The longest journey starts with a single step: Proverb
Many people may be faced with reinventing their lives. Some will come to it by choice and others by necessity but it has been my belief that the human ability to start over, take what we have learned and apply it in new settings or problems is one of the greatest gifts of our humanity. Living in troubling and complex times, this skill is needed by many.
An examination of where we want to go, the obstacles we face, and the support systems we can count on encourages us to “shoot for the moon” while grounding us in the “here and now” realities of our lives. It is our ability to maneuver through the tensions between our dreams (moving our hearts and bodies forward) and our current connections (conservative, holding us in place) that will determine the sustainability of our success. My mother used to use the phrase, “Don’t run off half cocked” or “You are like a chicken without its head”. She was trying to tell me that my current zest and enthusiasm were not grounded in anything.
On the other hand, people who want to fulfill their dreams but spend every minute working hard at the status-quo, will not be able to move forward. This simple exercise serves as your first step on your new journey. It should take you between 30 minutes and an hour to complete. Remember it is not the time you take but the thoroughness with which you consider each of these points that is important.
We start by analyzing the purpose behind our desire to reinvent ourselves or our work life. What drives you? Consider this question and write down the answer. Remember this is your own document – if your purpose is to make more money so you can enjoy the good life, so be it. On the other hand, some of us are motivated by lofty goals. I am currently involved in a project that is audacious; I want to work internationally to redesign education! What is important in this exercise is that our purpose for doing hard work excites us. Does your purpose match your hearts desire?
Next, you move into dreaming. While it may be satisfying or provocative to dream about the life created by fulfilling great purposes, this dream should be practical as well. Given where you are now, where would you like to be in five years? Imagine a life where you have had a few lucky breaks, and things have gone well. What job do you have? What are the things that concern you each day? What do you like best about this life? What feelings does it give you? Who else works with you, lives with you, or plays with you? What make you happy in each of these relationships?
Once you have a vision of why and where you want to go, spend some time looking at your current relationships. Write down the people to whom you are connected, then, put a number by each: one is a person who will actively or passively get in the way of your reinventing yourself. Fives are those who will actively work along side you to make it happen. If you were to add up the rankings and divide by the number of people, what would the average amount of support be? A low score may indicate the need to cultivate new friends.
Next, build a list of what stands in your way. The challenge with this part of the task is not to become emotionally involved with these challenges. You may want to picture yourself sitting in front of yourself at a desk – the part of you that is analyzing and writing down the challenges is the like a lawyer or accountant, matter of fact without emotion. Have this matter of fact part of yourself also consider both what is obvious and what are the greater unforeseen challenges that you may face in the next few years. Life is uncertain and people we love die or need caring for. We also lose jobs or have periods of financial unrest. Without allowing emotion to come into it, write down all that come to mind.
Now go back to the list of people you created a moment ago and put a second column of numbers by their names. This time you are marking the amount of support you expect to find from your relationship with those closest to you in times of trouble and/or in help overcoming the challenges you will face on this journey towards a new life. One should be used for those who are not supportive and five for those who would stop the momentum of their lives to help you through difficult times.
You are almost done! The next to last step involves a bit of planning. I like to sort out ideas as I go, so I put things in time frames. I make headings on my list: NOW-6 months, then I skip a bit of room and put 7 months – 1 year, then 1-2 years, then 2-3 years. Past that, I believe we should come back and plan again because the accuracy of our ideas drop off exponentially according to the amount time away from us. Fill in the blank spaces with steps that move towards your goal. As an example, before I started my international project I had to put up a website and go to conferences to mention my idea to other people who might like to join me. Before I could do either of those I had to learn how to put up a website, and to apply to go to the conferences. It does not matter whether we work forward or backwards on the list, whether we start here and plan ahead or start at our goal and work backwards, either direction has its good points, and a mixture of both is appropriate.
Finally, before you put your paper away, consider what routines you need to develop to accomplish your goals. Projects, taking on new ideas, going on for more training all require two types of resources: time and money. Where are you going to get them? The time issue may be the worst, and over the years, I have found that new projects mean I need to get up 30 minutes earlier every day. With that investment, things begin to roll. Once I have momentum, somehow the space appears in my life to carry on. Saving money is the same, but I have found that increasing finances may be easier than cutting back expenses. What part time things can I do to bring in the money I will then save towards my goal? As with time, once the envelope in the drawer begins to fill up it is easier for the savings plan to continue.
You may choose to put your plan in a drawer, to be taken out periodically and re-examined. Others will want to share their ideas with those they love. Be sure to share your ideas with those who ranked a four or a five on the scales of helpfulness and support; their knowing your ideas will help you be accountable. At the end of the day I am reminded of wise words from my nephew, “It is not how well we proceed towards our goals that counts in the end, but how easily we get started again when we have fallen off”. This structure for planning can be used over again with time, each becoming a refinement of our dreams and our paths to fulfill them.