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Mindful : February 2018
ridiculous,” said Burnett, explaining that several longitudinal studies show that most people don’t fully form their adult self until 35 or even 40. “And after that,” he added, “you get to reinvent that self over and over again.” In the days leading up to the workshop, Bill and Dave had asked us to compose two short statements on how we viewed work and our philosophy of life. The idea was to get a sense of how strong the connection was between what we believed and what we did for a living. Reading my statements aloud to my table- mates, I could immediately hear the discordance between them. My work statement sounded old, like something I might have written in a resume 20 years ago. It focused primarily on personal achievement and “using my gifts as a writer, producer, and artist to raise aware- ness and inspire positive personal and social change.” Those were worthwhile goals that had fueled important changes in my life. But what mattered to me now was helping others expand their awareness in a more direct way. As I wrote in my life statement, “My dream is to align my inner values with the way I operate in the world. To be genuine and authentic, to be compassion- ate to those who are suffering, to act and make choices based on the knowledge that we are all part of something larger.” That felt right, but how to turn such lofty aspirations into action? Bill and Dave had a simple answer: Build a prototype. Or, rather, several prototypes of the new life you want to live. That led to a thought-provoking exercise called “odyssey planning.” It involved imagining three dream scenarios and drawing a timeline of how each would play out over the next five years. The first one, Evans suggested, should be based on what we were currently doing, the second on what we’d most likely do if that option came to an end, and the third on what you’d love to do if time and money were no object. Why three scenarios instead of one? Because it stimulates creativity and cross-pollination. In a recent study, researchers at Stanford’s Grad- uate School of Education looked at two groups: one that started with three ideas and came up with two others en route to their final goal, and another that began with one idea and later produced four others. Even though both teams eventually wound up with five ideas in total, the researchers found that the three-idea group generated solutions that were far more creative. “Designers have known this all along,” Evans and Burnett write in their book. “ You don’t want to start with just one idea, or you’re likely to get stuck with it.” These exercises generated a lot of buzz at our table. Louise talked excitedly about her first two scenarios: partnering with a digital dating company to produce blockbuster events and launching a media company focusing on cre- ativity. But her eyes really lit up when she rolled her third big idea: becoming a broadcaster who interviewed famous creative people on TV. “I love doing this,” she said, “because you don’t have to rock everything in your life. All you have to do is experiment.” Matt had a similar revelation. His “wild and crazy” idea was to build a surfer retreat/mind- fulness center in Mexico for people to escape from their cell phones and recharge. “I feel most myself when I’m helping others,” he said. “Real kindness puts a new spin on life.” As for me, I imagined 1) expanding my work as a journalist and consultant, 2) training to become a meditation teacher and/or executive coach, and 3) writing a historical novel and painting my masterpiece. These weren’t big, hairy, audacious ideas, but, taken together, they seemed to make sense. Which, according to Bur- nett, is usually how it works. Most life design students don’t drop everything and go chasing after their most outrageous idea, he said. They continue doing what they’re doing, but enrich the experience with ideas from the other sce- narios. The point, said Evans, was “getting more out of life rather than cramming more into it.” The next step was testing the ideas in the real world. That meant having “prototype conver- sations” with people who are already living the life you’ve imagined for yourself. No matter how ludicrous your idea, said Evans, there’s usually someone out there doing the thing you want → “Making it up as you go along is actually the only thing that we have available to us. You just want to get really good at it.” 62 mindful February 2018 vision