Have you ever had one of those days when, after a full day of running around like a whirlwind while wearing your different hats, you pause and ask yourself, What am I doing? Is this how I REALLY want to spend my days? Is this really who I AM?
Whether we like it or not, how we spend 8 to 12 hours of our day does, to a certain extent, define who we are. All too often, however, we women get lost in the many roles we play and in the many to-dos on our checklists that we forget to check in with ourselves to see if our daily routine is still aligned with the lives we want to live and the selves we want to be.
Designing an authentic life—or at least one that brings you more peace and joy—is by no means an easy task, but it is possible. If you’ve had that fatigued, disjointed, “stuck in a rut” feeling for more than a few days at a time, it might be time for these:
1. Woman, know thyself. Give yourself a “Life SWOT.” At work, many of us have often used a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) Analysis to get a snapshot of our organization’s position and potential direction. But how many of us have actually taken the time to do the same for our own selves? Whether you’re in the corporate world, an entrepreneur, an artist, a stay-at-home mom, or everywhere else in between, your life deserves a closer look. Hole yourself up for a little “life strategic planning session”, give yourself a “Life SWOT”, and reflect on what you discover.
If you’re uncomfortable using a corporate tool on yourself, find other ways to give yourself an honest self-examination. Remember: every journey to authenticity starts with self-awareness. Be honest with yourself, and let the truth set you free.
2. Know what matters to you. Design your life around your priorities. One of the Merriam-Webster definitions of “design” is “purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object.” When you examine your daily routine, does it look like there is “purpose, planning, or intention” behind it? How can you build more of what matters to you into your days?
For instance, if you’re artistic at heart and want to infuse more creativity into your career, what career options should you begin considering? If you’re a mom looking to spend more time with her kids without sacrificing earning potential, what changes should you start to make? If you want to have more time and money for traveling, how can you design your lifestyle to make this possible?
This is exciting, although easier said than done. Often, designing your life with greater purpose also means ditching your comfort zone and “the way things have always been done.” Then again, wouldn’t it be worth the challenges in the end?
3. Know that you can’t have it all. I once asked a female executive, whom I considered a mentor, how she was able to achieve “balance” in her life. Her answer: “It’s not about balance; it’s about making tough choices.” The harsh reality is that life isn’t a “free-for-all” game where you can take everything you want with very little consequences. As you may already know, there are choices and compromises to be made for everything. Even Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of the controversial memoir Lean In, has written that “having it all [is] perhaps the greatest trap ever set for women.”
She writes, “Each of us makes choices constantly between work and family, exercising and relaxing, making time for others and taking time for ourselves.”
The key here is to choose based on your priorities and being at peace with that choice. You may not be able to have it all, but at least have what’s important to you.
Which brings us to the next point:
4. Make space. Learn to say “no”. Since you can’t have it all, you must also resist the urge to do it all. I learned this the hard way when I developed the nasty habit of overbooking myself for projects and engagements—sometimes, even dinners out with friends—because I wanted to please others (and myself) I couldn’t say “no.” The painful lesson: you’re never really going to please everybody anyway, so you might as well focus on the things and people who truly matter to you. Remember: the more pockets of space you clear out for the little, unimportant things, the more space you’ll have for the bigger things.
5. Make time for what truly matters to you. Since we all have only 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week, how we spend our time defines our priorities. Again, I learned this the hard way when, one evening, I took a call at dinnertime and then jumped to edit a speech—because it was needed “ASAP.” My niece sighed as I left her on the dinner table, “That’s how it is with Nini. She needs to work 24/7.” It stung to realize that that action hurt someone I love like my own daughter. It hurt even more that she felt I “needed” to work “24/7” and that work was more of a priority than she was.
If you say that health is a priority, block time out for exercise. If you say that bonding with your family is a priority, block space in your calendar to be with them—without the gadgets. If you say that learning is important to you, invest in a class. Treat important elements in your life as appointments that you cannot miss. Even just 20 minutes a day doing something that matters to you can make a big difference.
6. Be fearless. Oftentimes, the Universe will throw once-in-a-lifetime opportunities your way—just as you had asked for. Take them—and don’t look back. I did this at 23 when I took the leap from a job in the non-profit sector to start my own freelance writing and consulting practice. I did it again at 29 when I joined government in order to be part of the “reform movement.” I just recently did it again at 34 to go back to the corporate world and build a comfortable life for my family. Change is challenging; it’s also frightening and unnerving. But as the late great Eleanor Roosevelt had reportedly said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” It just might bring you closer to the life you’ve always envisioned for yourself.
7. Be forgiving. Then again, things won’t always work out like you had planned. When this happens, be kind to yourself and learn to forgive. Be forgiving of others, too. Trial, error, experimentation, and failure are all a part of life—and they’re all a part of the learning process. If you don’t give yourself permission to fail, how will you be able to give yourself permission to try anything new?
Leadership guru John C. Maxwell had written in the book Failing Forward: “The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.” Average people back down and crumble in response to failure; achievers and those who live with authenticity embrace failure and its lessons, and move on to the next adventure much wiser than before.
8. Do the things that fill you with joy. Merriam-Webster lists “delight” and “pleasure” as synonyms of joy. In my life, I always make time to do the small things that make me laugh and smile, just because they are reflections of who I am and what makes me happy. On work days, that means starting my day with a cup of tea, or having art around my desk, or listening to music while working. On weekends, that means sitting on my yoga mat and working with my paints and crayons, like a child, or doodling, or dream boarding.
Sometimes, joy and authenticity are found in the little things—the details that make your life sparkle and that make you different from everybody else. So, what makes you laugh? What makes you feel like an innocent child again? What fills your life with color? Know the answers, embrace the answers, then take that leap of faith. You won’t be sorry. J