“What do you want to be when you grow up?” This is one of the most frequent questions we ask kids from the time they’re toddlers. “You love animals; you could be a vet!” “You’re so smart, maybe you’ll be a lawyer!”
We’re trained from childhood to focus on building our career path, and we don’t learn to pay attention to how we want to design our life. It feels like we spend our youth working to earn good grades so that we get into a good college so that we land a good job. But what about a “good life”? Your job is just one component of your life, so why is that the main focus? Where do the other pieces fit in, or do they just fall away?
Seth Godin says, “Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.”
We’d like to amend this: “Instead of wondering when you’ll have time for all the things you want to do, design a life that includes them all.”
Sure, we say things like “I want to be happy” and “I want to love my job,” but we often neglect the aspects of our life that are going to play into that happiness and that love. Things like: Do you thrive on the hustle and noise of a city or do you prefer the slower pace of a small town? If you find yourself in a big city pining for trees and no traffic, then it’s important to note that and find a way to change it. Do you enjoy the time to yourself on a 45-minute commute, or would you rather work from a home office so that you can get in a walk and a load of laundry at lunchtime? Learn to become more aware of these subtle differences between what you are currently living and what you’d like to adjust to.
When you make intentional decisions, you will create a happier and healthier work life and personal life. You gain a sense of power because you are an active participant in building – or rebuilding – the life you want to live.
The Danger of Autopilot
For most of us, once we start working, we basically go on autopilot. Even if something doesn’t feel like the right fit or something isn’t going the way we’d hoped, we feel sort of stuck and like, Well, that’s why they call it work. While there are always going to be good days and bad days, life shouldn’t feel like something you need to get through. That’s when people struggle with dissatisfaction, discontentment, depression. When we accept that “ugh” feeling as the status quo, we also fall short of what we can truly accomplish.
So how do we make changes? Is it as simple as changing your job? Sometimes that helps and usually you at least get the “new job” rush for a couple of weeks or even months. But the key is to look at the whole picture.
Imagine that you are making a sandwich that is just bread and a few slices of salami. Technically, that is a sandwich. But being the sandwich artist that you are, you want a much lovelier sandwich, one with salami, turkey, spicy mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles (ew, too far). You want an awesome sandwich. Think of your work as one ingredient, albeit an important one, between the bread, one layer that contributes to an awesome life.
The Ideal Day Exercise
If you could plan it out, how would you spend each day, from the time you wake up until you finally rest your head? Now I know what you’re thinking: Okay, ideal? So I wake up in my glass beachfront house, do some yoga by the pool before meeting up with Beyonce and Jay-Z for some jet skiing with dolphins.* Firstly, that sounds like a great day. Secondly, let’s adjust our thinking a bit. The perfect day exercise isn’t about a once-a-year vacation day, but an every-day, one filled with work we enjoy and time spent with family and all the other things that make us, well, US!
*please don’t try to jet ski with dolphins
The Ideal Day Worksheet is a tool we use to survey our current day and compare it to our ideal day. Once you see it all laid out, you’ll most likely be surprised to realize that a lot of the things you wish you could do each day, you actually CAN do. When you pay attention to the details, you’ll start making adjustments, both small and large, to get you closer to your end goal. While hanging out with Beyonce and Jay-Z might be tough to arrange, living near the water and yoga in the morning could be attainable with some calculated adjustments.
How To Get There
Okay, so now that you’ve drawn up your ideal day and compared it to your current day, how do you get there? Start by visualizing what it looks like. Your thinking really does impact your reality. If you don’t believe us, science can back us up on this: “You write the story of what you think is likely and/or possible based on what you believe is true and then you take actions consistent with those expectations.”
The next step is to start to make intentional changes that get you closer to your design. Start with the smaller changes, like adjusting your morning routine or saying “no” to things you don’t really want to do. Next, take the big changes, such as moving to the beach, and break them up so they, too, become smaller changes that feel more attainable. The key is once you can see the ideal, start building small and incremental steps to get you closer to it. Think of it as slowly turning your cruise ship to point in the right direction.
The Future Is Malleable
Putting it out into the universe is the first step to transforming “What if” into “What is.” It’s important to revisit your Ideal Day at least once a year. As you change, your ideal will change along with it. This exercise helps you regularly audit and make adjustments to ensure you’re heading down the right path.
While you can’t control everything that happens to you, it is your life to direct. No matter where you’re starting from or what you may be fighting against, you can ultimately make choices that guide your life in a certain way. Be more aware of what you want and hold yourself accountable to get there.
Let’s stop asking ourselves and our children “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and start asking a larger and more exciting question: “What kind of life do you want to live?”