Why I’ve Said NO To Living My Best Life
#LivingYourBestLife, right? Wrong.
Time and again, the phrase “living my best life” appears in my social media feeds in various forms, anchoring images similar to the one above. While it all sounds empowering, I’ve come to realize that reality is far from it. Why?
The “best” of anything implies one choice, one path, one final destination. It suggests the existence of a singular ideal, or purpose. All well and good in a perfect world, but with that mindset, it’s a sure way to set yourself up for failure, and limit opportunity for growth, if things don’t work out exactly as planned.
In my case, this proved devastating to my sense of self-worth and mental health.
Odyssey Planning: Design Your Life
My business goals took a huge hit last year, due to COVID. I was in Austin at the time, and the looming chasm of uncertainty left me deeply stressed and saddened.
There was so much to consider. Do I leave Texas? Move to London? Return to Australia? Do I continue to scale internationally? Or do I put everything on pause and start a family instead?
Frustrated by FOMO (fear of missing out), I turned to Dawn Shaw, a learning designer and leadership coach extraordinaire.
And this is where the magic happened: Dawn introduced me to Odyssey Planning, which taught me it IS possible to make a hard decision and be happy with how things pan out.
How Odyssey Planning works
Dysfunctional belief: I need to figure out my best possible life, make a plan, and then execute it.
Reframe: There are multiple great lives (and plans) within me, and I get to choose which one to build my way forward to next.
- An excerpt from the bestselling book, Designing Your Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.
Odyssey Planning is a concept created and taught by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans at Stanford University. The idea, based on design thinking, is that you map out three completely different versions of yourself across a five-year plan.
The three different plans must encompass:
- the path you think you’re on
- the path you’d choose if your line of work suddenly no longer existed
- the path you’d choose if you had a never-ending supply of money.
The exercise helps reframe what’s most meaningful to you, and what steps you can take to get closer to a fulfilling existence. It requires you to:
- plot actions along the way that contribute to your plan
- consider how difficult the plan would be to execute right now
- think about whether you actually like the plan or not, and if it makes sense
- think about whether you have any confidence in pulling off the plan
- reflect on three pressing doubts that make you anxious about that plan
- give each a short title that sums up the heart of the plan.
How Odyssey Planning went for me
Just thinking of deviating from Plan A was outrageously difficult. The journey I’d been working towards was the only path I could think of. Odyssey Planning is pretty personal, so I won’t spill all the details, but it looked something like this.
The path I thought I was on
Enter: The Part-Time Have-It-All.
I was planning on scaling my business internationally to a point that it could run without me in the next few years. Then I’d be in a great position to start a family and balance kids with a career.
The path I’d choose if suddenly my line of work no longer existed
Enter: The Full-Time Career Changer.
Having built my copywriting agency for 10+ years, I couldn’t imagine having a role elsewhere. I figured if content (or any kind of digital marketing) dropped off the face of the earth, I’d look for a leadership role at a social enterprise somewhere overseas. The tough part of this exercise was actually thinking about how I could make that happen from where I was, and what the consequences would be.
The path I’d choose if I had a never-ending supply of money
Enter: The Retired Adventurer.
Wow, wouldn’t it be great to live like money was no object? For this part of the activity, I mapped out what was required to step back from Avion to go snowboarding at Whistler one day, then hiking Yosemite the next. My confidence wasn’t so high for this plan, but I definitely liked it.
My key takeaways from Odyssey Planning
After reviewing what I’d put on paper, I had several lightbulb moments. There were certainly things I could do from Path 2 and 3 to enrich Path 1. For example, I critically analyzed how I could fit in more snowboarding trips during the year, and finished up more confident about doing a little bit of everything in my one lifetime.
Odyssey Planning gave me permission to think there is no right or wrong answer. There’s no such thing as a “best life” but a patchwork of “best lives” that leads to more fulfilment and fewer regrets.
Yes, I CAN roll with the punches and make changes to life as I go without beating myself up. I strongly encourage everyone to give Odyssey Planning a go.
P.S. In case you were wondering, I did leave Texas during COVID, moved to London short-term, and returned to Australia just recently. I mean, who knows where I’ll end up from here. What matters is that I remember to incorporate aspects of life that I’m passionate about, and curate a great highlight reel of my bests, pandemic outtakes and all.
About the author: Natalie Khoo built her business in Australia off the back of the 2008 recession. Having made all the mistakes since day one, she’s passionate about sharing her learnings with other business owners on a similar journey. Natalie’s career highlights include taking a 3-month scuba diving vacation in 2019 and not checking her emails once. She travels between Melbourne, Australia, and Austin, Texas, with her partner James.