what will make me money.
Both people inspire me. Both messages speak to me. I find myself benefiting from both perspectives at different moments in time.
Instead of just embracing this complex mixture within my identity, here’s what sometimes happens instead…
I find myself swinging wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other, convinced that one of these sides is the “right” side of the fence to be on. Then, inevitably I feel like I’m somehow cheating on the part of myself that’s still clinging to the other side.
“I need to embrace that I’m running a business here and not view my work so idealistically!”
“NO! I need to return to the purity of making and not put so much pressure on my work to be financially fruitful.”
“NO this is right.”
“NO that is right.”
And before long my brain and my heart feel like they’re literally engaged in some epic version of tug of war. It’s exhausting.
Then, after a couple of deep breaths, I take a step back and ask myself:
We are all complex humans with the capacity to hold all sorts of opposing forces within us at the same time.
“We are complex humans with the capacity to hold all sorts of opposing forces within us at the same time.”
We can be creators AND business owners. We can carry both masculine AND feminine facets. We can believe in striving forward toward goals AND taking gratitude for what we have now.
The struggle only arises in our attempt to create false dichotomies where they need not exist.
I’m a little bit of Garyvee AND a little bit of Liz Gilbert. I’m deep and light-hearted. I thrive on a mix of still satisfaction and fiery forward-motion. My truth is somewhere in the middle of all that.
And I’m betting yours is too.
The distress and exhaustion of our “struggle” don’t actually come from traveling back and forth between the two ends of our polarities. The distress comes from fighting the urge to travel between the two or judging ourselves for not being more easily categorized. That uncertain feeling comes from pretending that either one is a static solution rather than a dynamic flow.
We have to learn to see this pendulum swing from one end of a spectrum to the other not as a struggle or tug of war, but instead as a dance—a waltz where the passage is fluid and purposeful and graceful.
Recognize that your uniqueness actually lies in the combination of your opposing forces. These contradictions are what make you unexpected, singular and, yes, beautiful.
*Challenge: write down a list of 5 “opposing forces” within you that you often waffle back and forth between. Then think about (or write about) how you’re able to possess both opposing forces within you and give yourself permission to embody BOTH.
Whenever you start doing the work of getting to know yourself better, you inevitably will find yourself getting acquainted with the parts of yourself that you historically are NOT comfortable with. You’ll recognize your brain playing familiar tapes of self-criticism and doubt. You’ll hear stories emerge that you’ve told yourself about your identity for years. Stories like:
“I’m not a creative person.”
“I don’t deserve to pursue a more fulfilling life.”
“I’m not disciplined enough to change my life.”
But here’s the thing. These are in fact just that: stories. They are not written in stone. They can be examined, dismantled and rebuilt into something more positive. Something TRUER.
In my pursuit to uncover my core self, one story I kept slamming up against was this notion that I am weak or fragile. I was such a sensitive, emotional kid and society’s traditional message to those personality traits is vulnerability equals weakness. I didn’t realize just how much this story was affecting different aspects of my life and how I was seeing myself.
As it turns out, sensitivity and emotion IS a part of my core self. But I get to rewrite the story of what that means. It means I’m compassionate. It means I’m open-hearted. It means I’m unguarded. It does NOT mean I am weak.
Once I was able to let go of that story, I was able to fully embody that part of myself that I was afraid to embrace as a result of that story.
What about you?
What negative stories are holding you back from fully embodying your core self? It could be a story about who you are, or who you think you are as a result of things that have happened to you in your life.
Now is the time to do the rewriting. Don’t let doubt or pain or fear define you or claim your identity.
This section has been all about discovering your core self. I’ve given you questions and challenges that will help lead you to who you are at the deepest level.
But, as I mentioned, self-awareness is a lifelong pursuit that takes practice. You have to seek out experiences and situations where you can learn about yourself and then you have to carve out the time, space, and mindfulness to actually listen. Here are some of the ways I recommend you do just that.
I love the app Headspace for doing guided meditations. I find that carving out 15 minutes a day to quiet your mind allows you to more clearly hear the call of your core self when it’s speaking to you.
I’m a huge proponent of therapy whether you think you “need it” or not. Having an outside party ask questions and uncover insights with you is so valuable. Even when I felt I knew myself through and through, therapy led me to new, deeper insights that helped me see ways I could thrive even more in my life. (Not to mention it has done wonders for taking control of my anxiety and living with more peace in general!)
Writing is a great way to let your subconscious speak to you. Even just committing to a few minutes each morning to get your thoughts out of your head can help you uncover desires and core parts of you that you weren’t aware of. Try asking yourself these questions about who you are and see what answers pop up.
This may not be the case with everyone, but when I’m painting or drawing or even doodling, I’m able to go inward and visit with myself in a way that no other activity allows for. These sessions are often the times when I check in with myself about what I’m feeling and that leads me to a better understanding about what that “core self magnet” is being drawn to or repelled by.
I find that new places and experiences also teach me a great deal about myself. Travel doesn’t have to mean expensive European vacations. It can mean camping for the weekend or renting an Airbnb in a city nearby. Anything that gets you out of your normal routines and daily commitments can help you start to ask yourself those deeper questions.
The happiness and satisfaction we’re all searching for is attainable, but only once we’re able to design a life based on our unique core values.
You won’t find sustained happiness through buying what society tells you to buy.
You won’t find sustained happiness through gaining admiration or notoriety.
You won’t find sustained happiness by doing what you think others want you to do.
As you now know, your core self represents the deepest essence of who you are. Your core values, however, represent what your core self needs to fully thrive.
This doesn’t just mean the big things like family, health, and friendship that nearly all of us want in our lives. These core values also refer to the more nuanced things that vary between each of us.
For example, one of my core values is flexibility. My core self is sensitive and creative, and over time I’ve come to realize that I feel most at peace when I have the ability to mold my environment, my schedule, my daily routine to however I’m feeling and whenever inspiration hits me. My core self loves the spontaneity and novelty this brings, whereas someone else might crave more structure and predictability.
Unfortunately, I can’t just give you one definitive blueprint uncover your values. It’s a highly personal pursuit. It requires time to go inward and develop a deep self-awareness as I talked about in Section Two.
But again, I think it helps to try to think of your core self as a magnet. Notice what that magnet is drawn to and what it’s repelled by. Pay attention to what feels energizing to you and what feels draining. These are clues about what you’re underlying values are. These are indications about what you core self needs to thrive.
Here are some guiding questions that might be able to point you in the right direction.
When do you feel free and at peace?
When do you feel stifled and confined?
Where do your thoughts drift?
Now that you have an idea of what core values are, you’re ready for the big key to living your brightest life.
Your brightest life is the one where you are able to live out your core values on a daily basis.
If you can do that, you will find the satisfying life you’re in search of. But, this requires you to make a big shift in how you measure your own “success.”
Intentional living asks you to shift your definition of success from one based on achievement to one based on alignment.
Achievement (the way society typically measures success) is about looking outside yourself for validation.
Achievement says: If I can just do this thing, reach this goal, acquire this whatever, arrive at this arbitrary benchmark, gain this approval…THEN I will be worthy and feel happy.
It’s extrinsically motivated, meaning it relies on validation from other people.
Alignment, however, is completely intrinsically motivated.
Alignment is about matching up your actions with your values.
Alignment says: As long as I’m living my truth and walking out my values on a daily basis, I have already won.
No permission from others, no approval, no validation from anyone other than yourself.
This is why values are so crucial for you to define. It gives you freedom from the rat race of “success.” You can stop chasing all the things that lead you farther away from yourself and instead focus on what will fill up the tank of your core self.
Once you define your values, it becomes much clearer to see what things you want to let into your life and which things you don’t.
There’s a book Jason and I both love called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.
The guiding principle of the book can be boiled down to this one phrase: less, but better.
Less, but better is the acknowledgment that eliminating non-essential elements and focusing on a few key things will allow us to more effectively allocate our limited resources (time, money, energy, thought, etc.) to the things that matter most.
As Greg writes:
What he’s saying is that if we don’t get intentional about our values and what is essential to us, we can easily allow the whims of other people and less important pursuits dictate our time and energy. This will inevitably lead to trade-offs we would never make of our own choosing.
For example, let’s say two of your core values are creativity and impact so you set a goal of writing your very first book. You want to complete this goal in the next three months, but you neglect to take a look at your life and define what’s essential in the context of this new goal. Some non-essential time commitments (dinners with friends, favors you said yes to, the monotony of chores, catching up on the latest Netflix shows, etc.) quickly suck up your time and energy, and at the end of three months, you wonder why you’ve barely written any words.
Over time, without the needs of your core self being met, you’ll start to feel the dissatisfaction rise.
When you’re not living in alignment with your core self, you’re not able to step into your brightest life.
Defending the essential in your life requires you to say no to many things—things you may even like—so you can say yes to something better.
*Challenge: define your essential. What are the things you’re simply not willing to sacrifice as a trade-off? Is it your health? The pursuit of your creativity? Is it that hour of silence you require in the morning to start your day right? Is it doing work that gives you that fiery stir in the pit of your stomach? Whatever it is, write it down. Once you do that, I’d also encourage you to write down some of the trade-offs you might have to make in order to protect those things. What boundaries do you need to create?*
Now it’s time to evaluate your current life through the lens of your newly-defined core values.
Think of your core values as your ingredients to living your brightest life. They’re your building blocks, but they still need to be combined to form a tasty recipe that’s delicious and satisfying.
To start shifting your life in the direction your core self desires, you will likely have to let go of the way you’re used to doing things now. You’ll need to:
Living a life of alignment is great in theory, but it’s a little bit messier in practice.
Embracing alignment as your new goal means letting go of what you think you should do with your life based on the opinions of other people, and that’s not always easy.
Staying mindful of this one little word—should—is one way to decipher whether your motivations are fueled by alignment or achievement.
When you recognize your mind or your words including “should,” it’s time to take a look at whether you’re reaching for external validation or actually living from a place of your core values.
Let me illustrate this for you with a story.
It was the summer of 2009 (my last summer before graduating college), and I had landed an advertising internship at one of the most prestigious and recognizable advertising agencies in the world, deep in the heart of Manhattan.
After months of preparation and dedication, I had been accepted as one of six students in the entire country to partake in a highly coveted program. When I got the news, I remember feeling like my dreams were coming true.
In my college advertising program, there was a well-defined path that was universally regarded as the launching pad to a “successful” career in the ad industry. The singular goal was to claim a spot at a big name agency in New York City, working on national and international brands. This would be a clear sign you were on the accelerated path up the corporate ladder. That was the dream, and everyone in my ad program knew it.
Being the overachiever that I was growing up, that dream is what I set my sights on. I pictured myself in my Manhattan apartment, riding the subway to work, learning from the most creative minds in advertising with the biggest budgets on Earth. It seemed like a pretty good dream to me.
June 1st rolled around—Day 1 of my big career in advertising—and I touched down in NYC, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I was ready to begin my ascent up the career ladder.
I sat in client meetings where we discussed budgets that blew my mind. There was an endless free supply of M&M’s and Pepsi at my fingertips whenever I pleased (two clients of the agency). I shared an elevator with the CEO of the entire worldwide operation. From the outside, my life was something to be envied.
But inside, it felt anything but glamorous.
Just a week or two into the summer, I started to experience this uncomfortable feeling in my gut (hello, core self trying to talk to me!). My days filled up with deadlines, client calls, and research assignments that were needed at the drop of a hat and in the blink of an eye. People seemed to be constantly scrambling with a sense of urgency that left me on edge.
There was a heaviness hanging in the air that I can’t quite explain—a mingling cloud of expectations, sacrifice, and stress—and it followed everyone around the office. It coated the entire experience in angst. Every day when I walked into that building, the feeling in my gut would sink deeper, and I knew that was my soul telling me this path would bring me farther away from myself, rather than closer to what I ultimately wanted.
I did manage to endure the summer, trying to soak up every ounce of knowledge I could, but I returned to school in the fall knowing the New York ad life wasn’t for me.
When class started back up, my friends asked about my internship with eager, expectant eyes. “How was it? Was it everything you hoped for?”
My first instinct was to lie. To maintain the illusion. Ultimately though, I chose to tell the truth, using a line like, “It just wasn’t for me” or “I guess it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.”
Despite my nonchalance, I remember in those moments feeling painfully self-conscious of their judgment.
“I bet they think I can’t cut it.”
“They’re probably thinking I’ll never be successful.”
“I can’t believe they wasted such a high profile internship on me.”
The negative self-talk was never-ending. I cared so damn much what people thought about me. I didn’t realize back then just how much my self-worth was tied to the validation of other people.
As much as I knew I hated the feeling of working somewhere that didn’t align with my values, I was still clinging to that feeling of appearing at the top of my game. I mean, this was THE PATH. This was THE DREAM that everyone said I should want and it was within my grasp.
I should want to work with the biggest clients in the world. I should want to work at one of the most decorated agencies in the world. I should want to live in New York—the epicenter of the advertising industry.
Happiness comes from knowing yourself and living a life that feels aligned with your values. What’s the point in living a life that looks good but doesn’t FEEL good?
The hardest part of shedding my “should life” wasn’t learning to pay attention to my gut; the hardest part was following through on what it was telling me.
The hardest part was letting go of the perception that I was “living the dream.”
Guess what, though? I’ve never regretted it for ONE SINGLE SECOND.
Listening to that voice inside and following it wherever it leads has continued to bring forth even brighter and more fulfilling seasons of life.
I don’t have a Manhattan apartment. I don’t manage million dollar budgets. I don’t play pretend Mad Men every day.
Instead, I live near the ocean where the soothing smell of salt always laces the air. I make my own hours. I set my own deadlines. I go see movies in the middle of the day sometimes because it helps me unwind. I work alongside my cute pup and my husband/best friend.
This is the difference between living according to the values of society vs. your own core values.
Now the question is…are you living that life? Or are you living the life that you think you should?
Think of your core self as a wise journey guide that you carry within you all the time. Your core values are like the infallible compass that your journey guide holds. They are your tool for finding your way back to your brightest life in the moments that threaten to throw you off your course.
People often talk about this notion of intuition or your “gut.” We all have that deep knowing that tries to tell us when we’re making choices that are taking us farther away from ourselves, or doing things that aren’t authentic to who we are deep down.
That voice, that knowing, that intuition—THAT is your inner journey guide saying: “Excuse me, can we consult the core values compass, please, because we are getting way off course here!”
I encourage you to start listening to that voice. It speaks in all sorts of different ways. Sometimes it feels like an ache in your belly, a more obvious whack over hte head (thanks, Rafiki), a nagging feeling that won’t go away, a sense of unease, a tightened chest, or an unexplainable sensation that something is just “off.” In whatever way it chooses to speak to you, try to hear it. Stay mindful of those inner vibrations and get curious when you feel something is out of sync.
Then, turn back to your compass. Look at your list of values (hopefully you wrote those down by now) and ask yourself: Am I truly living out each of these in my life? Am I making decisions that align with these things?
If the answer is no, that’s okay. That’s when you know it’s time to make some changes to course-correct.
The thing about authenticity is that none of us typically knows what’s right or wrong for ourselves until we experience it. We don’t know a career path isn’t for us until we live it every day. We may not know a relationship is toxic until we have time and experience to compare it to. Authentic living is a full-contact, hands-on, roll-your-sleeves-up kind of sport, and you have to know that going into it.
In order to course-correct, we have to speak up and make some changes, which can lead to some hard conversations.
To get to the life that you want, you will no-doubt have to power through some very hard conversations and decisions. It’s simply the price of entry to the promised land of authentic living.
You may have to let your boss know you’re quitting, or tell your loved ones you’re moving, or get terrifyingly honest with a toxic friend, or break-up with a boyfriend/girlfriend.
In those moments you might feel like you’re letting someone down, or like everyone is looking at you like you’re crazy.
Any life that doesn’t illuminate your spirit through and through is too small for you.
When you take a step back, do you really think the fear of a hard conversation should have the power to rob you of a life that feels bright and true and full?
Is avoiding an awkward break-up or family argument or an uncomfortable conversation with a boss or colleague worth wondering what might have been?
In my opinion, the answer is no. But how do you actually power through those hard conversations? How do you let someone else know you’re course-correcting and risk disappointing someone?
Well, try starting with telling the truth. Remind yourself WHY it’s important that you make a change, and remember that you only have one, precious life—one opportunity to make the most of your days on this earth. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how someone else reacts to your truth; it’s yours. A hard conversation will be painful for just a tiny fraction of time compared to a lifetime of living as a shadow of yourself.
Sometimes listening to that voice and living out your values means making choices that will disappoint people or confuse them or even make people angry. This is when living out your values will feel highly…inconvenient.
It’s convenient to value truth and authenticity when you don’t have any hard truths to reveal.
It’s convenient to value collaboration and encouraging others when your business is doing well and you’re not feeling self-conscious and in a comparison tailspin.
It’s convenient to value slowness and rest when you’re not scrambling to pay off your credit card.
However, when living your values feels inconvenient, that’s when you need the guidance from those values the most.
“When living your values feels inconvenient, that’s when you need the guidance from those values the most.”
Let’s say one of your values is authenticity and transparency. This shows up most visibly in your business. You don’t like sales tactics that feel sleazy or misleading, regardless of their efficacy.
But what happens when your business isn’t growing or sales are down and you see a sales tactic working for someone else that feels less than authentic? Will you be tempted to sacrifice what you value to get what you want in the short-term? Will the inconvenience of sticking to your guns make you bury your head in the sand?
Or let’s say activism is one of your core values. When you see injustices in the world, the compassion within your core self craves taking action to right those wrongs.
But what happens when staying true to your activist heart means alienating friends or followers that might negatively impact your business? In those situations, will you have the courage to walk your own path, even if it means other people will have their opinions about it?
What you will realize though is that whatever gains you may receive from ignoring your core values, they will be short-lived.
A feeling of dissatisfaction is sure to follow when you acquire something in a way that goes against what your core self believes, because it doesn’t come from a place of deep truth.
Our core values are easy to talk about, easy to write down on paper, easy to profess…but they’re often anything but easy to live out, especially when things aren’t going your way. It’s easier to hide from yourself. It’s easier to let the tide of your circumstances (and your ego) carry you away from yourself. That is until you finally look around and suddenly you don’t recognize where you are anymore.
Don’t let yourself become lost. Get back to the life you truly want to be living, even if it means making hard choices to get there.
Sometimes it comes out of nowhere…that feeling you get when you finally work up the courage to take on a new challenge or make a change or set an audacious goal.
You could be cruising along on autopilot, comfortable and in control, but one day you feel this tiny spark of What if.
What if I taught myself how to code a website?
What if I committed to 100 days of painting?
What if I stuck to a work out schedule for the next twelve weeks?
What if I saved up my money to start my own business six months from now?
The seed of possibility is planted and it’s enough to snap you right out of that autopilot. You crave new territory to explore, new parts of yourself to awaken.
That beginning feeling is intoxicating, isn’t it? It’s a crackling simmer of excitement and energy and heat.
That energy is enough to finally get you started toward your new goal.
So you begin.
You buy the supplies. Or write out your schedule. Or announce your intention.
In the early days, the thrill of possibility keeps you showing up.
It’s fun learning something new! you think.
The feeling of accomplishment, the boost of confidence you experience from making a commitment and working toward a new goal.
But then it happens.
You hit The Wall.
The Wall is that stage when the novelty of a new goal wears off, the fire and excitement settle into a subtle background hum, and the reality of the work sets in.
The excitement continues to fade when you realize it’s impossible to see the progress that’s unfolding.
The improvement in your art from one day to the next is nearly imperceptible.
The photos of your weight-loss journey from one day to the next look identical.
You feel no more competent in that new skill you’re learning from one day to the next.
Those are the moments when The Wall steals your momentum and you consider quitting. Why? Because…
When you’re in the midst of a transformative journey, the incremental progress is usually invisible.
Over the years, I’ve committed to several of these kinds of transformative goals, both big and small. Thirty days of hand-lettering. A year of making art every day. Learning Italian. A month of meditation. Most recently, twelve weeks of running.
I love these kinds of challenges. That spark of desire to push myself to new territory and snap out of my comfort zone hits me unexpectedly, and I just go for it.
But with every single transformation I’ve committed to, whether I completed it or fell short, The Wall was always there.
Which then leads me to this question, the one that you may be asking yourself at this moment:
How do you push past The Wall and follow through on your commitments long enough to see a real transformation?
My answer comes down to two pieces of advice:
This is easier said than done, but what helps me when I’m in that gap before real change is visible is to remind myself over and over that I DO believe the thing I’m doing is getting me closer to my goal (or else I wouldn’t be doing it.)
So, for example, let’s take my recent commitment to start a running practice (despite my intense loathing of this activity for most of my life.) Four days in and already The Wall has arrived. The newness is gone and the reality has set in that it’s going to take several more weeks before I can feel or see real change in my fitness.
UT, every single time I lace up my shoes, I remind myself that there’s just no way that running 4 times a week for 12 weeks doesn’t improve my fitness. Just no way.
So even in these early days when I can’t experience the progress I want to see at the end of my challenge, I keep my attention on the fact that I do know it’s happening. That simple belief is sometimes just enough to get you to show up for that commitment or challenge the next day.
Speaking of showing up, I think that’s the other key to pushing past The Wall. So often when we set goals in our minds, we think of them in terms of these visual progress bars. How far have we come? How far do we have left to go?
The downside of that progress mentality, though, is that in the beginning when that progress bar feels so small, or when you look at how far you have to go without any visible signs of transformation, it can quickly become disheartening. You’re putting in work without seeing much return yet, and it becomes easy to convince yourself more work just isn’t worth it.
That’s when you have to change your measure of success from progress to presence.
Rather than looking ahead or looking behind, consider being right here, right now, in this moment in your transformation.
Take this one single day or activity in isolation, and make completing THAT the win. Heck, make just showing up the win.
If “success” becomes about just showing up to meet the challenge of the day — sitting at the desk, lacing up the shoes, getting out our your supplies — that feels a lot less daunting than worrying about completing some mental progress bar that feels unreachable.
If you take enough of those present moments, those days that you showed up, and you stack them end to end, eventually you do arrive at that final transformation down the road. And you’re probably more likely to finally arrive at that destination because you were able to fight past The Wall, even when you couldn’t draw motivation from any results or progress you could see.
If you are in the midst of trying to make a big change right now or if you’ve challenged yourself in the past but given up because you couldn’t see real progress, I hope today’s letter gives you some insights on new ways you can approach transformation in the future.
Big change happens in tiny moments, but if we want to keep those tiny moments going, we have to find ways to reframe our obsession with progress and seeing or feeling results right away.
Forge ahead with the belief that change IS happening, even if you can’t see it today!
Wayyyy back in my entrepreneurial journey (around 2006), I was a co-founder of a tiny design and development company. It was actually an amazing gig with two super-talented guys.
We regularly met in person and shared random ideas and thoughts for things we could build that would get attention for our design and development services*. Silly ideas for apps, software, or random Tumblr accounts we thought might get a laugh. But on one occasion we found an idea that actually felt like it had bigger potential:
(Wasn’t our 2006 spelling, so… 2006??)
The idea behind piQul was to solve the mental pickle that we consumers find ourselves in when we’re looking for the best. From headphones to podcasting microphone to running shoes, etc., piQul would make comparison shopping easier.
Our team hypothesized that searching the term “the best [ insert product ]” actually wasn’t enough. It was too broad because the best anything is always highly dependent on the environment you’ll be using that product in. The best headphones for a DJ, for example, are not the best headphones for a marathon runner. (Although that’d be pretty funny to see.)
PiQul would have you choose your product, and then add a qualifier about how you would use that product. It would solve your mental pickle by helping you make the best pick for your situation.
(Oh yes, I saved a screenshot and have kept it in a safe place all these years later!)
Unfortunately, we didn’t end up building piQul. Truthfully, I believe it was because we landed a well-paying gig and we needed cash to continue running our little company. But thinking back on piQul and what we were trying to build in 2006, I notice a lot of parallels that are still relevant to overall decision making today. Maybe even more relevant since we’re currently in Information Overload Times.
(Remember, this was 2006. There was basically no Twitter, Facebook was a newborn startup, and the plethora of blog content you’d find on Google today didn’t exist back then.)
I’ve thought about piQul often over the years. It usually re-enters my brain when I’m searching Google or Amazon for the best [ insert thing I need to make my life better ]. What I’ve come to realize is that we were completely right in 2006: Best is subjective and nearly impossible to answer.
This tweet and response from @cobusvv is what sparked this thought and article:
Whats the best?
— Cobus van Vuuren (@cobusvanvuuren) May 31, 2017
The short story behind that tweet is I was looking for a simple microphone setup for my desk. My neighbor (Caleb) happens to be a Level 16 Audio and Video Wizard and has an office filled to the brim with audio equipment. While standing in Caleb’s office I was sharing what I wanted for this simple microphone setup. We both had this mutual understanding that I wasn’t looking for “the best microphone,” I was looking for “the best microphone + a setup that was compact, kept my desk clutter-free, used tech that I could operate, and sounded good in my ear.”
That’s a crapload of additional qualifiers, but without those qualifiers, what someone else might have recommended as “the best” wouldn’t have fit my needs.
In the case of Cobus’ reply to my tweet about a microphone setup and his subsequent question “what’s the best?” there are a bunch of extra follow-up questions:
I could go on and on.
Whether you’re trying to find the best microphone setup, online course platform, literary agent, design agency, writing pencil, website host, etc., stop looking for “the best,” and start looking for the “the best + whatever you need to make it the best for your specific situation.”
These examples relate to business, since I love online business and that’s what I try to focus helping people with.
Well, what is your project? Because a designer that nails wedding invitations is probably not the right fit for doing UX and UI design for your iPhone app.
You might want to go cheap to save as much money as possible, but you’ll end up overpaying in the long-run. “The best” option here is to find someone who has worked with another startup before and has a proven track record. It’s like that quote from Red Adair: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.”
Hands down, I would say Squarespace is the answer for 90% of people reading this. You don’t need much technical knowledge. Squarespace makes the entire process fairly painless. You can even buy your domain directly through them.
WordPress. But you probably already know this. It’s versatile. The available plugins allow you to almost do anything you can imagine. Plus, hosting providers like Flywheel (affiliate link of who I use) make the backend side of things a no-brainer.
MailChimp. But you probably already know this. If you don’t, now you do.
Now things get interesting! We need more qualifiers—bring me ALL the qualifiers!
My recommendation would be the RODE podcaster package. It’s a USB-powered mic (meaning you don’t need other equipment on your desk) and the package comes with the boom arm and shock mount.
I’m probably not the person to ask. But Chase Reeves has a fantastic podcast microphone comparison video you can watch:
Back in my YouTube day (2009), there wasn’t a smartphone that stood a chance at capturing great video. Now, all smartphones can. This young vlogger has a great video (squeaky voice and all) that helps you create a simple setup for $60.
Oh boy, this can of worms is even larger than the podcasting can of worms. This veteran YouTuber has four options that would be “the best” by many standards.
Lucky for you, I wrote an 8-step launch strategy article related to this exact topic.
Oh, hey, I wrote an article about this, too.
Remember that asterisk at the very beginning of this article? You don’t? Well I’ll remind that it was related to a statement about getting attention for what we were doing as a design and dev company. One of the absolute best ways to get people to notice you and your work is to share that work and to spend time creating for the sake of creating. This story on how a designer would redesign Instagram is a fantastic example.
Obviously, I could go on and on and on. But for the sake of keeping this article succinct and circling back to the point, let’s finish this up.
Living in the digital age with so much information at our fingertips, we’ve become over-optimizers. And for good reason: 10 years ago it was a big effort to find “the best” of any category. 20+ years ago, the only way to find the best of anything was to ask a friend, watch TV, or read something written in one of those newspaper (or magazine) things. 10,000+ years ago, who knew how you found the best of anything. You were probably just trying to not get eaten by a sabertooth tiger.
I feel like we were on to something great with piQul, and it’s a shame it never materialized. But hey, it ended up coming back around over a decade later. I’d say piQul has done the best it could do as a fledgling idea.
The next time you’re trying to find “the best” of something, get a bit more specific and look for the answer that solves the actual pickle you’re in.
Oh, and if you were dying to know, here’s the desk microphone setup I ended up going with: It’s the RODE Broadcaster powered by the Blue Icicle, nested in the RODE SM2 Shock Mount and sitting atop the Samson Mic Stand.
Do you constantly find yourself wishing you had more hours in the day?
Do you feel like you have very little extra time to spend with family and friends?
What if you stopped letting your business dictate your lifestyle, and instead put a plan in place to put your life first? To put your family first? To stop focusing on when the next chunk of money might come in, and instead built a plan that feels more sustainable?
When I set out on my entrepreneurial journey in 2007, it was all sunshine and rainbows. I wore sweatpants every day. I had some money saved up that felt like a nice cushion. I even had a business idea that took off (IWearYourShirt).
But then, an unfortunate chain of events occurred:
My life was completely out of balance. To say the rainbows and sunshine disappeared would be an understatement.
The reason everything was out of balance was that I put my business first. I didn’t define the type of lifestyle I wanted. I just assumed a great life would come with a thriving business.
Boy oh boy, was I wrong!
I know what it’s like to start your own business and feel completely out of control. Like you don’t control your time, your income, or even your decisions (to some degree).
My wife, Caroline, has felt the same way.
(Caroline in her natural habitat.)
In 2014, when Caroline started Made Vibrant, it was a generic graphic design company. Not generic in the way it looked or was represented (obviously, Caroline is amazing), but in that she didn’t have a core offering or a concrete plan for how she should run her business.
Through some hard conversations, we were able to figure out:
When we got to the other side of those conversations, we realized something crazy: she’d been overworking herself to reach someone else’s idea of success. She didn’t have to work nearly as hard as she thought she did. She’d been doing the same things I had been doing with IWearYourShirt, and we’d both gotten ourselves out of alignment. All because we’d put our business goals ahead of our life goals.
We believe that the way things have always been done is the way things have to be done. But it’s not true. The 40-hour work week is actually the result of labor laws passed in the 1940s. Prior to that, assembly-line workers often put in 100 hours per week (or more!) at their jobs, and union reps decided that was ridiculous. They fought long and hard to mandate fewer working hours, and they succeeded…kind of. Fast-forward to 2017, and far too many entrepreneurs are back to putting in 100-hour workweeks and calling it “hustle.” It’s not hustle. It’s outdated. And if you’ve ever read The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, you might agree that even 40 hours is too much these days.
It’s never been easier or faster to start your own business, so why are we still adhering to a century-old way of thinking about running our businesses?
I’d like to give you four action steps to shift your thinking from living to work, to working to live.
Before we design a business around the life you want, we have to get really specific about what that life looks like.
Questions to ask to start identifying your ideal life:
I want to challenge you to break down everything you know or expect from “normal” work hours and work days. Remember: YOU get to make the rules.
Here’s an example of how my wife and I break the 9-5 norms and schedule our weeks around our ideal life metrics:
We wrote down the things we wanted and then we worked to have them fit into our lives. It didn’t happen overnight, but without actually committing to making changes, it never would have happened.
As an example week, my wife Caroline wrote down these life metrics:
Then, she blocked them off FIRST on her calendar:
After her life was scheduled, she THEN added her work blocks to her calendar:
You’ll notice her work hours add up to a 26-hour workweek. Sorry Tim Ferriss, we’re go-getters around here. Joking aside, this is a fairly standard workweek Caroline. Yes, it does change from time to time, just as life changes. But the point is to set the intention each week to focus on LIFE first, then work.
The way we measure things matters. What we measure = the way we define success.
Are you measuring only money? If you are, you’re conditioning your mind and heart to live or die based on your bank account. Spoiler alert: this is a recipe for never being satisfied.
Instead of thinking about standard business metrics first, how about thinking of life metrics like these:
Let’s bring my wife back into the mix and and show you how she created a practical exercise to write out her life metrics and then reflect on them.
Here’s the practical life metrics chart you can use:
Here’s Caroline’s life metrics chart filled in (honestly, which is important!):
Alrighty, this is all well and good. Now that we know what a good life looks like (our life metrics), and how to measure it, let’s talk about MONEY. More specifically: Using money as a TOOL.
You may feel the financial crunch of money on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. My wife and I felt this exact same way a few years ago. Until we realized we needed a Minimum Monthly Magic (MMM) number.
How do you define your MMM number?
Identify the LEAST amount of money you need to get your Life Metrics where you want them.
There are two questions that can really help during the MMM number discovery process:
Before I give you the MMM number formula we’ve created, I want to hit home an important point: your current choices about money and life haven’t gotten you where you want to be yet, have they? So, if you aren’t willing to make a change, how do you ever expect to get the things you actually want? Change is uncomfortable, but absolutely necessary.
Here is our MMM number formula:
Monthly living expenses
+ Monthly business expenses
+ Paying off debt
+ Peace of mind cushion
= Your MMM number
I’m bringing Caroline back into the mix because we’ve been using her as a guinea pig, so why stop now??
As you can see, Caroline’s MMM number was $3,000. That number may be high or low for you. The number is only important as a measuring stick to achieving the life you actually want. The MMM number will change over time and may change within the next few months. That’s okay!
One of the major problems we encountered when we were struggling financially was that it was hard to see how much money we were actually spending on a monthly basis. Banks and credit cards show you a list of transactions, but a list can be very difficult to apply to your entire monthly financial situation (aka budget).
Where are you NOW vs where you WANT to be? What’s the gap? How do you make up the gap? Example: $3,000 (your ideal MMM) – $1,000 (current MMM) = $2,000 (MMM gap)
We have three strategies you can use to make up the MMM gap:
Strategy #1 Your product: Charge more per hour, raise prices, look for efficiencies. This is the place you should ABSOLUTELY start. It may not be the sexy and exciting place to start, but it doesn’t require reinventing any wheels. It requires only being willing to make your existing wheel(s) more efficient.
Strategy #2 Your marketing: Get more projects, more customers, new audiences. If you feel your product is on-point, then it may be time for marketing. Marketing tip #1: Marketing is not one tweet, one Facebook post, or one email. Marketing looks a lot like continual effort. Marketing tip #2: Specialize/narrow your offering, and you’ll actually create more opportunities (ex: don’t call yourself a designer, call yourself a designer who focuses on branding).
Strategy #3 New revenue streams. This is the shiny object in the mix. If you’ve exhausted your existing product(s) and your existing marketing for those product(s), it may be time to create/offer something new.
Here’s a handy-dandy decision tree to help you decide which strategy you should work on to help you make up your MMM gap.
Everyone always wants to START with “new revenue stream,” but that’s the hardest thing. You’re starting from scratch.
Caroline created this chart to help figure out exactly how to fill the MMM gap using the three strategies and then applying specific tactics to make those strategies actually happen.
Here’s a look at the strategies, or the overarching structure she would use to reach her goals:
And then here’s a look at the tactics that she would use to implement those strategies:
I won’t bore you with the long-winded story of how it all worked out, but let’s just say that Caroline was able to go from making ~$1,000 per month to over $3,000 per month in just six months using these exact strategies and tactics. Yes, that is absolutely all the time it took for her to hit her MMM number. And spoiler alert: since that time (two years ago), Caroline has tripled her annual revenue!
If you’re completely happy with your life and business, then you can move on from this article and continue working to live.
But if you’re not happy with your life and business, it’s time to take action. It’s time to look through the four action steps and put in the work I’ve outlined here.
This isn’t a get-rich-quick solution. You will have to make sacrifices You will have to put in some hard work. If you aren’t willing to break your bad habits you’ve picked up over the years, how can you ever expect anything to change?
Embrace short-term pain for long-term gain.
The best way to find hidden money you can save right now is to list out EVERY expense you have (line by line) in one spreadsheet. Once you have that list, you’ll find places where you can make sacrifices.
Getting the life you want typically has to do with money and time. Let’s look at both and how you can make sacrifices with each.
Money: Here’s what we found when we made a list of all our expenses and took a hard look at trimming back (in the short term):
*Your number may not be close to this, or it may be higher. No matter what, find YOUR amount of money you can save each month by making a few sacrifices.
Time: Here’s how we found more hours we could spend enjoying our lives (or using for Action Step #4 above):
*That’s an extra 240 hours each month! These numbers might shock you and they shocked us too. Start keeping track of your time spent in a journal or through an app like RescueTime.
Did you catch that? We literally save ourselves an entire 40-hour work week just in “wasted” hours. We could each work an extra full-time job with those hours! (Or not. That’s the whole point.)
People don’t focus on this stuff enough (I know we didn’t!). As business owners, we’re always telling people what’s possible, but we often forget to share what it takes to get there. We had to give up A LOT in the short-term to experience the life that we now have.
These aren’t forever changes. The things you sacrifice now are simply a way for you to accelerate your journey toward having the life and business you want.
The problem is that so many people don’t want to give things up, so they settle for tiny pieces of the life they want in the present instead of buckling down and making sacrifices in the short term to experience the WHOLE of the life they want in the longer term.
As a final note, I really want to distinguish between the short-term pain of budgeting and sacrificing to achieve your ideal lifestyle (which I advocate), and the so-called short-term pain of working crazy hours now so you can become a millionaire in a few years (which I have done, and do NOT advocate). Not all sacrifices are the same. Your life and time are as important right now as they will be when/if you reach some random IPO goal in the future, so please consider your whole life when making decisions about where to spend your time and money.
We’ve given you the exercises. We’ve talked about the theory of Working To Live. But now it’s up to you.
Are you going to put in the time it takes to have the life you dream about?
Are you going to embrace the short-term pain to achieve the long-term gain?
If you’re working your ass off right now and wondering when you’ll finally be able to come up for air, let me leave you with this one question:
Honestly? What’s the point of all the blood, sweat, and tears — the launches, the clients, the hustle, the risks — if not to architect a life filled with all the things you’ve always wanted?
One hundred years ago when you died, your friends and family were left with only their memories of you and maybe a handful of physical reminders. Your off-the-cuff opinions and thoughts didn’t have much longevity in the world. Even if you’d written them down, it would’ve been hard for you to control your reputation posthumously.
Today, everything is different: Thanks to the internet, we have an unbelievable amount of power in controlling how we are remembered.
So, here’s a question for you…
If you died tomorrow, would you be remembered for what you want to be remembered for?
Think about that seriously for a moment.
While I don’t expect you to read this article and then go share every thought and opinion you’ve ever had online, I wonder if this will change your perspective on what you’ll post next on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. I wonder if it’ll make you think twice about the next negative or pessimistic thing you want to share.
Your reputation is everything. It’s also the only thing you’re in complete control of. My great grandfather had a quote that I’ll never forget:
“There’s one thing in this world that you can’t buy or sell. That’s your reputation. You build it, you own it, you maintain it.”
We live in a time when you can completely control how people view you and what they think of you. A hundred years ago, that only happened through word of mouth—which, as powerful as it is, can be very difficult to make changes to. Nowadays you can put out a string of tweets or write a blog post, and people can change their perception of you or your business in a moment.
You definitely don’t have to wait until you or your business are in crisis to begin managing your online reputation. There are so many things you can do to lay the groundwork for a meaningful legacy.
Have you been thinking about doing something charitable? Don’t wait a moment longer. Find an organization or cause that needs exposure and that aligns with your personal and/or professional goals. Use your platform (no matter the size) to help others.
Have you been dreaming of putting a big project, or business out into the world? Share that sucker on every channel you have! Now’s the time.
Do you have an idea or story to share? Something you want the world to know or understand about you? Share it—how else will we ever find out? If you die tomorrow without sharing your idea, that idea gets buried in the ground with you (or whatever your preference is).
We don’t know if dead people have regrets, but we certainly know that, as we get older, we start to regret not doing things. When it comes to the internet, we may regret not having left any evidence of the things we believe in, stand for, and support. And I’m certainly not talking about your thoughts on the next political candidate or if you’re offended by GMO avocados.