I entered 2017 with a reasonable amount of self-doubt and an equally murky view of the future. The US election had yielded a seemingly unthinkable result. My short-term work assignment in Seattle was coming to an end. My relationship of 9 years (off & on) was on a slippery slope toward the wrong direction. I won't go as far as saying my life was in shambles - it was never that - but more so than years past, I lacked clarity. I didn't know what I was doing or what was next.
This time last year I was engaged in an endless internal dialogue that consisted of the same three questions -
- What's next for me and ----?
- What's keeping me from making the permanent move to Seattle?
- I feel stagnant, complacent, and uninspired. Why?
I won't delve into specifics, but what followed is what felt like, to me at least, a literal whirlwind of change in 2017. Here are my learnings.
Most of your obstacles are imaginary
Notice I didn't say "all". It would be ludicrous for me to tell you that your obstacles and challenges aren't real. For many people, myself included, there are a multitude of real things that get in our way. Those reasons may include money, family, work, you name it. But if you peel back the layers as to why those reasons may prevent you from achieving something or from taking a first step toward the pursuit of your dream, they become less and less certain don't they?
Let's take the popular obstacle of money. I had a conversation over the summer with a friend of mine catching up on the other's life since the last time we met. Our conversation eventually led to him confessing that he wishes he had more money to travel and made a comment toward me implying that I had tons of it for the amount of travel I do. I quickly stopped him.
First, I explained that while you do need a certain amount of money to travel, you don't have to go after these ridiculously expensive vacation destinations to satisfy that bug. Many of the places I've been to this year happened to be work sponsored trips. All these "cool adventures"? They're within a few hours drive from home. Don't forget all the incredible experiences that exist in your backyard. While you were dreaming about one day making it to Italy, your neighbor just wrapped up an epic weekend trip to Sedona.
Secondly, if you know you need a little more money to fund that spontaneous adventure, maybe stay away from the twice weekly happy hour spot for a month? You know the one - drinks and apps are cheap, so cheap that you end up having a $50 bill afterward. There are so many financial decisions we make daily that we don't even think about. Simply strategizing your food (and beer) intake for a week can go a long way.
In short, I learned that many of the obstacles that were in my way were perceived obstacles. Spend the time to deconstruct those challenges and develop a plan on how to overcome them. They're never as gating as you think they are.
We all have the same 24-hour day
Ah, time. We all wish we had more of it. The funny thing is that when it comes to time, it's an equal playing field for us all. I was notorious for saying things like "I'll see if I have time", "I don't have time for that", or my favorite "how do you have so much time to do that?".
My 9-5 is designing customer experiences for a fairly large tech company. At work, my entire day is designed and strategized upon. I create my to-do list with my morning coffee. I look over my calendar to see what important meetings I have to attend and what I can put off to allow more focus on priority items. I skim my weekly calendar to ensure that I have a bird's eye view of important events, working sessions, or deadlines. I am extremely intentional with how I spend my time at work because I have to and it allows me time to focus on what matters most.
Once I get home, that intention and organization turns into a shit show. I spend an ungodly amount of time on my phone playing games or browsing social media. Oh, someone just mentioned that I should watch this new show on Netflix - let's queue it up! Whoops, just fell into a Wikipedia rabbit hole. Now I know everything there is know about Bill Murray. Does this accurately describe anyone you know? Maybe you?
Needless to say, I was tired of "not having enough time." I took my bosses approach early in the year and applied the same strategic thinking I use at work with my personal life. I put things on paper. I wrote down personal goals - travel destinations, shows I wanted to attend, people I wanted to see, etc.
This world is filled with things that are designed to distract you as much as possible. Unless you approach that chaos with a certain level of organization, you're going to let the world design your life. Take control.
Which brings me to my next learning ...
Simplify your life
A few months ago I made a last minute decision to chase the sunrise at the Alabama Hills in California and asked my cousin if he wanted to join. It was pretty last minute, I wasn't sure if he was up for it. To my surprise, him and his girlfriend were up for it. During the drive we chatted about how I strive to live simply by eliminating complexity. I told him that as I get older I realize that we live life bogged down with so many complexities - some necessary, some not. The trick is to shed that weight, purposefully and consistently. It’s not easy to do the things you want to do. But, when you free your life of things, thoughts and people who don’t add value … you end up creating a space that you can flourish in, a space that you can grow into.
Imagine your life as a room. Imagine walking into that room and finding it full of boxes of things you’ve carried with you your entire life - memories, material possessions, people. Some of those boxes are overflowing, their contents all over the floor. Imagine you want to make this room a special place for you to create. You want to fill it with new adventures, new people, your dreams, maybe a new business venture. That's impossible with so much clutter around.
Let go of things that are unnecessary to allow room for what you want your life to be. It's incredible the amount of inspiration you can find when your mind and heart are free.
And finally ...
When it comes to your life, it's ok to be selfish. Sometimes.
Letting go usually means that you're doing so at the expense of something or someone else. Sometimes it means confronting the idea that you are acting selfishly. That's okay.
Don't spend your life tied to ideas, things, or people that prevent you from growing. It's important to really take a step back and audit your life. This was probably the most emotionally exhausting exercise that took place for me in 2017. At the time, I was unsure if it was the right decision, if we were making the right decision. But when both of you love each other so deeply and authentically, it's easier to agree upon the path ahead. Sometimes that path diverges, for us it did. We acted selfishly, sure. We wanted to pursue our dreams, to grow, and to enter a different chapter of our lives .. but we knew that our arms wouldn't be interlocked throughout that journey.
For some of you, letting go may not be as profound or impactful. Acting selfishly may mean simply allowing yourself some R&R, a new investment in yourself, or dedicated time each day to meditate. For me, it meant letting go of a constant fixture in my life for the last decade. It's different for everybody. But in that act, you find just a little bit of clarity. Enough to jumpstart your next chapter.
Goodbye 2017, you did a number on me. But I'm grateful and ready for 2018. Cheers.
"Don't worry. Everything is going to be amazing."