I’m a keen life planner. There are a million changes that can come out of the air — and even harder when juggling the priorities of a partner and the needs of kids — but knowing the milestones and destinations I’m trying to reach gives me a huge degree of comfort. If I know how many days exist until the next milestone, I find myself far less likely to rewatch all of Buffy.
I’ve lately been exploring my motivators — what gives me personal reward and fulfilment. Over the past few years, I’ve found myself shifting knowledge sets and generally having a change in personal vision. The titles and roles I once aimed for no longer are of particular interest.
As my husband is along in this boat this is our life (and because our kids still have to go with what we decide), I made a pretty sexy suggestion for just the two of us — let’s workshop the hell out if it. Thankfully, he was game and got completely into it. We gathered up a pile of stickies, some sharpies, two bottles of wine and set to work. Using the following categories, we quietly listed as many responses as we could muster within varying time frames (2–5min):
1. Objectives — what did we want to get out of this exercise? is this to help discover a project to embark upon? larger-scale career redirection?
2. What Success Looks Like — achievements, physical locations, experiences, anything!
3. Needs — what do we feel is essential for happiness? time alone? a dedicated creative space? basic things like laughter?
4. Weaknesses & De-stimulators — what are we just not good at (and uninterested in particularly improving upon)? what drains our energy?
5. Skills & Assets — what do we have to rely upon, even if it isn’t a primary interest? are we good at cold calls? know a wealthy potential investor? juggle screaming kids and breakfast-making with ease?
6. Passions — what gets us all revved up? what creates those moments when we feel completely ON and immensely satisfied?
(Note: Doing this exercise with another can be incredibly beneficial as someone else can help you to make bigger leaps in subsequent idea generation. However, if you are doing this exercise with another/others, be sure to 1) have complete trust in the people you are with as this is immensely personal, and 2) keep your notes on separate walls.)
The first two categories — Objectives and What Success Looks Like — are pretty soft-ball. The first one was to ensure we were working throughout the workshop with a goal in mind, while the second was really to just get the brain stimulated and thinking about life in the big picture.
The third category — Needs — may seem similar to the second and perhaps obvious, but was crucial for measuring successful paths to pursue. The fourth — Weaknesses & De-stimulators — also related to the workshop outcome.
It’s when we got to the fifth and sixth categories that we began to really dive into areas that we were able to pull crucial information away from. We each listed probably about 10–15 of each. Leaving even more time for this element, and having even lengthier lists, would have been fine — perhaps even more enlightening.
We then marked out the notes from these fifth and sixth categories which listed the skills and passions we felt held the most personal importance; we wound up narrowing down to about 5–8 top items. This we did for the sake of forcing priority and keeping time manageable.
Now, simply creating these lists may be enough for you if you do this exercise. Just the act of contemplating my responses to these categories brought on at least 3 mini-revelations in myself. But it didn’t bring the earth-shaking illumination I was after.
So, this is where the fun begins. To make sure you’re with me for this next bit, I’ll show a few items pulled from my own lists:
My Skills & Assets:
large organisation management
the act of creating
Drawing off naming workshops from bygone years in the Branding industry, I had us begin to work with random cross pairings. Taking each of our individual skills, we then held it beside one of our top passions. Was there a possibility for these two items to come together to spark excitement? What immensely broad list of thoughts can these 2 items generate? Some combinations work easily, while others feel forced — you’ll get the picture.
For me, it went as follows (I’m opening up here, so please don’t laugh at these brain musings!):
Designs skills + content organisation = pretty much what I do now, though I currently stay within the digital product/website realm; perhaps the organisation of the physical objectives in my house could become some fun Pinterest side-hustle; or maybe I could start an interior design consultancy… focused upon optimising the content of kitchen storage
Design skills + efficiency = hmm… a bit broad, but maybe I’ll come back to it
Design skills + female capabilities = teaching women/girls design tools; using creative skills to help female-owned businesses; an empowering line of girls clothing
And so on, soon switching the first Skill (in this instance, ‘Design skills’) for the second on the list (‘Large organisation management’). There was no time limit for this activity as clearly some items will spark many ideas, and others, well, won’t.
From doing this exercise, I discovered that the more specific the term, the easier the items were to pair. For instance, Empathy + Efficiency = zero ideas; moreover, it seemed only to spark some type of deeper conflict over how two fundamental elements of myself could seemingly be so very at odds.
The resulting list was extensive. Therefore, the next step was again to parse down — not necessarily to a particular number, but just to the ones that seemed really exciting.
Lastly, I returned to my original lists and reviewed the items I listed beneath ‘Needs’ and ‘Weaknesses.’ How did my new list of finalists compare with these items? Would I need to rely upon a Weakness/De-stiumulator for this scenario to exist? Would Brilliant Idea X only be achievable at the cost of something I considered a fundamental ‘Need’ for happiness?
I found this exercise immensely enjoyable, insightful and productive. I don’t know whether I’ll actually open a British summer camp for creative teens sponsored by Google, but I’m seriously excited by it. And if not, I have a whole pile of other ideas kept at the ready.
Try this, share this and let me know if it helps you on your own way!
A quick, step-by-step recap:
List as many items as spring to mind beneath each of the following categories:
2 minutes each:
What does Success Look Like?
5 minutes each:
Weaknesses & De-Stimulators
8–10 minutes each:
Skills & Assets
Highlight the ‘Skills & Assets’ and ‘Passions’ that you feel are most important to you.
Cross-pair between these two lists.
Highlight the most exciting results from these cross-pairings.
Confirm that your top results are compatible with your ‘Needs’ and do not require significant incorporation of items you consider ‘Weaknesses & De-Stimulators’.