The first law of life: Things change—and that includes us. We're all beings in process and we either evolve and grow, or waste time and energy trying to keep things the way they were. Masters see what's coming with clear eyes. They shed outdated roles and jump into new ones; as soon as they meet one challenge, they dream up another. That's how they stay fresh, energized. Here, how to get ready for your next leap… and a chance to reflect and respond in your private notebook.
You are not your past. You are not all the things that have happened to you. You are the possibility of what can be.
Describe yourself in the space below. How much of the way you identify yourself is tied to labels you were given (or gave yourself) or events from your past? How do they limit you? Could shedding outdated roles and reframing the stories you tell about yourself (to yourself and others) make room for new possibilities?
If you're successful doing one thing, you tend to say, 'I want to stay here.'
There's an old Japanese saying that goes, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind, there are few." Success, Jay-Z admits, can make you afraid to try something new. Is there an area in your life where you feel you've fallen into a rut? Could you brainstorm ways of adding possibilities?
If you're fearless, it's a beautiful time for entrepreneurs.
I don't know if you're ever done.
If it's been a while since you dared to want, what could your next mountain be? New needs are arising in the culture creating new opportunities. Is anything holding you back from jumping in?
"It doesn't matter what age you are," says Bill Burnett, the executive director of the Design Program at Stanford University. "Almost everybody's at that same place, inventing or reinventing the next phase of their lives. It's pretty clear that people are going to have at least two, if not three, completely different careers." In some cases, Burnett says, reinvention is not a choice; it's a necessity because a whole profession got wiped out due to economic or technological changes. Other people feel restless—they've mastered their job and now want a bigger challenge or more fulfillment. "I teach a class called Designing Your Life, and it's about finding ways for people to take an action towards their dreams," says Burnett. Oprah.com's Jancee Dunn asked him to give us some of his best lessons:
Your goal is to be able to say, 'This is where I think my biggest contribution can be.'
You Can't Engineer Your Life
"A lot of my engineering students take an analytical approach to figuring out their lives," says Burnett. "But when you analyze things without a lot of data—and in life there are a lot of unknowns—you typically come up short." Designers work a different way, says Burnett, who spent seven years at Apple: "We never knew what kind of cool new thing we were going to invent until after we invented it." Burnett encourages his students to stop putting pressure on themselves to come up with the perfect next step and to think more intuitively. Designers start with a set of principles that you can borrow: "You want your next step to be creative. You want it to be new. You want it to be exciting." If your idea doesn't meet those criteria, keep searching.
Even Bad Artists Need to Learn to Draw
One of the reasons it's hard to articulate an idea of what to do next, he says, is because "it's that thing you know, but you can't put into words." In his program, the students are taught to sketch. "Drawing is a conduit for that information to flow out of you," says Burnett. Students also take improv classes, where they do things like imagine what they'd tell people about themselves at their 20th college reunion. (And then the instructor interrupts the exercise with unexpected circumstances—you've just found out your child is sick; your spouse got a great job halfway around the world—that the students then have to weave into their narratives.) Burnett suggests trying to capture ideas visually, without engaging your verbal or analytic senses. "We have emotional intelligence; we have kinesthetic intelligence—that's intelligence in our bodies. We teach a lot of stuff to connect the dots between these other kinds of information and intelligences."
Do a Session of Need Finding
"When talking about their next step, I find that people get lost on the how," says Burnett. "Don't worry about the how. Try something we call 'need finding.'" The process starts with the typical questions of what makes you happy, and goes deeper—like answering honestly, with all modesty aside, What is your absolute best quality? "Your goal," he says, "is to be able to say, 'This is where I think my biggest contribution can be.'"
Discover the Power of the Prototype
Once designers have an idea, they build a prototype to test it in real-time conditions. "You can do the same," says Burnett. An internship is one kind of prototype. An informational interview is another way to find out whether your concept of a career is accurate. "I have my students call people they admire, some of whom are well known—and most of the time, they actually get them on the phone," he says. "Most people have some wisdom to impart. If you ask them for it, they'll give it to you." You may find your calling, but even if you discover that this is the last thing on earth you want to do, the experience is valuable. "Once you start trying things, something happens in the world," says Burnett. "People notice you. Opportunities start coming your way."
Reinventing your life can be confounding, says Burnett. "But we need to let go of the notion that we're supposed to know the answer at the outset, because we can't. You've just got to move into the future by building prototypes of the possible you, then going from that possible you to the next possible you—and then to the next."
Did this article trigger something in you? Is there a quote you want to save? You can use this space to save your aha! moments.