How to create a life you love

Three years ago I reached a career crossroads.

At the time, I was almost a decade into my career as a management consultant at a top tier international firm. Being chronically indecisive and without a compelling passion to drive my career, I didn’t have a burning ambition or a clear career plan, other than striving for excellence in whatever I did.

Though I was grateful for the multitude of privileges and opportunities offered by my job, and I loved working with my amazing colleagues, deep down I knew that it wasn’t entirely the right fit for me. I had always been conscious that my softer style and enjoyment of a simpler, slower way of life was an anomaly in the company’s extroverted, analytical, fast-paced culture. I learned to play the game well enough that I kept progressing, but over time I became more troubled by the feeling that I wasn’t bringing my whole self to work and the knowledge that I wasn’t completely honouring my values. However, I didn’t know what career I’d pursue instead, and it seemed like too hard a question to resolve, so I pressed on despite the lingering doubts.

Eventually, these unresolved issues that had simmered for so many years bubbled over suddenly and uncontrollably. It was messy, overwhelming and inconveniently timed, but perhaps that’s what it had to be to get my attention given how long I had ignored the previous signals. And through the tears there was an unexpected sense of lightness and liberation: I finally had the much-needed motivation to face the difficult questions, embrace my true strengths, and make the career decision I’d been deferring for so long.

Shortly after this, a colleague mentioned a book called The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte. The core concept: Everything we do is driven by the desire to feel a certain way. When you set a goal, you’re not actually chasing the goal itself. Whether you’re conscious of it or not, you’re seeking the feelings that you hope achievement of that goal will give you.

So, Danielle asks,

“What if, first, we got clear on how we actually wanted to feel in our life, and then we laid out our intentions?

What if your core desired feelings consciously informed how you plan your day, your year, your career — your life?”

My interest was piqued, though there was also part of me that wondered somewhat sceptically, “Doesn’t everyone just want to be happy?”

But as I thought more about it, I realised that we each have our own definition of ‘happy’, our own version of feeling good, whether we’ve articulated it explicitly or not.

Maybe your idea of ‘happy’ is feeling strong, grounded and courageous.

Or: radiant, abundant and connected.

Or: calm, expansive and inspired.

Or, maybe, simply: love.

I pulled out a blank piece of paper and let a stream-of-consciousness flow about how I wanted to feel in my life. Then from the words on that page, I chose the feelings that resonated most strongly at the time:

Joy. Authentic. Connected. 

Danielle LaPorte believes,

“Knowing how you actually want to feel is the most potent form of clarity you can have.”

And based on my experience, she is absolutely right: clarity is power.

The Desire Map exercise turned out to be much more powerful than I’d expected. It reinforced how divergent my path was from where I wanted to go. Combining the knowledge of my core desired feelings with my values brought what mattered most to me into sharp focus, and highlighted how different my ambition was to my colleagues’. This enabled me to redefine success for myself and make different choices in my career and life, despite the deep-rooted fears I had about stepping away from my prestigious, well paid job - giving up the tick of approval I had earned by society’s traditional standards.

In the corporate world where logic and reasoning reigns supreme, it can seem radical to make space for feelings and emotions. After spending most of my student life and career operating primarily from my head, I am now re-integrating intellect and intuition, head and heart. (I still overthink things though!) And having worked in a job where the days were intense and long, I’m delighted to re-balance and spend less time doing and more time being (I have never needed to be convinced about the pleasures of leisure).

Knowing how I want to feel makes it easier to make decisions aligned with those feelings. It also prompts and empowers me to take small, deliberate actions in my everyday life to generate those feelings more often. This is how I am creating a life I love. It’s still a work in progress, and it hasn’t always been easy or linear, but it is such a worthwhile journey.

As I continue to grow, I’ve repeated the Desire Map process several times. My current definition of success is feeling joy, freedom and ease. These days I wake up more inspired and energised, excited to start my day. My professional and personal lives are a more accurate reflection of what is most important to me, and a more authentic expression of who I am. 

Creating a life you love doesn’t necessarily mean quitting your job - I completely understand the practicalities and responsibilities of living in the real world. It can simply mean having clarity on what your personal definition of success is, making conscious choices that enable you to become more you, and incrementally making changes to align your life with your values and desired feelings.

If you would like to create a more inspired and intentional life, here are three questions to contemplate:

What does success look like for you?

Why do you want what you want?

How do you want to feel?


Update Jan 2018: If you’d like to explore these questions further, I’m running an amazing two day urban retreat on 17 and 24 February 2018 for a small group of women. All the details about this powerful and life-changing experience are over here for you – I’d be honoured for you to join us!