“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
American poet Mary Oliver first posed that question in her poem “The Summer Day.” I stumbled upon it in this article on following your ambition and crafting your career. Oliver’s has been the question of the week, but I think to some extent it’s been the big question of the past seven months, too. What can I do to make this experience transformative and meaningful? What’s my next step? Where am I headed?
I once thought I couldn’t answer those questions. I recently told my soon-to-be boss that my life is “totally up in the air.” This is true to the extent that I don’t know exactly which city I’ll end up in after college or whether I’ll be going to graduate school right away or not. All this aside, that statement is false: I know who I want to be, and I know what I want to do with my one wild and precious life.
I discovered this a few days ago, sitting atop my bulging wooden floor boards, surrounded by loose pieces of paper upon which I had sketched my past, my present and my future, asking myself Oliver’s haunting question. I even went a step further: What is the one thing you would do if money and security weren’t part of the equation?
That last question is one I’ve been avoiding for several years now. I’ve gone so far as to lie to myself about it, saying that if I could do anything in the world I’d write a novel. While this is something I wanted desperately to do as a teenager, it is not what I feel compelled to do now. And that is why none of the choices I’ve made in the past three to five years have set me on the path to becoming a best-selling novelist. That simply isn’t my calling.
So what is? Easy— I want to empower individuals, namely young women, to sit down in the driver’s seat of their destinies and steer themselves to the summit of their self-potential. I’ve wanted to do this ever since I was 16, when I started an organization to mentor girls in my hometown. Now, nearly 5 years later, this remains the most fulfilling and most inspiring experience I’ve had in my very long life of 20 years and 7 months. I’m itching to turn that high school achievement into a meaningful career.
S Club seniors, 2010, Prescott, Ariz. So nostalgic!
While I won’t spill all my plans here on the blog, I will say that I’ve thought about how I want to do this. My next steps include finishing my bachelor’s degree and becoming a certified yoga teacher. What comes after that has yet to be determined. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.
And I’ll get there. In my life-evaluating session I had there on my floor, I happily discovered that the majority of the decisions I’ve made in the past five years have kept me on a path that will enable me to realize this dream. I am confident the next steps I take will keep me on my trajectory.
However, from here on out, I will prominently display that ambition at the forefront of my mind, like a sticky-note on the bathroom mirror reminding me to floss my teeth. I will strive to make choices that will enable me to live my one wild life to my fullest. A reckless life is an adventure; a deliberate life is a journey.
Arriving at this place of certainty and empowerment didn’t just happen. I had to think about it and put things down on paper. If you’re at a fork in the road, or if you’re at, I dunno, a rake, make some time in your crazy life to evaluate the choices you’ve made. Then examine how each option you have fits into your vision moving forward.
Step 1: Follow Greg McKeown’s career evaluation method to better understand the path you’ve been on. Lay your career out on a graph, then plot the high points and low points, including certain projects you took part in, organizations you joined, big changes you made, etc. Connect the dots and look at when you were the most satisfied, and when that satisfaction was sustained or disrupted. (to see a detailed example of how to do this, follow the link above.)
Step 2: Separate these events into three groups: high points, middle points and low points. Next, recall each event and ask yourself what words you associate with that experience. For the high and middle points, ask yourself why you felt fulfilled. For the low points, ask yourself why you were unsatisfied.
Then, examining the events group by group, identify the words those events have in common. For example, the events in my “high points” category share the words “community,” “team work,” “self-direction” and “women and girls.” The most common words in your high and middle categories are your power words, the keys to your fulfillment.
Step 3: Look at your options and determine which among them will evoke your power words. Ask yourself how that experience, whether it be graduate school, starting a new job, or travelling to another country, will help you get from where you are to where you want to be.
Step 4: Set realistic goals for the next two years. Identify what you need to do in the semi-near future to get closer to manifesting your vision. My own goals include getting certified to teach yoga next summer and relaunching The Desert Lamp. Remember to set reachable goals. Part of the motivation to continue toward your dream will come from the smaller achievements that help you get there.
Step 5: Share your plans with those you trust to make them real. Feel free to share your dreams and goals here in the comments, too! I’d love to see what you have in mind, talk about goal-setting and dream-seizing, and help you through your own process.
So, tell me, untethered friends, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?