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Experimentation Plus Intention: The Philosophy That Fuels Our Business

Wandering Aimfully Through Creative Business

Experimentation Plus Intention: The Philosophy That Fuels Our Business

By trying many different things while staying rooted in our values, we allow ourselves and our businesses to evolve toward what it right and true for us.
Caroline ZookCaroline Zook Caroline ZookCaroline Zook

Written by

Caroline Zook

Do you ever feel like you TRY too many things? Like you have too many interests?

Do you ever feel judged for having a different vision for your life or business every few weeks?

Do you beat yourself up over not being able to “nail down” or get more streamlined with your creative business?

Do you have a million project and ideas you’re juggling at once that you LOVE but the world keeps telling you to focus and pare down and it leaves you feeling like an amateur?

If any of this hits home for you, you’re in the right place.

This is probably one of the biggest things I’ve struggled with in my own journey as a creative.

But fear not, if you are indeed a “multi-passionate” (as Marie Forleo says), there IS a way to indulge in your curiosities without feeling lost or aimless.

Jason and I can attest to this because we are both lifelong dabblers. We love SO many different things, yet we have found a way to nurture each of these interests and learn from every side-road on our journey without finding ourselves tangled up and static in a never-ending circle. We are able to do this by employing our simple philosophy of “exploration plus intention.”

What does “experimentation plus intention” mean?

This notion of experimentation plus intention is actually the foundation upon which the Wandering Aimfully brand is built.

Wandering allows us to stay open and leave room to try things, to explore, to dabble, to taste and to experience a multitude of things.

But, there’s a caveat. “Aimfully” to us means with intention. So as we wander, we do so always with a goal, a purpose, and a compass in mind—that compass being our core values.

These two opposing forces create for us a sense of balance. With too much exploration, we may find ourselves trying a million things that actually don’t align with our values or our goals, ultimately leaving us feeling burned out and as lost as ever. And with too much emphasis on intention and adhering strictly to our intended goals, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to be surprised, to learn new things, and to evolve our goals as we grow and change.

This is why they pair so nicely together!

We have seen this idea serve us well in just about every aspect of our lives. For example, take our health journey. As of writing this, we have transitioned over to a (mostly) plant-based, whole foods diet, giving up all meat back in the winter of 2016. This is the diet and food regimen that fuels our bodies and fits our values best, but we would never have arrived at that understanding without utilizing the Wandering Aimfully/exploration plus intention philosophy.


The benefits of viewing your life and business as an experiment

A few years ago, before I even really knew that working for yourself was an option, I thought I was REALLY good at predicting the future.

Throughout my childhood years and even well into college, I had learned how to excel within the system that was laid out for me, and I had a pretty good grip on how the whole cause-and-effect game worked:

You study hard for a test, you get an A.
You get all A’s, you land that highly coveted internship.
You land the internship, you get the fancy job.
You get the fancy job, you make the fancy money.
And so on and so forth.

The path to “success” seemed like a well-laid out script, one that I just needed to recite line-by-line precisely and things would turn out just fine.

The problem with following this kind of script is this:

You can’t predict know how you’ll FEEL at every step of the process.

You can dream and scheme about the future, but you can’t possibly predict whether your heart and soul will struggle under the circumstances you’re climbing toward, or whether it will thrive.

When you plan you’re future based on your mental assumptions, you leave no room for course-correction.

“When you plan you’re future based on your mental assumptions, you leave no room for course-correction.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel entirely comfortable with that arrangement. Risk working your butt off to achieve something that still might leave you unhappy? No thanks.

Which then begs the question… if moving forward down a well-worn path could still lead us to an unfulfilled future, what’s the alternative?


Creating a feedback loop for your experiences

When I discovered this whole world of “entrepreneurship” (can we just agree that’s the hardest word to say out loud, by the way?) I was working for Jason’s marketing company, IWearYourShirt.

To better understand the startup world and how companies grow, I was reading a book called The Lean Startup. In it, the author talked about this methodology called the Build-Measure-Learn Feedback Loop. The idea behind this framework is that you don’t really KNOW anything about your business, your customers, or your product until you try something, measure the results, and see what you can learn from it.

It seemed so obvious: The only way to know you were building the right kind of company (one that matched your vision) was to view each step of the process as an experiment. Build, measure, learn. Come up with a hypothesis; engage in an experiment; draw a conclusion from the results.

The more I thought about it, the less I cared about how this would help me build a successful startup, and the more I realized it was a great way to guarantee myself a fulfilled life.

The same benefits apply in both contexts. Don’t just assume how a decision will alter your life, test it out.

Since reading that book, Jason and I have used this simple mantra as our “team motto” of sorts when it comes to designing our lives together:

“Life is an experiment.”

In other words, don’t assume anything.

As much as we humans love strategizing and planning and predicting, the future reality we assume we know isn’t actually real. Not until we actually get out there, test the waters, and report back on what we’ve learned.

When it comes to my life and my business, I used to approach everything from a very cerebral place. I wanted to think about the strategy, the logistics, the pro’s and con’s, what the future might hold, what obstacles might be waiting for me.

But now?

Now, I assume nothing and I try everything.

As some of you know, at the beginning of July I gave myself the challenge to post to the Made Vibrant blog five days a week for a month. There was so much content rattling around in my head, and I wanted to hold myself accountable to make the time to get it all in writing. I also wanted to grow the Made Vibrant community, and I thought regular, quality content would be helpful in reaching that goal.

What I didn’t account for was how writing five posts a week it would make me feel.

Turns out, it made me feel like I was just trying to keep up with the “content marketers” of the world. I felt like I was trying to follow the herd rather than forge my own path. And while I’m proud of the posts I was able to produce, if I’m being honest, it also made me feel a bit inauthentic. Like I was trying to hit this arbitrary number instead of sharing from the heart when and how I wanted to, something I’ve always prided myself on. Not to mention it took a lot more time to produce quality content than I expected, which took time away from things in my business I never want to lose, like responding to email replies from these weekly newsletters.

The entire experiment helped me see that growing this community was probably something I thought I should want, rather than something that truly matters to me. It helped me return to what I feel is unique about Made Vibrant — that the focus is on building a business that is aligned with my values and beliefs, not one that is focused on scaling for the sake or growing my revenue just because that’s what I “ought to do.”

My point here is this: I don’t think I would have realized all this without committing fully to the experiment. I could have spent months trying to predict and perfect the optimal content marketing model, and it all would have led me to that feeling of unease and inauthenticity.

When thinking fails, try ENGAGING instead. 

True learning and understanding can only come from experimentation. From actually engaging in whatever your assumption is. Everything else is speculation.

I want to challenge you to think of your own life as an experiment.

What is one assumption that you’ve been holding onto that you can actually start testing this week?

Maybe you assume that setting up a blog will be hard and frustrating. Give it a try and see how it feels.

Maybe you assume you’re not a runner. Go for a jog each day this week. See how it feels.

By treating your life like an experiment, you can make sure that every step you take in your life is true to YOUR vision, not the script that someone else has laid out for you.

Life is about discovery. It’s not about fitting into the box that the world has constructed for you; it’s about creating your own.

Making experimentation part of the plan

I did a podcast interview with a friend of mine from the early early days of blogging, Kelsey Cronkhite of Pinegate Road. Kelsey and I talked about a lot of things (and I totally recommend listening to the episode!) but one tiny part at the end had me thinking long after we hung up.

When Kelsey asked me what particular mantra was guiding me at the moment (1:19:10 mark of the ep if you want to listen), the first one that came to mind was one that has guided Jason and me in life and business for years:

“Life is an experiment.”

“Life is an experiment.”

This simple phrase has always reminded me to keep a mentality of exploration and adventure as I approach both life and business. It reminds me of the importance of testing assumptions and pushing boundaries. You can’t always think or plan your way through things… you have to test and try and be willing to find out.

BUT, then Kelsey asked an interesting follow-up question:

“What would you say to someone who IS a planner. How can they go from that ‘wanting to have it all figured out’ stage to actually taking that first step?”

Without thinking about it too much, my answer was:

“You make experimentation a part of the plan.”

What I was trying to say was that experimentation CAN be purposeful and intentional and you just have to remind yourself that trying things is actually a more efficient and effective way to figure things out, rather than just thinking about something and making assumptions.

The funny thing is though…

I desperately needed to remind MYSELF of this advice.

As much as I still try to use the ‘life is an experiment’ mantra to guide me, if I’m really honest with myself, I still carry some kind of guilt around how much experimenting I do—especially in business.

Just in 2016 alone, with my business Made Vibrant I tried: a daily art project, selling art prints and originals, filming two new art classes, live paid classes, free email courses, redesigning my website, launching a monthly subscription, the list goes on and on and on.

The truth is I love to learn BY DOING. I love experimenting—thinking something might yield a certain result but then testing it and trying it only to find it yields a completely different result.

So why then do I often find myself feeling GUILTY about this experimentation?

Why do I feel like all this experimenting should have led to some grand conclusion by now?


You’re never done experimenting and evolving

My word for 2016 was CURATE, and (as our best-laid plans often tend to) that didn’t quite pan out the way I intended it to.

I think subconsciously I wanted that year to be some sort of “graduation” from trying so many things, not because I no longer wanted to try new things but because I thought I SHOULD have reached that point in my business where things felt more stable, more concrete. Like it was all supposed to lead to some big moment of clarity and then I would continue on in a clear and methodical way from that point forward.

I had to learn to appreciate the fact that, for me, I don’t think there is some final destination of clarity. It’s a mirage; a horizon line that keeps moving the closer you try to get to it.

And now that I’m thinking about it, if there WAS actually an end to all my experimenting, I would be so sad!

I love making exploration and discovery a part of our business. I love trying several different things and being surprised by the outcome. I never want to lose that.

So that’s how I make peace with the never-ending experimentation; I make it intentional. (Hello, experimentation with intention!)

Jason and I raise up experimentation as a CORE VALUE in our business, and in doing so, I can remove the guilt around needing to have some static trajectory or plan.


Giving yourself permission to evolve

Another important part of the experimentation with intention balance is understanding what happens when you swing too far to the intention side of things and cling to a plan or a goal that might not serve you anymore.

At the beginning of each year, I make a plan. This plan feels authentic in the moment because it’s true to who we are and what we want at that point in time. But by halfway through the year, some life curveball has inevitable been thrown my way and I have to completely recalibrate the plan. I want you to know you have permission to do the same.

Don’t cling to a roadmap that no longer feels aligned with who you’re becoming.

“Don’t cling to a roadmap that no longer feels aligned with who you’re becoming.”

Here are some lessons I’ve learned over the years about loosening the grip on my plan and allowing myself to evolve and explore as the year goes on.


#1: Plans are incredibly valuable, but only as a place to begin.

I’m still a big believer in planning because, as I said, it gives you something to aim for. Something—even the wrong thing — in my opinion, is more valuable than standing still. Even the missteps and the dead ends teach us something. As the author Garrison Keillor says, “It’s all material,” and I believe that to be true about writing AND about life. Without my own experiment of trying a version of my plan and having that feeling as a point of comparison, you might not otherwise be able to recognize when it’s time to shift or evolve.


#2: Don’t let your loyalty to a plan propel you down a path that doesn’t feel true.

That doesn’t necessarily mean give up before seeing a plan to its completion; it just means be honest with yourself when it’s time to shift gears and then actually take steps to make that shift. Pay attention to the signs your intuition is trying to share with you about charting a new course. Recognize your sunk cost bias, and ask yourself if it’s worth continuing down a path that will only be harder to shift the longer you’re on it.


#3: Allow yourself to embrace the evolution.

Listen, in my opinion, if we’re doing this whole human being thing correctly, then we’re going to be changing all the time. Every six months I feel like I’m a new version of myself with slightly (or not so slightly) different wants and needs and desires and dreams. We have to honor that if we’re really interested in living full-color, vibrant lives.

Is it frustrating to constantly feel like you’re in a state of flux? Well, yeah, but it’s also what makes life fun and exciting. The sooner we embrace that, the more time we’ll spend in alignment with what our souls truly want.


#4: Have some self-compassion when you find yourself learning these lessons over and over.

That last statement I made about “allowing yourself to embrace the evolution”…Yeah, I’ve probably written an article about that exact topic in different terms every six months for the past three years. And yet, every time I’m in the midst of another shift, I try to fight it. And I have to learn the SAME set of lessons all over again.

The newest difference, though? I’m no longer interested in beating myself up over it. With every new evolution, I’m able to pivot a little faster, with a little less guilt, with a little more self-compassion, and I know I’ll probably continue to do that for the rest of my life. You too might have to relearn the same lessons, but as long as you’re becoming more resilient and still finding your way back to your truth each time, I think that’s all we can ask of ourselves.

These are all the reasons we love the experimentation plus intention philosophy. Through this balance, we’ve been able to try so many different things, continue to push ourselves and grow, while always keeping our values and a clear aim in mind.

Feel free to apply this approach to your own business and life!

Experimentation Plus Intention: The Philosophy That Fuels Our Business

(Big Fat Takeaway)

We need experimentation to grow and learn, but we need intention to stay rooted in our values and to make forward progress. The combination of both allows you to discover new things while evolving toward the best and brightest version of who you are.


This article written by

Caroline Zook

She/Her | Artist, designer + writer passionate about helping soulful creatives grow into their brightest selves. Lover of bright colors + even brighter people! One half of the crazy duo running these parts!

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