Writing your own story and living it

Many of us have a story about our lives. Whether it was dreamed up when we were young or a story that we have more recently told ourselves with expectations of how life and work will turn out. These stories can serve as motivation, but they can also be distracting and sometimes dangerous. 

  • Did you come from humble beginnings and tell yourself you cannot rise above your station in life?
  • Did your previous job not work out, and you’re hesitant about finding something new?
  • Did you have imposter syndrome and think you are not as qualified to have a seat at the table?
  • Are you at a later stage in life and have told yourself that you are too old to change?

These are stories, not reality. These do not need to be true life today or in the future. We can fulfill our life’s wishes, change directions, and pick paths. It is 100 percent in our control.

However, it is critical, to be honest about where you are today. What are those areas that you are falling short in? What is tripping you up? Diving deeper into what is holding you back and accurately assessing your strengths and weaknesses will help you overcome future hurdles. While I know many people just want to focus on their strengths, if their faults are holding them back, those also deserve attention.  

So how do you write your own story, the whole and true story for this current chapter of your life? You need to have a mindset that you will make deliberate changes to transition from who you are to who you are supposed to be.

The book Designing Your Life is an excellent place to start. Two Stanford Design school professors applied their approach to designing products and software to design people’s lives that are meaningful and fulfilling. What I found unique about Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’ approach is that they have you pause after each chapter and write 250 words to address the questions posed. You are genuinely scripting your life, and the words in front of you guide you to what you wished and hoped for. 

The questions Designing Your Life poses are:

  • Why do we work?
  • What does work mean?
  • What defines good or worthwhile work?
  • What’s the relationship between work and money?
  • How does work relate to the individual and society?
  • What do experience, growth, and fulfillment have to do with it?

Adopt a similar approach when reflecting on your life view, but consider the following questions:

  • Why are we here?
  • What actions align with my values, and what ones do not?
  • What is the meaning or purpose of my life?
  • Where do family, country, and society fit in?
  • Is there a higher power, and how does it impact my life?
  • What is the role of joy, sorrow, justice, injustice, love, and peace in life?

While asking the right questions is essential, the mindset you bring to this vital project is equally important. Bringing confidence that changes to yourself are entirely in your control in achieving your dream. How many of us were stars right out of the gate at anything we tried? It is okay to struggle with something new. This is a part of writing your own story. It is going to take time for this new life to emerge. 

Also, knowing that slowing down is part of the process. Reward yourself with small victories and progress. And the further you emerge, you see changes in yourself, but your friends and family also see your evolution and will be inspired by you. Often, we have a worst-case scenario in our heads. But what if the most formidable challenges are the most transformative and launch you into your next chapter? 

The author J.K. Rowlings is one of those stories demonstrating the ability to rise from a place of despair. J.K. Rowlings had recently lost her mother, had just left an abusive relationship, and found herself on the verge of homelessness. Harry Potter had started to take share with a few chapters coming together when Rowlings moved back to the UK and committed to getting her life on track for the sake of her daughter. She finished Harry Potter, and the rest is history. 

Oprah is another fantastic story of someone that has created an expansive life from humble beginnings. She was born in Mississippi, where she would wear potato sacks since her family could not afford new clothes. Oprah has talked about her strict upbringing, which included regular beatings. Her ability to connect, inspire and educate launched her into one of the most successful TV hosts. One of her most famous quotes is, “When you undervalue what you do, the world will undervalue who you are.” She dreams big and has positively impacted millions. 

Here are the steps I’ve taken to design my life, which have helped me create a path forward.

  1. Be realistic about where you are today 
  2. Approach with a positive mindset 
  3. Put pen to paper on my goals and aspirations 
  4. Work to make progress each day, even when small steps are taken
  5. Stay optimistic, even when setbacks arise
  6. Surround yourself with positive people 
  7. Know you have the power to change your life
  8. Chart progress regularly and course correct
  9. Reward and recognize forward momentum
  10. Remember this is not a one-time exercise

I have always found it helpful to balance long-term thinking and goals with short-term actions to get you going on your journey. Bringing the mindset that this is your life and you have the power to write your script is critical. Your past doesn’t define you. You can go in a different direction to fulfill yourself. Also, remember that you need to enjoy the road you are on. If you only focus on the final goal, you will miss lots of life, even during the challenging moments. 

There are many ways to approach designing your life. What lessons have you learned along the way?

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