My Year of Change: A Data-Driven Review
Everything is never going well at the same time, and that’s ok.
Over the past year, I learned to be grateful for the upside of unemployment. I had time to think about what matters to me and how to get closer to where I want to be. I began reflecting while hiking the Camino de Santiago with my mom in Spain, and sought inspiration from sources including Tim Urban’s post Religion for the Nonreligious and Designing Your Life, a book that accompanies the popular Stanford course on personal and professional development.
In this post I will share the framework I developed to track and actively influence the areas of my life that are important to me, in the hopes that it will also be useful for you.
Step 1: Identify and measure what’s important
Taking inspiration from the sources noted above, I selected six priority dimensions of my life to track and influence (Home, Relationships, Work, Play, Health/ Self-Care, and Finances). I am continuing to take a “snapshot” of my satisfaction in each of those key areas every couple of months, and I now have data points covering the span of a year. (For more on how I chose these dimensions and how to replicate the dashboard, check out my public template with step by step instructions). Within the first year, this dashboard has helped me to navigate a major career change, and to accept the natural ebbs and flows that different life phases will inevitably bring.
Step 2: Accept the need to sacrifice in one area to invest in others
One of the key insights I noticed when reviewing my personal trends over time was that everything was never going well at the same time.
You’ll see what I mean when you look at the chart below which documents the ups and downs of my past year. Investing heavily in one dimension often meant that other dimensions were adversely affected. This may sound obvious, but I felt disappointed when I first noticed the pattern. It’s frustrating to think that I’ll always need to compromise on something. Upon further reflection, I’ve felt comforted by the idea that this might be a gentle nudge to be compassionate with myself instead of striving to have everything together all the time. I am not perfect; all I can do is my best.
While I was unemployed, I felt pessimistic about my finances but given the extra time and my individual circumstances (special thanks to Canada), I chose not to rush into the next job. I invested in the “play” dimension of my life while beginning a multi-phase soul-searching/ career planning project. As you can see, the quality time I spent nurturing hobbies and interests had a direct impact on my satisfaction in the play dimension. I did things I had always wanted to do but never had time for (co-leasing a horse; becoming a volunteer baby cuddler); and practiced some new skills (web design, photography, illustrating my first children’s book). I was broke, but happy.
Step 3: Actively prioritize your time
So how does the “active” part work? You’ve started documenting your life satisfaction across multiple dimensions on a regular basis. The snapshots can be taken every month, every quarter, or as often as you’d like. The key is to commit to a consistent interval and set yourself a calendar reminder to actually get it done. Now, each time you take a snapshot, identify no more than 1 or 2 dimensions that need some TLC. Preferably one. These may be the areas with the at risk scores, or maybe it’s a dimension that’s going ok and you’re ready to tip the scales to exceptional. Your choice.
Investing in the play dimension is one example of how I actively managed my time. My job search is another example. Over the span of a year, I worked hard to land a new job in a new industry that I’m really excited about (the data-driven field of workplace design).
Once I identified the work dimension as a priority in my dashboard, I set out to achieve one or two specific goals every couple of months. Some examples of these goals:
· Defining must haves, could haves, and should haves for my next job
· Listing aspirational companies and types of roles where I could add value
· Launching a website to demonstrate industry-specific knowledge, enthusiasm, and practical skills to these aspirational employers
· Attending targeted networking events to meet employees of aspirational companies
Now that I’ve started my new job, my optimism about my finances and my path to a fulfilling career are both on the rise. I can accept that this is reflected as a tradeoff in my social life and hobbies. This new job also happens to be in a new country and you can see that my “home” satisfaction has declined since I don’t have a permanent residence yet. Sometimes I’m lonely or overwhelmed, but mostly I’m inspired, and I’m continuing to work on establishing a sense of balance.
I have come to terms with the fact that today the answer to the question “how’s it going?” is a complicated one, and it likely always will be.
I shared this post because I’m hoping it will serve as a helpful reminder to invest your time and energy in the things that matter. And also to be kind to yourself and to others, because when life feels overwhelming and messy, you can take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.