How to Do a Life Pivot
What is a life pivot? In my case it has meant changing virtually every concrete aspect of my life: my job; my goals; my romantic partner, my apartment, my hair, my weight, my relationship with my loved ones. But that does not mean I am totally changed. If you were to ask my friends they would say that I have become more authentically myself. Since overhauling my life I have sometimes felt like I was a kid again.
So what is the life pivot? It’s about changing your life, not your self. I suppose people usually call it a journey of personal discovery or a bildungsroman type thing. But I like to use the term pivot, which I got from the iconic book Lean Startup.
But changing your life is tough, tough work and you might not even be sure if you are ready for it. Well, here are some tips to get you started. This is hardly an exhaustive list and I welcome (polite) comments and questions on Twitter @clewishalpern:
1) Cut your hair. Forget all that women and men’s magazine crap about changing your life in 10 seconds. Pivoting is hard and cutting your hair is the easiest way to declare to yourself that you are ready for change. I’ve lopped off about 12 inches of hair twice—seven years ago when I was (subconsciously) preparing to break up with my longtime boyfriend, and two months ago when I was (consciously) preparing to transition to a new career in social entrepreneurship.
2) Take a solo vacation somewhere non-chic. You will not discover yourself if friends from Montauk are texting you about swinging by. Even the risk of being seen at the parking lot outside your yoga class will scare away your nascent self. Trust me. Avoid any hotel, heck any town where you might run into someone you know or someone you might care to know. Tulum? Buenos Aires? The Mohonk? Out.
3) Make a list. While you are away, get out a pen and paper (yes a pen and paper, no Evernote you silly tech junkie!) and list everything you can think of that you truly enjoy. Be honest. If you like, also list the things that you do not enjoy. Now look at that list of stuff you actually like doing and figure out a way to turn that into a profession. You know who gave me this advice? Hillary Clinton. Yes that’s right. Hillary Rodham Clinton said this to me after I asked her for career advice. We were in an elevator. Why was I in an elevator with Hillary Clinton? None of your business but I can tell you her parting words: “The longer I live, the more convinced I am that it has to be a passion.” I trust Hillary and so should you.
4) Trust someone else. Now this is a tricky one. You probably already have some trusted advisors, your mother, your husband, your sister, your roommate, your therapist. You should talk to them about your list, all of them. But no change without change so you will also need to pick someone else. Someone who you don’t usually reach out to for intimate counsel but who you believe—hope—is capable of giving you good advice. Pick that person, pick three, pick ten, and take a chance.
5) Resign yourself to the terrifying, but effective process of trial and error. This idea goes back to Lean Startup. The book goes into great detail on the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop, a system of learning that he feels is the successful way to build a company. Create a product, test it and then figure out how to refine it. If what you learn is that the product doesn’t work then it’s time to pivot—i.e. change it up. But since Lean Startup is about companies and not the self, it doesn’t quite make clear how disheartening, how depressing, how painful it can feel to discover that the “product” that is your life is not working. Indeed this realization is so painful that 90% of people spend their lives avoiding even the possibility of discovering their own failures. So they are stuck, trapped in an endless “build” loop. They keep on doing the same thing, or they try different things. But without clear-headed measuring and learning after they build, any progress made is due to luck and is erratic and not sustainable.
6) Focus. As soon as you get brave enough to face your shortcomings and actually evaluate your life your personal pivot will start to take shape. But don’t expect miracles. It may take years. We are not, after all products. We don’t do one thing, we do a million. We earn a living; we are wives and parents; we are exercisers and teachers. We are dreamers. We are doers. But it might help you to pick one thing, just one thing to try to really fix if you’re serious about this whole life pivot thing (And if you’ve read this far then I think you are.) Focus this intention however you want, but if you’re stuck you are welcome to choose mine:
7) Learn to love well. Because love is never wasted.