For a better 2021, think inside the box

The transition to 2021 is well underway, and it couldn’t come a moment too soon! Have you started imagining how this new year could be better than the last? 

The forced solitude and downtime, plus a greater awareness of mortality, are sparking cravings for change in so many people.

Cravings for more meaning, authentic connection, and freedom in our lives and work.

These changes will be unique to each of us. It can be hard to know where to start, or what to focus on first. Tip #1:

wear your innovation hat

I suggest taking a page out of the innovation playbook. As innovation pros know, the best ideas don’t come from a blank page, infinite possibilities, and a generous bank account. 

Instead, the best ideas emerge within design constraints.* Thinking outside the box paradoxically requires thinking inside a box. 

Constraints are even more important for brains like ours that are dazzled by possibilities.  

If we’re smart and talented, perhaps we’ve believed that we could be anything we want. We tend to like novelty, so our overactive brains get busy with endless ideas about what we could or should be. 

We don’t like the idea of limitations… our culture says we’re supposed to correct or transcend them. But  limitations are precisely what we need most. They force us to look at the world more creatively, using fresh perspectives and improving focus and resourcefulness. 

Start with WHO

Tip #2 is my guiding mantra for any kind of strategy, personal or professional: Start with WHO.

Innovation pros know to start with a clear understanding of an archetypal customer: a persona that articulates the needs, mindsets, beliefs and the core challenge to be solved. They know that trying to please everyone results in not pleasing anyone. The persona guides many of the constraints.  

Why should intentional life design be any different? 

Starting with WHO starts with YOU: deeply understanding yourself and how you’re unique. Your core needs that drive your behavior. Your skills, passions, and hard-wired limitations. Those inconvenient facts that won’t change anytime soon: these define your box. 

We stop believing we could do or be anything and start playing with the hand we’re dealt. Not someday in the future if/when our circumstances might be different, but right now. 

Reframe limitations as design constraints

The moment I felt truly liberated was when I publicly claimed what is about myself instead of wishing I was different. I started focusing on what brought me joy instead of being obsessed with fixing or hiding what I assumed was flawed. I stopped waiting for someday or for more money in the bank. 

See, I have a laundry list of personal design constraints: I have a quirky brain that isn’t embraced by most companies. I’m a deeply intuitive dot-connector who doesn’t always understand social rules. I can be too direct, despite decades of practice. I get overwhelmed easily, so I need to carve out a lot of white space. My reality feels slippery: it’s hard to set goals and stick to the plan. I crave novelty and chase shiny ideas. I’m terrible at managing details.

I could have continued my decades-long struggle with trying to “fix” these limitations; instead I embraced them as design constraints in my personal life innovation project. They allowed me to take a pile of wishful options off the table (hurray!) to focus more clearly on my truth.

Is it then any surprise I’ve designed an incredible life in which I get to serve as an “intuitive acupuncturist of the psyche” (as one client called me) for similarly wired humans? In which I can roam the world with my camera instead of sitting under florescent lights getting 2 weeks of vacation a year? Where I outsource what I’m not good at, to focus on what lights me up?

I have designed my perfect life, not in spite of, but because of my limitations. I work with them, not against them. Are there a few things I’d like to improve? Sure. But a lot less than there used to be, when any option was fair game. 

We have very little choice about who we are, but 100% choice with what we do with it. 

Thriving happens when you fall in love with the hand you’re dealt, get creative with what the best version of you might look like, and challenge your assumptions about what’s possible… within the box. 

Questions:

What are your design limitations? What are your YESSES; what lights you up? When you combine your limits with what lights you up, what ideas are sparked about your work, relationships, location, calendar? What doesn’t fit those constraints you can now confidently take off the table? Share in the comments!

Want to jumpstart this process?

Check out the Intentional Rebels group coaching program starting in January! Not just for career transitions, this program will help you design your most authentic life or work. We start with WHO — your unique needs, values and archetypes — and design from there. 

If you prefer a more personalized 1:1 approach, book a call with me for a no-obligation chat. 

*PPPS. If you want to read more about design constraints in innovation, check out this article in HBR or this one in Inc. 

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Are you designing your life, or is it designing you?

This past Saturday I ventured to the Javakheti Plateau, the high-desert region near the Georgia/Armenia border where the rugged landscape and frigid winter temperatures have shaped the lives of the (predominantly) Russian-speaking immigrants who dwell there. 

I was well aware of my privilege as I photographed the ice fisherman who daily brave sub-zero temperatures to feed themselves and their communities, where they live in cement-block huts with dried dung on the roofs for insulation.

Yet privilege does not automatically bring freedom to design our lives, n’est pas? Privilege simply provides the opportunity; we must choose to take advantage of it. 

For decades, I was no more free than these ice fishermen. Sure, I lived in a beautiful Pacific Heights apartment in San Francisco, and traveled the world with my consulting job. But I wasn’t free. 

I was trapped by the perpetual running on the hamster wheel in order to (barely) afford my life. Trapped by my own mind, by should’s and expectations, by assumptions that the life I yearned for was for other people. Lucky people. Not for me. 

Freedom, first and foremost, is a state of mind. 

You were born with an incredible gift: the gift of choice. Perhaps you’re already choosing your YES, intentionally designing your life instead of allowing it to design you. Awesome; you can stop reading!

But if you’re feeling trapped in a life of quiet desperation, wanting more joy but not really knowing how to attain it — or worse, knowing but frozen by fear — I’m writing to you. 

Are those real restraints on your life? Maybe so. Or maybe they’re excuses… or failure of imagination… or refusal to challenge your own assumptions. 

The only thing that truly holds us back is not soul-crushing poverty or the lack of education or opportunity: it’s ourselves. 

Liberation of the mind, heart and soul starts with radical understanding and acceptance of who we truly are, without apology; this self-acceptance is the key that unlocks the power of choice. From here, it’s easier to know instinctively what we want; we’re no longer dazzled by too many possibilities. And it’s also easier to take that first step into the darkness of unknown, trusting deeply. 

It took me until I was 50 years old before I learned how to listen and trust the innate wisdom in my body instead of my brain…  through a lot of trial and error. They don’t teach this stuff in school. I don’t want it to take that long for you. 

Will 2021 be another groundhog year, endlessly repeating the same stuck behaviors and situations? Or will you choose to diverge from that pattern, making new choices that are more aligned with who you truly are? 

The power is in your hands. A simple choice — “to hell with it… let’s just do this already!” — can change the entire trajectory of your life. 

PS. Sometimes we need a little guidance and support as we leave the security of our comfort zones. My role is that of the sherpa who knows the terrain and can walk alongside you. One of my amazing clients wrote about our 4-month journey together: 

“Jen has been through her own dark night of the soul, so she knows the territory and is able to hold all that comes up along your journey of self-discovery and self-actualization. She’s creative and has a rich toolkit of frameworks she’s designed to help you explore your inner landscape to find out what’s alive for you and what wants to emerge. She uses her strategic mind to help you make sense of all that’s uncovered, seeing patterns and helping you see the forest when you’re stuck in the weeds. She’s also versed in somatic and mindfulness practices which enrich the self-discovery journey by bringing in the wisdom of the body. If you’re looking to birth a more authentic version of yourself or need help navigating transitions, you could not ask for a better partner and guide than Jen.”

– Kate, Creator of Contagious Vulnerability

You can work with me 1:1, or join a supportive tribe of fellow rebels (sign-ups end soon!). If you’re curious, feel free to book a no-obligation call with me. I’d love to hear about your aspirations for 2021.