While I’m in this place of spilling secrets, here’s another one: “What should I do with my life?” is a question I ask myself too. (This turned out to be a bit long, but I’ve written it in a way that you can split it in two readings if you need to.)
Yes, me. Me, the manager who already has Managing with Aloha and a sweet coaching business built up to share it, and me the writer, who is very excited about firing up the site again and who is having a ton of fun doing so because I am not bored by what I already have (not even close). Me, the empty nester whose baby birds completely pay their own way in life now (finally) so she can take her husband to Las Vegas to play more often, and me, the speaker who can talk story with a room of 6 or 700 people and not quake in her slippers anymore (or so I tell myself).
To anyone who thinks this question is a one-time deal, usually leading up to college graduation, you’re wrong. Life doesn’t happen that way. School and other conventions are man-made contrivances. Life is a rule-breaker. You work on something, you think you’ve arrived — maybe even aced it — and then you try to fall asleep one night and you can’t, because the question decided it was time to show up again. I figure it’s happened to me a truly gut-wrenching four or five times now, the last time being just three months ago, January 20th, 2012 to be exact, when I got a letter that stamped a very big, all legal-official big, “No. No can do, and we will actively stop you from trying again.” on a BHAG-quality relocation project I have been working on for roughly forty years now. (BHAG is “big hairy audacious goal,” a phrase coined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in Built to Last.) When the question slips in the night of a BHAG failure you remember the date. It was the mother of all my gut-wrenchers, and thank goodness for my family, for they kept me from sinking in some tailspin of depression, which certainly would not be a managing with the grace of ALOHA practice.
“What should I do with my life?” is a good question, though it tends to be in that category of questions which also get you to say, “this makes me want to puke.” If you stick with the gut-wrenching, and HO‘OMAU enough to answer it in a spirit-spilling way, you just get on with doing something once the puking is over and you’ve cleaned it up. You add one little word to the question that helps you take the next step, so that you can then take the step that comes after that one:
“What should I do with my life now?”
In living through my gut-wrenchers, and in helping many others work their way through theirs, I have discovered that focusing on those next steps is the very best thing we can do, for they do add up. And sometimes, they walk you toward an answer you never would have thought was a certifiable answer for you, when lo and behold, it is! You see, the frustrating stumper in asking, “What should I do with my life?” is that usually, at that point in time, and especially at that point in time, we truly don’t know what we want. That’s why we’re asking the question in the first place!
“Never would have thought that blogging would be my job, but I sure do love it.”
— Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess
“Plodding housewifery [as the woman who gave up her career and stayed home] sounds great to me!”
— April, aka @apsies
“I believe I’m as happy as it is possible to be. I’m not crying out in ecstatic pleasure, or streaming tears of joy, but I am very happy. It’s not a peak of happiness, but a plateau of happiness that can go on for as long as I live.”
— Leo Babauta, mnmlist
The Managing with Aloha step-by-step answer to the question, is HO‘OHANA + ‘IMI OLA in powerful combination:
Passion in your work, creativity in your life.
You can also describe this powerhouse as creative invention in your work, done for the passion in your life. Either way, they focus on the steps you take. The key of course, are to make them good steps worth the taking — that’s what the rest of this post will be about.
I have a favor to ask of you. As you read the rest of this, please resist any urge you might get with saying, “Yeah, but there must be more to it than this.”
- We make things way more complicated than they need to be, because we’ll riddle them with assumptions. 90% of our assumptions may never happen. We can beat them, and we regularly do: think about it. Thus,
- I’ll be happy to have the “there’s more to it than this” conversation with you AFTER you’ve done the following exercise. We haven’t any room for “yeah, but”s in our MWA vocabulary.
This is the way I have helped others get through their gut-wrenchers, and the way my family helped me get through mine. Everyone needs a coach sometimes, even other coaches (we get assumptions that are real doozies). If the question has you feeling weak in the knees, get someone you trust to prop you up: Asking for help is the most courageous thing we do in life, and you can do it. Think of it as a gift, for other people like being helpers, especially those who care about you. You’re actually telling them they’re trustworthy, and that you trust them with something really big because you recognize their wisdom.
Ready? If not, stop here and sleep on it (if you can). The rest of this post will be waiting when you are ready.
As for that letter I got? It’s not over until I say it’s over. I don’t cave that easily, especially not with my BHAGs. I’ve cleaned up the puke, and I’m still next-stepping right along with you, one good step at a time.
An Exercise in Living for You
One of the most powerful self-coaching exercises you can gift yourself is this one: For the next two weeks time (at minimum, longer is better), sit down with pen and paper right before you go to bed, and take just 5 minutes to answer these two questions:
1. What did I LOVE doing today?
2. What did I HATE doing today?
Think of them as good distractions when “What should I do with my life?” is keeping you up at night, and the very next step you crave is a good night’s sleep. These questions focus on putting the day to bed. The habit of it will lead us toward our next steps instead of describing a goal we can’t describe because we really aren’t sure what we want. Not yet, but we’re willing to do what it takes to find out.
These are the 3 key words of the exercise:
LOVE. Not like, or it was okay; you LOVED it.
HATE. Not dislike, or it bothered you; you LOATHED it.
DOING. Your loves and hates describe actions you personally did. You.
This exercise is about revealing your passions when you suspect you need to look for them.
At the end of the two weeks, do an honest assessment of your results: What did you learn about yourself? Did you affirm something you’ve been suspecting?
Passion is a word I often hesitate using, because it makes people feel overwhelmed. Most of us feel we need great-and-only-great answers when we talk about our passions, when thinking about your loves and your hates is exactly the same thing. Those are the two stripes great answers to passion come in, loves and hates.
Passion can also succumb to this misery-loves-company baggage that the word work gets saddled with. Sure it takes work, this thing we think of as finding our passion, so buck up and do the work on your own terms — that’s what the HO‘OHANA version of work and ‘IMI OLA version of creative reinvention are all about! The alternative is to settle, be complacent or bored, and end up unhappy. Pure yuck. You do not want misery, no matter how much company it has.
One of the things I LOVE about our post-Great-Recession world today, is that people of all ages have given themselves blessed permission to break “the rules” and kiss old conventions goodbye. We are rediscovering what makes our hearts sing as a newly working-as-we-can society, doing what we love, and then figuring out how to self-support ourselves as we do it. That formula really works. It’s a “believe it and you can achieve it” kind of thing. Belief is mighty powerful, so evoke your power.
Next-stepping is a sensible path of self-discovery.
This hasn’t been easy, I know. The past few years have been rough, and they remain rough for many, but we humans are survivors, and we don’t give up, or stop trying: We HO‘OMAU and persist. It might be that we’ve gotten into this becoming-happier place because we can’t find a job under the old ways of getting one, but whatever the bumpiness of the path, we are getting there, and we are reaping the rewards of starting our work search with our passions:
Did you catch that? It’s become a WORK search for us, not a JOB search. Job is about task. Work is about our blood, sweat and tears and our spirit: Work is about HO‘OHANA done for ‘IMI OLA — our best possible life.
Here’s what this discovery sounded like for Kristin Kimball, in one of my favorite books read in recent memory (I reviewed it on Goodreads):
“I was forced to confront my own prejudice. I had come to the farm with the unarticulated belief that concrete things were for dumb people and abstract things were for smart people. I thought the physical world – the trades – was the place you ended up if you weren’t bright or ambitious enough to handle a white-collar job. Did I really think that a person with a genius for fixing engines, or for building, or for husbanding cows, was less brilliant than a person who writes ad copy or interprets the law? Apparently I did, though it amazes me now.”
― Kristin Kimball, The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love (Amazon.com Link)
If you are feeling like you’re going through the motions of a job which doesn’t deliver the passionate work of an ‘IMI OLA life, please try this journaling exercise. It will help you focus on where to start shifting toward better. Even if you don’t yet know what to call it, you’ll work on doing more of your LOVES more often, and give far less of your time to your HATES.
If anyone insists you call it something, say, “I’m next-stepping with Rosa and Managing with Aloha” and give them this link. We’ll welcome them in with our ALOHA, I assure you!
Postscript: I want to give credit where credit is due: This coaching came into my practice as a streamlined variation of the coaching given to us by Marcus Buckingham in his book, Go Put Your Strengths to Work — which I highly, HIGHLY recommend: Every Alaka‘i Manager should read it, do his 6-Step program, and keep a copy in their resource library (right next to Managing with Aloha, of course :)
I also recommend Po Bronson’s book, What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question [Kindle Edition]. Here’s a good article in preview, in the Fast Company archives.