Tag Archives: future self

Tips for Adulthood: Create an Image File

leather jacket

Photo by Yehor Milohrodskyi on Unsplash

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’m a great fan of decluttering. On a therapeutic level – and especially if you’re in the midst of a life transition – it feels cleansing to shed something. On a practical level, when you declutter, you also discover things wonderful things you’d forgotten about entirely.

When I was clearing out my own stuff recently I happened upon a folder that I didn’t recognize at first. It was entitled “Image Folder,” and it took me a minute or two to clock what it was.

Back when I took some time off to re-think my life a few years back (Chapter 326c), I assiduously tackled Julia Cameron’s The Artists’s Way as a tool for getting in touch with my creative self. Among the many techniques Cameron advocates for igniting your creativity, one that I’d completely forgotten about was her suggestion to create an image file:

“Start an Image File: If I had either faith or money I would try…List five desires. When you spot them, clip them, buy them, photograph them, draw them, collect them somehow. With these images, begin a file of dreams that speak to you. Add to it continually for the duration of the course.”

Here are five dreams that jumped out of my own image file:

a. Write and perform. Not surprisingly, my file contained several images of pens and microphones. This was clearly a nod to my desire to write and perform more. But there’s also a photo in there of someone jumping really high on a trampoline. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what that symbolized. And then I realized that it was an exhortation to have fun and take more risks. Or at least that’s how I interpret it now. That’s exactly what I’ve started doing with my new memoir writing project, which is all about family.

b. Travel and explore. Also unsurprisingly, the file contained several photos of assorted travel destinations. Some were of your proverbial sandy beach, but others showed a dense wood and an English stately home. When we first moved to England 14 years ago, I dragged my young kids to countless stately homes (think Downton Abbey) for tours of the houses and grounds. I believe that this image, in particular, was a reminder to “Be British” – a New Year’s resolution I set years ago to get to know my second home country better.

c. Be more fashionable. Don’t get me wrong. Most days I still amble about looking like a graduate student who is 5 minutes shy of eating her next Stouffer’s frozen pizza. Interestingly, however, my image file also contained a surprisingly high number of photos of lithe women wearing long, flowing blouses and – in one instance – a super-cool black leather jacket. Interestingly, there was also a picture of jewelry in there that looked exactly like the necklaces I’ve subsequently inherited from my mother.

d. Invest more time in cooking. One of the more surprising photos in the file – for anyone who knows me well – was picture of a bunch of spices. During that sabbatical year I took off to kick-start my career, I started investing more time in cooking. Among other things, cooking sated my inner project manager. Because I wasn’t working, I needed an outlet for that side of my personality. Once I settled into my new career as a communications consultant, however, the cooking goal fell somewhat to the wayside. But I’ve returned to it during lockdown. The new rule is that I make only three meals a week, and the other three members of my family each have to contribute one of their own. (The seventh night we do takeout, per the Lord’s Commandment that you have one day of rest.) We mainly draw on the New York Times Five Weeknight Dishes for inspiration. Not surprisingly, we are eating a lot better now.

e. Drink better beer. I was far from shocked to discover a photograph of a large glass of beer. In the immortal words of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, “I like beer.” In the years since I’ve become a lightweight in the drinking department, I’ve become a real connoisseur of low-alcohol beers (which I define as beer with an APV under 4%, but most people classify as under 3%.) That may sound wimpy, but I live within spitting (stumbling?) distance of a veritable beer emporium which houses some 400 plus types of beer. (I choose my neighborhoods well.) And in recent years, there’s been an explosion of high-end, low-alcohol beers from which to choose.

What made me so happy about discovering this file was that I feel that in the three years since I made it, I’ve moved forward on all five of the dreams captured in those images. It’s still a work in progress, but I see all of this as part and parcel of moving towards my future self.

So this week’s challenge is to go out and collect images that inspire you to be your future self. Tell me what you find in the comments section…

Three Steps to Becoming Your Future Self

future self

future selfAs the reality of an extended quarantine sets in across many corners of the world, we’re all discovering new ways to spend the extra time on our hands. Some of us have begun virtual volunteering. Others, like my neighbor, are tackling a spate of long-overdue DIY projects. For many, it’s a great time to catch up on books, TV shows and podcasts.

I believe it’s also a great time to check in your long-term, big picture goals. There’s nothing quite like a life-threatening global pandemic to remind yourself that only go round’ once. Or, as the title character in one of my all-time favorite musicals, The Music Man, puts it: “You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you’re left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays.”

But how do we begin to chip away at our big-ticket dreams? Let’s take it in stages.

Step One: Write Your Own Obituary

One technique I’ve found particularly effective  is to write my own obituary. That might sound scary and perhaps even off-putting. But hear me out.

You don’t actually write your obituary. You write two of them. The first is how you think your obituary will read when you die, and the second is how you’d like it to read.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll discover at least two versions of yourself lying in wait. The first is a perfectly acceptable continuation of your current trajectory. Still married…or finally divorced. Living in the same house…or with a remodelled kitchen. Running the company…or  living it up as a snowbird in a condo in Arizona. LINK

That’s all fine and dandy. But it’s the second obituary you really want to pay attention to. Because she’s the future self you’ve only dared to dream of. Which brings us to the step two.

Step Two: Envision Your Future Self

The second step is to go and visit that alternative, future self. I had occasion to do this recently with an old friend who’s also a life coach. He’d read a blog of mine where I talked about the importance of  “practicing my future self,” which for me meant spending more time writing every day. But he took it one step further. He invited me to do a short visualization exercise with him over Zoom in which I would actually meet her.

I thought, “Why not?”

Once we’d done some relaxation and time-travel together, my friend asked me to describe that future self:  what she looked like, where she lived, etc.

The interesting thing about this part of this exercise was that my future self didn’t look all that much like me. She was dressed in a long, flowing skirt and had her hair drawn up in a bun. “Elegant” was a phrase I used to describe her. (“Schlumpy” might be the word of choice on any given day right now.) Rather than living in a city, as I have since the age of 18, she lived in a village on the edge of the sea in rural Italy.

Most interesting of all, the walls of her house were painted yellow. I don’t own a single item of yellow clothing and I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a home with yellow walls. But the morning that I spoke with my friend, I’d seen a an image of Daffodils in my Twitter feed. The author described “yellow” as a happy color, which was news to me. Clearly, that post had resonated.

Above all, my future self radiated calm. She wasn’t galloping through life. She was trotting along at a productive but relaxed pace, with plenty of time each day to accomplish everything she wanted.

Part 3: Talk to Your Future Self

Towards the end of the exercise, your future self presents you with a gift. She also tells you something.

My gift was a fancy pen, very similar to the one my old boss gave me and which I used to write my morning pages. That pen disappeared when my bag was stolen a couple of years back. I replaced it, and then subsequently lost the new one. At that point, as I explained to my friend, I decided that I didn’t deserve a fancy pen. So I started using a regular one.

Needless to say, my friend picked up on the term “deserving.” Clearly, my future self was telling me that I was worthy of a fancy pen. Translated: I was worthy of believing in myself as a writer.

Not only that. When he asked me to recount my future self’s message, I told him that she’d given me permission to put down the manuscript I’ve been trying to publish for the past two years and pursue an entirely new writing project. It’s one I’ve been taking notes on for ages, but have feared writing because it’s so personal.

“It’s OK to move on,” she was telling me. “Write the book you’re afraid to write.”

Write the book you’re afraid to write.

Boy, did I need to hear that.

Try visiting your future self and see what she’s telling you to do with your life. You might just be amazed.

Image: Future Self by Eddi van W. via Flickr

How to Tackle an Addiction to Work in Three Easy Steps

workaholic

workaholicMy chief goal for this year is to figure out why I work. Yeah, I know that sounds absurd. But when I created my New Year’s resolutions this year, I  realized that while my writing and personal goals were crystal clear, I couldn’t articulate a work goal beyond “work more.”

Another way to say this is that I am addicted to work. One definition of addiction is: “a psychological and physical inability to stop consuming a chemical, drug, activity, or substance, even though it is causing psychological and physical harm.” Coming from a large, sprawling Irish family with its fair share of substance abuse problems, I use the term “addiction” advisably. But I think in my case, it’s apt.

Now that I have  – in classic, 12-step fashion  – identified the problem, it’s time to step back and begin to craft a solution.

Here’s where I’ve gotten so far:

What would you do if this was your last day on earth?

This is the question the HeadSpace App uses to guide its meditation on prioritization. Given that Headspace is a mindfulness app, the question is posed softly and gently. But it is, of course, the eternal question we all need to answer.

Oddly enough, it’s also the first question I ask my friends who come to me for career advice. “I don’t know what to do with my life,” they will say, or some version therein.  I always begin by asking, “If you had an entirely free day tomorrow with no commitments whatsoever, how would you spend it?” Or, if you prefer, “What your 90-year-old self would advise you to do?”

In my case, I know I’d prefer to spend at least a third of my day writing. Of all the things I do in a day, writing is the activity where I feel most authentic and most relaxed. But at the moment, I’m not even close to achieving that 1/3 goal.

Practice Being Your Future Self

I’m stealing this strap line from a Harvard Business Review article. The upshot of the article is that once you’ve figured out the key components of your ideal day, you need to block out time to practice being that future self. (This is a familiar piece of advice to anyone who wants to be a writer, which essentially boils down to:  Start writing.) But what really resonated for me in this article was the way the author, Peter Bregman, framed the “future self” imperative. He writes: “You need to spend time on the future even when… there is no immediately apparent return to your efforts. In other words… if you want to be productive, you need to spend time doing things that feel ridiculously unproductive.”

That framing really hit home for someone who consistently conflates being productive with being busy. On any given day, doing the thing that you love can feel like you’re taking valuable time away from the 10,000 things you “need” to get done. Not so, says Bregman: “It’s the wildly important stuff that never gets done because it’s never urgent enough…or it’s too risky or terrifying” that you need to prioritize. True dat’.

Create Affirmations

Once you’ve set aside your “me” time, create some affirmations to reinforce that positive image of yourself. I’ve written before about how I’ve used positive self-talk in both my writing and my work. But in recent weeks, I’ve really doubled down. I’ve made a brand new list of ten affirmations tailored to the first quarter of this new year, which I repeat out loud every morning before I start my work day.

Of those ten, the hardest one to utter – but the one that matters most – is this: “It’s easy for me to say no to people.” It isn’t. And that’s not (entirely) because I often need the money. It’s because – courtesy of my addiction – I measure my productivity not in terms of number of sales or level of income (like most business people), but in terms of the number of hours worked. And with that as my metric for a job well done, more is always better. Isn’t it?

I’m trying really hard to focus on these three, big-ticket goals as I slowly work my way towards managing my addiction to work.

What strategies do you employ when you need to hit re-set on your own work/life balance?

Image: Workaholic writer via Pixabay