I have been thinking about the way we plan (or don’t plan) our lives. Partly because life has changed for me recently, and I am in the process of reinventing aspects of it. As part of my process, I’ve been looking at LinkedIn profiles of people doing similar things to me, for inspiration. As I update and add more information into my own profile, I’ve been realising two things: 1. For the first 40 years of my life I didn’t seem to have much of a plan (but that turns out not to be exactly true); 2. I actually like what I’ve done and where I am.
When I say I didn’t plan, I mean I didn’t have a huge overall vision for my life – or anything coherent that I could grasp and run with (or maybe I had the vision, but not the means to make it a reality). For example, I went to university once I left school, because both my parents had been born in the 1930s and didn’t get the chance to have an education. They both left school at 14 years, and they were excited that I should have the opportunity to have the education they didn’t. But, I didn’t plan a degree or major to help me get a job – I drifted into it by choosing something that I loved: a Bachelor of Arts, happily splashing around exploring literature, history, and music. If you’d asked me at that time what I wanted to do with that degree, I probably would have shrugged and tried to change the subject (my secret answer would have been “Be a writer”, or maybe “Be a rockstar,” as I was writing songs, singing, and playing in garage bands at the time). But regardless of whether I had a clear plan or not, the vision in my head would definitely have included books, writing, reading, creativity and ideas.
So Where Am I Now?
A lifetime of libraries, books, reading, writing, jumping up and down with excitement over ideas, exploring creativity and creating, connecting, and joy. Looking back, I have still ended up doing the exact things I love. Part of me knew exactly what I wanted to do – I just made a lot of detours and had some stallings along the way.
So in this series of posts, I want to explore the idea of designing our lives, as well as the aspect of surrendering and allowing us to trust our path.
Wrestling vs Knowing
I discovered a new writer on Tim Ferris’ podcast. His name is Soman Chainani and he is a fascinating person, with plenty to say about meditation, tennis, writing, the difference between YA and middle grade books, acne, daily schedules, and how he became a writer after starting out as a film-maker. He said something very interesting about the Tao Te Ching. He said: “Essentially, there should not be any decisions. It should be automatic. If it’s not automatic, it’s because there’s something in the way. The thing in your way is the ‘I’, the ego, your self-consciousness.” And he goes on to say that we need to let go of that control.
And that resonates with my own experience. When I’ve wrestled with a decision, it’s either because it’s something I thought I should do, or it’s something that I felt everyone around me was expecting me to do, or thought I should do (and, yes, I’m sure they are related).
So there’s an element of letting go and allowing our paths to emerge, converge, change, and surprise us. That has happened to me several times along the way. It happened when we woke up one morning and realised it was time to have a baby, so we reorganised our lives to allow room for that to happen. We just knew it was time. My daughter is 15 years old now, and I am still totally in love with her, and with being a mum. It is the most awe inspiring and joyful experience of my life.
And the time when I trained to be a teacher, and was just starting my career – until it was unexpectedly cut short when my parents needed me to care for them. Four years of surrendering to their care and creating a life that nurtured us all during that time, was an abrupt change of plans, but it didn’t require any decision making. I immediately accepted that was the right path, and took it.
Gaining Confidence in the Process
And now – as I’m refining my life (again) – I am seeing all the elements come together into a direction that is right for me now. The exciting thing about it is that everything I have done in the past is blending together to enrich what I’m going to do now. Except now I have more confidence and a sense of trust in the process.
My writing has been similar. When I focused on what I thought I should write, my writing stalled. Then – while I was caring for my parents – I was so exhausted that when I wrote it was from a different place. It was intermingled with sadness, and a myriad of other emotions, of watching my parents’ health and bodies decline, and then being with them right up until just before they died (they both died when I was out of the room for a short time). I surrendered my life because that’s all I could do. Caring for loved ones, and having no idea of the time frame or what to expect from one moment to the next, calls for giving up your own agenda. It’s impossible to control any of it. You can control the environment to a certain extent, but not what happens. And that changed my writing. Through that exhaustion I was writing stories and it felt different. I was reaching new places. And I think that’s because I wasn’t trying to plan something I thought might interest others, I was writing my way through a sad and emotional time, trying to make sense of it, and beginning to create real characters with real emotions.
Now that I am embracing a new phase of my life, I know several things: I want my career to be in the midst of creativity, and sharing resources and ideas; and I want there to be a huge component of fun, kindness, writing, joy, children’s fiction, and connection.
But I want to design it all using the guidance of Stanford University lecturers Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, who have created a course called Designing Your Life, which was only available to Stanford students, but which has now been released as a book, and as a course through Creative Live (so the rest of the world can get the benefits of their ideas). Over the next few weeks I’m going to write about my own process of Designing my Life, and see how their ideas enhance it.
Some Things to Explore:
Soman Chainani – Writer and filmmaker, Soman Chainani, can be found here. If you want to check out the podcast with Tim Ferris (I highly recommend it – there is so much info in it), you can find it here. Soman has written a series of books about the School of Good and Evil. I have started reading the first one and will be writing a review once I’ve completed it. If you want to check out the first one, you can find it here (or do a google search for it). I managed to find a paper copy in a local bookshop so I’m enjoying the feel of real paper for once.
Designing Your Life – If you want to get a head start and look at the book by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, you can find it at Amazon, or listen to the Audible version. They’ve also got a website Designing Your Life,and a CreativeLive course that has just come out.