Can you answer this question? (If not, your passion is at risk!)

who are you

Over the last fifteen years of helping people find career passion, I have seen two major mistakes that suck people down into work that feels mediocre and uninspired.

One is not getting really clear on what makes them feel energized and alive. The other, if they have that awareness, is a lack of action to align their career with it.

When people feel  bored and uninspired in their work, or when that work feels mundanely “fine” but isn’t hitting their sweet spot, it is almost always because the work they are doing is out of synch with who they are and what is naturally energizing for them.

You can’t fix the second mistake without addressing the first, so that’s what I want to focus on today.

A question of identity

Have you ever known anyone who lost their job and suddenly felt untethered because they didn’t have that title on their business card to identify with? Or someone who recently retired who struggled with finding a post-career identity?

Those are both perfect examples of people who haven’t answered the following question.

“Who am I without my job?”

It seems like a simple question, but the answer just might be harder than you think. And it’s not just important for job seekers and those in the post-career stage of life. In fact, it’s a key question to understand if you want to consciously, continuously create a career you love.

As I have mentioned many times in the past, my definition of passion is “the energy that comes from bringing more of YOU into what you do.”

It’s a simple, common-sense definition. The more what we’re doing is in synch with what naturally energizes us, the more alive we feel.

Answer the question

“Bringing more of YOU into what you do,” requires clarity. To use “who you are” as a career guidance system, the first step is answering that question – who are you without your job? And I don’t mean just a description of the roles you play in your non-work life. I mean something more fundamental.

You can start to build the answer to this by looking at it from multiple angles, asking questions like:

  • What lights you up? (I suggest starting with identifying your energizers.)
  • What do you care about?
  • What values do you want to embody?
  • What legacy do you want to leave? Why?

It can sometimes be helpful to look at it from the perspective of what feels out of synch and then exploring its opposite. You can ask questions like:

  • What feels like a bur under my saddle? Why does it bother me? What would an ideal alternative be? What does that mean about me and how I’m wired?

Make your work a reflection of you

The more clear you are about what energizes you, when you feel in the groove, and what feels meaningful, the more you can make decisions that help you align with that.

Instead of seeing your career path as something that gives you an identity, you start looking at it as a way to experience who you are. For example, once I help my clients identify their innate energizers, they are able to explore career paths that would allow them to experience them. The work becomes a delivery vehicle for those energizers.

Put another way, when your path is aligned with who you are, your identity isn’t the title on your business card. The title on your business card is a reflection of your identity.

Write it down

I encourage you to build a conscious picture of who you are, and use it to guide your career. Even if you read that and think, “I already know who I am,” I encourage you to write it down. Take it out of your head and out in front of you. It will help both refine it and give you the ability to more readily use the insight as a guidance tool.

Identifying your energizers is a solid first step. You can use those to help you explore where the future could take you, as well as to evaluate career decisions large and small.

So who are you without your work? Is your work a reflection of that? If not, there’s no better time than right now to start taking steps to change that.

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]

–-

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

14 ways to change your life with a gratitude practice

gratitude note

I often describe gratitude as the well-being wonderdrug. It has a positive impact in multiple ways, from greater happiness, to better health, to reduced stress.

As part of my series on learning to love your life at work, I was initially going to dive deeper into the benefits of gratitude. Then I remembered the mother of all gratitude posts, 31 benefits of gratitude. So I decided to link to that and focus on ideas for developing a gratitude practice.

Most of the ideas here can be applied during your work day. I’m including a wider range of ideas because you don’t live in a work silo. The gratitude habit you develop in your whole life is the gratitude habit you will bring to work.

1. Take stock of the obvious

The first step is just to sit down and take stock of what you’re grateful for. Look around at your life in 360 degrees. What jumps out at you as obvious things you feel grateful for? Start making a list.

2. Keep a gratitude journal

At its simplest, a gratitude journal can entail sitting down before bed each night and writing down three to five things you can feel grateful about that day. Try to really feel the gratitude, as opposed to making it just an intellectual exercise.

If you want to go deeper, you might try something like keeping a Positive Journal.

3. Keep an ongoing gratitude list

Start with the initial list you made in your initial taking stock. Over time, keep adding new things to the list. You could even try doing a one (or more) a day challenge, adding at least one new thing to be grateful about every day.

These two posts on my Ripple Revolution blog have some good questions to ask as gratitude prompts:

17 gratitude-prompting questions for your gratitude journal

17 more gratitude-prompting questions

Pull the ever-growing list out on a regular basis and review the entire list, pausing to let yourself feel the gratitude.

4. Create gratitude reminders

Put up gratitude reminders to help you remember to look for things to be grateful for. Maybe you put up sticky notes where you will regularly see them. Maybe you print out the words “Thank You” and put it in a frame. Play with whatever will help keep gratitude awareness top of mind.

5. Take a gratitude walk

Go out for a walk with the intention of noticing things to feel grateful for. That might be a beautiful sunny day, or the way the rainy day is making the grass so vividly green, or the feeling of your legs moving, or the fact that your body works as well as it does. Once you start looking, you might be amazed at how much there is to feel grateful for.

6. Take a gratitude drive

This is similar to a gratitude walk, except you do it in the car. You can use any ol’ time behind the wheel – your commute, running errands, taking the kids to soccer practice – to practice finding things to be grateful for.

7. Have a gratitude meal

If you sit down with family for a meal on a regular basis, try making one of those meals a gratitude meal on a regular basis. Each person in turn can share something they’re grateful about, maybe even why they’re grateful, and what it means to them.

I love the idea of making this a frequent occurrence, especially with kids. The more our minds know they’re going to be called on with a “gratitude quiz,” the more they start to take note throughout the day. Imagine planting those seeds with your kids!

8. Find a gratitude partner

Just like having a workout partner helps you stay committed to going to the gym, having a gratitude partner can help you stay engaged in your gratitude practice. That might look like, for example, a weekly meeting over coffee where each of you share the main gratitude themes you’re noticing in your lives.

9. Use complaints as gratitude triggers

Want to feel more gratitude, but really feel more like an old crankypants? Fear not! You can use your crankitude as a starting point. When you notice yourself kvetching, use that as a signal to shift your focus. “OK, yeah, that’s irritating. Now, what am I grateful for?”

10. Pick a daily gratitude theme

Try giving each day a daily theme. Maybe one day is “people.” Maybe another day is “visual.” Another day might be “learning.” Brainstorm a list of possible themes, pick one, and look for gratitude opportunities in that theme.

11. Keep a gratitude jar

Find a jar or some other container, and cut up some small slips of paper. Every time you notice yourself feeling grateful about something (even small things), write it down on one of those slips and put it in the jar.

Besides giving you a focus for your gratitude (and the kinesthetic reinforcement of writing it down and physically putting it in the jar), as the contents of the jar grows it gives your a gratitude grab bag of sorts. You can reach in and grab a slip at random for a little gratitude reminder.

12. Practice gratitude in bed

I love this one. When you wake up in the morning, before getting out of bed, lie there and do a gratitude check. Then, when you go to bed at the end of the day, do the same thing. It doesn’t need to take long, but it catches your mind at some of the times when it is most receptive.

13. Do a gratitude meditation

If you’re a meditator, explore making gratitude a central focus on a regular basis. That might focusing on one thing you’re grateful for, or on the feeling of gratitude, or even letting your mind go from gratitude point to gratitude point.

14. Download a gratitude app

Do a search for gratitude apps for your smartphone. There are a lot of them out there.

Make it an experiment

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to this. I encourage you to take these ideas (as well as any others you might come up with), pick something that resonates most, and experiment with it. See how it works. See how you like it, and what effect it has.

From there, you can either continue with it, integrating it more deeply into your habitual mode, or launch another experiment.

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]

–-

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

How mindfulness improves your life at work

your work plus mindfulness

[Part of a series on learning to love your life at work.]

Picture this. You’re sitting at work, doing what you do. It’s an ordinary day, just like any other. Except…today there’s a twist.

You’re still doing your work, but somehow you find yourself in the proud possession of a magic button that pushes pause on three things:

  1. The past
  2. The future
  3. Your judgment about whatever is happening right now

Think your experience might be a little different that day? Let’s take a look.

The Past

OK, let’s assume that whatever magic wand cleared out the past left all the past awareness you need to do your job intact. What it pushed pause on was all your memories and associations from the past that you have negative associations with.

So for example, on this particularly unusual day you won’t have:

  1. Regrets about mistakes you have made
  2. Doubts about yourself stemming from past failures
  3. Negative stories about your co-workers based on conflicts you have had in the past
  4. Resentments based on past perceived slights

The list goes on, but you get the idea.

Notice anything about all of these? Not a single one of them is happening in the present moment of your work day. And yet, if you’re anything like the rest of us, you spend untold amounts of energy in the suffering they create.

Press pause and – POOF – that suffering disappears.

Bottom line, we layer all kinds of unpleasantness over our experience of the present moment by bringing our negative past experiences into the present and giving them life. Push pause on that, and our experience of the here-and-now improves immensely.

The Future

Bringing the past forward into the present moment is bad enough (or rather, the perceived past, since studies show that what we remember tends to be a poor representative of what actually happened). But bringing the future into the present moment is sheer folly.

Why?

Because, while the past at least has something you can point to and say, “that happened,” (however inaccurate that might be), the future is 100%, no ifs-ands-or-buts made up. Complete fantasyland.

And yet, how often do you get your knickers in a knot about something that might happen? How often do you make yourself miserable worrying about some future outcome that may or may not ever become reality?

For most of us, the answer to that is, “Waaaaaaay too often.”

Now imagine going through your day with none of said knicker-knotting. How much more energy would that free? How much more peaceful would that feel?

Judgments about the Present

Finally, imagine that someone hit “mute” and quieted that voice that gives a running commentary about what you’re doing and experiencing.

You’ll still experience everything, both pleasant and unpleasant. But you won’t hear the comments from the peanut gallery. No commentary saying:

  • That was stupid.
  • Why can’t I be more patient?
  • I shouldn’t be so _____. (fill in the blank with your favorite self-criticism of choice)
  • I should be more _____.
  • This shouldn’t be like this.
  • When will this stop?
  • They shouldn’t be so _____.

All of those judgments add mental suffering to the picture. They add a projected pain to any unpleasantness that actually exists. They also get in the way of more fully experiencing (and enjoying) the present moment.

The “magic” of mindfulness

So you have looked all around and you can’t find the magic button to push so you can hit pause. What to do, what to do?

You’re in luck. Because you don’t need a magic button. All you need is mindfulness.

What, you might ask, is mindfulness? I’ll let Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the people behind the introduction and popularization of the idea in the West, explain:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

So basically mindfulness is way of experiencing the present moment without all the chatter of the past, the future, and judgments about the present mucking it up.

Think that might make any difference in how you experience your life at work?

(Hint: The answer is yes.)

p.s. If you want a deeper look at mindfulness, here’s a what is mindfulness post – a short video of Kabat-Zinn giving an overview of the concept, as well as a longer one of him doing a talk and mindfulness session at Google.

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]

–-

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

Change your story, change your life at work

change your story, change your life

The stories you tell create the lens through which you experience your world. Want to change your experience? Change your stories!

Of all the ideas in this series on learning to love your life at work, this is possibly the most powerfully and immediately impactful.

It’s no magical, mystical idea. It’s simply common sense. We all tell stories. It’s how the human mind makes sense of the world. The story you tell is the way you interpret an experience. Two different people can experience the exact same thing and, depending on the story they tell, come away with two completely different impressions of what happened.

Being conscious of your stories and working to shift them in a more positive, enlivening direction is one of the single most powerful habits you can develop.

The value of awareness

You can go at it from multiple angles, with ever-increasing amounts of nuance and awareness. But at its simplest it boils down to three questions.

  • What is the story I’m telling here?
  • How does it make me feel? Does it have an expansive or constricting impact?
  • (If it has a negative impact) Is there a more positive story I could tell?

Next time you find yourself feeling constricted, maybe frustrated, irritated, angry, etc., stop and ask yourself those three questions.

It starts with awareness. So often we react to what we see through the lens of our stories as though it were solid Truth with a capital T. It seems so obviously real that we don’t even question that it might only be a reflection of the story we’re telling.

If we don’t have awareness, we remain at the mercy of whatever constricting story is at the heart of it. Awareness opens the door to the potential for positive change.

Dramatic change (with no change)

I see the effectiveness of exploring different stories all the time in working with my Passion Catalyst clients. A great example of this was Bill. By the time he reached out to me, he was so frustrated with his work that he wanted to quit immediately.

One big source of frustration was the game-playing (or, as he perceived it, manipulation) that was rife in the industry he worked in. It was at odds with his values.

As we explored that, he acknowledged that it wasn’t that the people were bad, or that their intentions were malicious – it was just the way the game was played in that particular industry. And there was pretty much zero chance he was going to change that.

I suggested that he try an experiment. Every time he noticed his button getting pushed by someone interacting that way, instead of building up a head of righteous indignation, why not just laugh internally and say, “There they go, playing that game again.”

He was skeptical, but agreed to give it a try. A week later he came back and said, “Curt, I have just had the most positive week at work I have had in months!”

He kept working with that, and it created a complete shift in what had been a major source of the steam coming out his ears by the end of the day. His experience changed dramatically, even though nothing externally had actually changed.

3 kinds of stories

As I described in my post about how to do an internal energy audit, there are three broad areas you’ll find your stories. From that post:

Stories about yourself: These might include, for example, self-criticism vs self-appreciation (e.g., “hey, I really did that well,” or, “it wasn’t perfect, but I did the best I could.”) or self-doubt versus self-belief.

Stories about others: Do you see others as basically good or basically flawed? Do you see the best in others or the worst? Are you hyper-critical of others or supportive and understanding? Is your basic default trust or distrust?

Stories about circumstances: Do you feel like a victim of circumstances or do you habitually look for ways you can improve things? Do you see the world as a fearful place or a hopeful place?

Find your limiting stories

As I mentioned earlier, awareness is key. But sometimes that can feel easier said than done. One easy way to start building awareness is to start noticing the things where you feel a constriction and contraction.

Some examples include:

  • Irritation
  • Frustration
  • Anger
  • Impatience
  • Judgment (both of others and yourself)
  • Resistance of what is
  • Stress

Any time you notice any of those, you can step back and say, “OK, what’s my story about this? What is it that is causing me to feel this?”

Another way to approach it is to ask, “How should things be?” Your irritation, frustration, etc. typically stem from feeling that things should be one way and having them be another. It’s a good bet that how things should be – as you see it – is part or all of your story.

(On a side note, Byron Katie’s process, called The Work, is an excellent tool for finding a greater sense of peace with what is.)

Yet another way to notice your limiting stories is to watch for all or nothing words. For example, phrases like:

  • They always
  • He never
  • I can’t

Frequently the black-and-white stories we tell are only a caricature of reality. If we look at them more objectively, we often see that we’re looking through a lens that encourages us to confirm that point of view.

For example, “He always rambles on in meetings” completely ignores those occasions when the person in question either didn’t ramble on or played a constructive role in the conversation.

The more aware you can be of your limiting stories, the better equipped you are to explore the opportunities to sculpt them in a more affirming direction.

I’m not suggesting that you just sit there and blow sunsine up your wazoo 24/7. Sometimes there really are negative things that need to be addressed. But if you’re like most of us, you inflict a lot of unnecessary suffering on yourself simply through stories that could easily be changed.

Find your enhancing stories

While you’re at it, it’s worth looking at your enhancing stories as well. Again, it’s about awareness. The more aware you are of the positive stories you tell (stories about yourself and your abilities, stories about where others are coming from, your optimistic view of what’s possible, etc.), the more potential you have to cultivate and grow them.

Do your own experiment

I’m a big fan of the “don’t just believe me, test it for yourself” school of thinking. With that in mind, I encourage you to try an experiment.

Find a limiting story that you tell frequently. Spend a little time looking for other stories you could tell about that situation/experience that would leave you feeling lighter. Then, for the next week, play with catching the story in action and swapping it out with the new one.

It doesn’t have to be anything big. For example, I had one client who couldn’t stand the drama and conflict he saw all too often in meetings. The drama typically didn’t involve him, but his story – unbeknownst to him – was that if drama was happening, it was real, and it affected him.

When he realized this, he started telling a new story. “This isn’t my drama.” He was able to take a step back and watch the drama, rather than get pulled in.

He even took it a step farther by starting to ponder what the story behind the drama might be for the person or people in question. “Why are they responding like that? Where are they coming from? What are they trying to get accomplished? What are they afraid of?” It added a whole new dimension of “human interest” to the meetings.

If you see any difference at all, expand the experiment. Continue focusing on the same story for the next month and see what happens. Or expand it to include other stories.

Story by story, you can change your world.

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]

–-

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

 

How to improve your career by maximizing your Personal ROI

heart center

Want to create a career that leaves you feeling energized and alive? Awareness is vital! Without a detailed understanding of what feels energizing, meaningful, and engaging, your only option is to make your best guess, dive in, and hope for the best.

When you have a greater understanding of where the juice comes from for you, you have an infinitely better ability to consciously make choices – both big and small – that steer your career in that direction.

One of the exercises I suggest in my ebook, The Occupational Adventure Guide, invites you to explore your “Personal ROI.”

Your Personal ROI is the return on investment you get on the time and effort you put into your work. It takes the common remuneration, like money, benefits, etc., out of the picture and asks, “if it weren’t about the money, what would it be about?”

Imagine you’re suddenly plopped down in a parallel universe, one where money isn’t used as an incentive. Instead, your pay comes from the feeling you get from the work you are doing. The most “highly paid” people in the work force are the people who have found a career that is deeply aligned with what is meaningful and fun for them.

As you picture that, ask yourself, “What would I do to maximize my pay? What would maximize the Personal ROI for my investment of time and effort?”

Explore that more deeply with questions like:

  • What kinds of things would you be doing? Why? (As in, what is it about doing that that would give you a high Personal ROI?)
  • What kind of difference would you be making? What is important/inspiring/compelling about that?
  • What kind of people would you be working with?
  • What feelings would I get paid in? What gives me those feelings?
  • What feels meaningful?
  • What do I care about?
  • When do I lose myself?
  • When am I at my best? Why am I at my best then?

The thing I love about this idea is that it removes the piece of the puzzle that tends to muddy things up for people – how much money can I make? – and focuses your attention on, “How can I feel the way I want to feel?”

Once you have a better understanding of that, you can apply that insight to building a career that lets you both thrive and feel alive.

Ask, “How can I experience more of that? Where are the opportunities to build more of that into what I do now? Where are the opportunities to move toward more of that in my career path?”

And then create that, step-by-step, choice-by-choice.

How about you? How would you maximize your Personal ROI?

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

 

Year-in-Review Question: Would I be happy with 10 more years of this?

scales

One of the things that frequently keeps us stuck in what doesn’t work is an overly narrow view of what we’re experiencing.

Let’s say you’re unhappy with your work. You know you need to make a change, but the idea of actually taking action on that kicks up a bucketload o’ fear and discomfort.

And when that fear comes up you automatically put it on a scale. Maybe consciously, maybe unconsciously. “Which of these feels more painful? The job I dislike, or the fear and uncertainty of making a change?”

All too often the fear ends up feeling heavier, and so nothing changes.

Make sure you’re making the right comparison

Frequently, the trouble is that you’re not comparing the right things. You take a look at the knot of fear that grips your stomach when you think about making a change, and compare it to the low-grade irritation you feel spending another day at work. Guess which one feels more intense?

But that’s not an accurate comparison. Unless you’re so excruciatingly unhappy that you’re not even sure you can say, “It’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick,” the discomfort you feel any given day at work is never likely to weigh more than the fear of the unknown and potential for failure.

But think about what not making a change really means. It means you’re committing not only to another day slogging through the irritation of an ill-fitting job, but also to the cumulative effect, year after year, of a job that chafes.

So to make an accurate comparison on that scale, you need to keep adding day after day of not being happy at work, year in and year out. It doesn’t take too long for that to get pretty danged heavy.

10 more years?

With all that in mind, a great year-in-review question is, “Would I be happy with ten more years of this?” If the answer is yes, great! If the answer is no, that’s a good sign you have some changes to make.

Here’s one thing I know. If the answer to that question is no, if you don’t commit to making a change for the better odds are really, really good that ten years from now you’ll look back and say, “Crap! I can’t believe I just spent the last decade tolerating this.”

Even if you can’t make a wholesale change with the flip of a switch, you can start taking steps. What one step could you take today? This week? This month? Don’t get caught up in the overwhelming bigness of whatever change you’re contemplating. Just take one step, and then another, and allow them to add up over time.

While it certainly happens, the odds are against a bad situation magically getting better by itself. You can either choose to make a change, or commit to living with it indefinitely.

I used work as an example, but you can apply this question to any area of your life. Relationships, health, life balance, etc.

So what do you think? Would you be happy with ten more years of this? If not, what’s your next step?

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

Year-in-Review Question: If I could change one thing…

Year in review: What one change would you make?

In my last post with 77 year-in-review questions, I suggested thinking about the past year as a “learning lab.” You have done all the experiments, and now it’s time to review the results to see what you learned (and ultimately how you can apply that to the coming year).

You might find 77 questions a bit overwhelming, so let’s start out by boiling it down to one:

“If I could change one thing about _________ (the decisions I made, how I showed up, how I treated people, what I did, what I didn’t do, etc.), what would that be?”

Note that this is about something you played an active role in, not something like “I would change my boss so he’s not such a jerk.”

The goal of this exercise isn’t to point out some grand deficiency to give you fodder for self-flagellation about your shortcomings. It’s simply a way to look at objectively at how the year unfolded and find the juicy opportunities for learning that will help you make a change for the better in the coming year.

Another way of thinking about it is rephrasing the question to, “What one thing have I learned from the the less-than-preferable aspects of this last year that will help me make next year better?”

Benefits of identifying one change

The beauty of this is two-fold. First, it gets you thinking about what the most important and helpful change would be. We all have things we would change as we look back. That’s just part of life. This lets you cut through the clutter and put your finger on what change would be most impactful.

Second, and related to the first, it gives you a manageable amount of change to focus on. Getting bogged down in trying to change all the things you would have done differently is a great recipe for no change at all.

Approach it with kindness and compassion

As you explore this question, please, please, please approach it with a sense of self-compassion. Especially for those of us with an especially vigorous inner critic (I call mine Brutal Bart), it can be easy for this question to become an exercise in finding yet another of the bazillion ways in which we suck more than anybody on the planet.

No, no, no! Do it with kindness. Do it with love. Do it with a positive intention to harvest the results of the last year to make the coming year better.

Apply it to multiple areas of life

If you want to expand this simplified year-in-review question, you can apply it to various aspects of your life. For example, what one thing would you change…

In your work?

In your relationships (family, friends, community)?

In your health?

In your finances?

In your spiritual life?

In your fun and leisure time?

What’s my one thing?

There’s no shortage of things I would like to change about how I showed up in the world over the last year. Two things jump out at me that I think would have a significant impact if I made changes.

Create more structure: I spin my wheels and waste a lot of time. If I could change how I approached the last year, I would institute some kind of structure for my work. Something simple to start with, like scheduling a block of time for writing every day, and then developing the discipline to stay with it.

Connecting with community: It’s easy for me to isolate and stay hunkered down in my cave. That’s especially true when things are challenging, as they have been for me this last year. If I could make one change there, I would commit to spending more time actively engaged in the communities I’m involved in.

You can see where this is going. Now that I put that out there in the context of what one thing I would change about the past, it sets me up to say, “Hey, here’s an opportunity to start creating that change!”

How about you? What one change would you make?

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

77 year-in-review questions to prepare for the new year

77 year in review questions

We’re coming up on a time of year when our attention naturally turns to new beginnings and changes for the better.

By January 31st, you will have invested 365 days of your life into the last year. You can either let that time slide into the past and start focusing on next year, or spend some time squeezing every last drop of value from it.

If you want to get the most out of the last year and gain valuable insights you can carry into your new year’s efforts for positive change, take a step back, look through an objective lens, and ask questions like, “What happened? What didn’t? What worked? What didn’t? What do I want to build on? What do I want to change? ”

Think of the last year as a “life learning lab.” You have done all the experiments. Now it’s time to learn from the results.

To get you started, below you’ll find 77 year-in-review questions coming at it from a wide range of angles. No need to try to dive deep into all of them (unless you’re a chronic over-achiever with no life – in which case, have at it!). Simply scan through and pick the questions that call to you.

You can ask any of these questions with a work focus or from the perspective of your life overall.

Digging deeper

If you want to go even deeper with any particular question, follow your immediate answer with questions to help you dig a layer further down, like, “Why? What was it about that? What contributed to that?” For example, for the question, “What drained me?” You might follow it up with, “Why? What is it about that that depleted my energy?”

The better you understand the specifics, the more useful the insight will be in guiding your future.

77 year-in-review questions

(Over the next couple weeks I will be writing posts taking a deeper look at a few of these questions, and will add links here.)

  1. On a scale of 1 – 10, how energized and alive have I felt?
  2. When have I felt “in the flow?”
  3. Where have I felt mired and stuck?
  4. Did I feel like I was on track?
  5. What would I have preferred to have had more of?
  6. What would I have preferred to have had less of?
  7. What was missing?
  8. What energized me?
  9. What drained me?
  10. How did I succeed?
  11. How did I fail? What can I learn from that?
  12. Where was the abundance in my life (not just financial)?
  13. What sucked? What can I learn from that?
  14. How am I glad I spent my time?
  15. How do I regret having spent my time?
  16. What mattered?
  17. What about how I spent my time this year will matter in ten years?
  18. What did I think was my top priority this year?
  19. What did my actions and choices show was my top priority?
  20. Did my priorities reflect how I want to live my life?
  21. How have I lived in alignment with what’s really important?
  22. How have I lived out of alignment with what’s really important?
  23. If someone I don’t know were to identify what I value purely based on how I spent my time, what would they say I value?
  24. What “empty calorie” activities have consistently taken my time?
  25. Where have I been in a rut?
  26. What am I most proud of?
  27. What do I regret most?
  28. How did I make the world a better place?
  29. Whose life is better because I touched it?
  30. What do I want to consciously bring forward into the new year?
  31. What do I want to consciously let go of?
  32. How did I show up as the person I want to be?
  33. How did I show up as a person I don’t want to be?
  34. What contributed to my success (in my work / in my relationships / in my contribution to the world/etc.)?
  35. What got in the way of my success?
  36. What felt out of balance?
  37. What changes did I make for the better?
  38. What changes did I make for the worse?
  39. What am I grateful for?
  40. Who am I grateful for?
  41. Who helped me? / What support have I gotten?
  42. Who did I help? / What support have I given?
  43. On a scale of 1 – 10, how kind have I been to myself?
  44. How has my self-talk been constructive?
  45. How has my self-talk gotten in my way?
  46. How have I shown myself love?
  47. Where has fear held me back?
  48. What stories have I been telling that have been limiting me?
  49. What have I been holding on to that I need to let go?
  50. What habits limited me?
  51. What habits supported me?
  52. What excuses have I made?
  53. How have I been compromising myself?
  54. What one thing would I change that would make the biggest impact on the quality of my life?
  55. What felt meaningful?
  56. What worries did I experience about things that never actually existed?
  57. What help did I need that I didn’t reach out for?
  58. What risks did I take? How did I step outside my comfort zone?
  59. What risks do I wish I had taken?
  60. What did I try that was new?
  61. How did the year contribute to where you want to be in 20 years?
  62. How did I invest in my future?
  63. How much did I laugh?
  64. What lessons stand out from my experiences this year?
  65. How have I lived from the heart?
  66. When have I felt at peace?
  67. When have I felt tension?
  68. The best thing about this year was ________.
  69. The worst thing about this year was ________.
  70. What advice would I give my last-year self based on what you learned and experienced this year?
  71. What inspired and motivated me?
  72. How did I challenge myself?
  73. Did I need to focus more on my own needs or the needs of others (or was the balance just right)?
  74. How did the people I spent most of my time with contribute to who I want to become and what I want to achieve?
  75. How did the people I spent most of my time with detract from who I want to become and what I want to achieve?
  76. What did I think was important that really wasn’t?
  77. What did I think wasn’t important that really was?

So there you have it. The past year has the potential to have a powerful impact on your future, simply through the insights you have the potential to gain. And the key to reaping those benefits is asking questions.

How do you prepare for the new year? Do you have any questions you regularly ask as you look back on the year that has passed? Do any of these questions strike you as particularly relevant for your life just now? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

The blessing of a jackhammer (and what that has to do with creating work you love)

road construction

There’s a big road construction project going on across the street from me. The last couple days have been filled with wave after wave of jackhammering.

There’s not much to do but tune it out, but every time it stops for an extended period of time I’m struck by how peaceful it feels. The silence is almost palpable.

Every time I experience that silence, I realize how much tension the jackhammer has been causing – both in my mind and my body. The silence feels like a little trip to the spa where that tension just drips away.

Sure, the incessant rattle of metal on concrete has been irritating, but it has also been a blessing.

Huh? How could a jackhammer be a blessing? Let me explain.

Quieting the jackhammer of the mind

Grating as it has been, the noise of the jackhammer has helped me experience the peace of the silence in a way I seldom do when the noise level outside is just at your standard urban hum.

Every time I feel that silence, I think, “Ohhhhh, that’s what’s there when the noise stops!”

That jackhammer and the silence in its absence is a perfect metaphor for what happens in our minds, and the peace and spaciousness that comes if we can quiet that mental jackhammer even just a little bit.

The jackhammer and the profound peace of its absence has been giving me a frame of reference – an experiential analogy, if you will – for what happens at an internal level, both with the noise we create in our minds and the potential for peace when we find ways to turn down the volume.

Recognizing the unacknowledged tension

One of the most striking things about the peace following the noise has been a realization of just how much tension I was holding in response to the jackhammer, even though I thought I was tuning it out.

It’s the same in our minds. Our thoughts create a tension in our minds we often don’t even realize is there. Maybe it’s the shrill underlying hum of a worry about the future, or rumination about what he did, or what she said, or how you screwed up.

Maybe it’s an ongoing battle with what is and an insistence that things should be different. Perhaps it’s just an addiction to going at mach speed without the ability to really relax.

Whatever it is, it frequently creates an underlying tension there that can suck your energy dry.

What jackhammering (and quiet) has to do with loving your work

The goal of getting Wild About Work isn’t just finding work you love. It’s also developing your capacity to fully experience the juice your work offers.

The tension and energy drain created by the jackhammer of our minds has a constricting effect. It makes us smaller and less open. It takes us out of flow, rather than helping us step into it.

The benefit of toning down that internal jackhammer is twofold. First, you reduce the energy drain it causes. And second, the more you can do to quiet that internal jackhammer, the more internal space you have to experience the good stuff.

How to turn down your mental jackhammer

In the Wild About Work model, one of the basic foundational pieces is some kind of grounding practice (or even better, several grounding practices).

There are a bazillion different ways to turn down the volume on that internal jackhammer. I’ll dive more deeply into a few of them in future posts, but for now here’s a handful:

Mindfulness: This is simply pulling yourself back from whatever wild gyrations your mind is doing in the past and/or future and experiencing what is happening right here, right now, without overlaying a story.

Meditation: A regular meditation practice – even just a few minutes per day – can have a profound effect on the noise in your mind. You can use it both as a regular practice and as a way to ground throughout your day.

Breathing: Your breath is a great tool for getting out of your mental noise and into the present moment. Try simply focusing on your breath for sixty seconds at various intervals throughout the day.

With any of these, try to take an approach of softening, rather than effort to make something happen. An effort to relax only contributes more tension to the mix.

Try this: Here’s an experiment for the next week, if you’re up for it. Every once in a while throughout your day, stop and notice. Are you grounded and present? Are you spooled up and tense? Just notice. No judgment.

Then  take ten breaths. Focus your attention on how the breath feels. Connect with how your body moves as you breath in and out. If your mind starts to wander as you do that (it probably will), just come on back to focusing on the breath.

That’s it. Notice, then breathe. Notice, then breathe.

Simple, right?

Let me know how it goes!

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

Change your life (seriously!) with a Positive Journal

In 2008, my business was in freefall, and I was broke, broke, broke (not to mention stressed, stressed, stressed). The financial crisis had hit me hard – not many people were thinking about creating careers that lit them up when they were worried about survival.

I was complaining to a friend about my situation and she said something that stopped me in my tracks. “Curt, where is the abundance in your life?”

I realized that I actually had great gobs of abundance in my life – just not the financial version. And yet it was my stress about the financial variety that was taking up my entire field of view. I realized I needed to do something to focus more of my awareness on what was positive in my life.

positive journalI decided to keep a “positive journal.” In the video above, I talk about the experience and the incredibly positive impact it had.

Knowing that any attempt at regular journaling I had made in the past had a limited life span, I decided to create a framework by making it a 30-Day Experiment. I love 30-Day Experiments. They’re long enough to start seeing results, but not so long that night on impossible to stick with it.

My only rule for the journal was that anything I wrote in it had to have a positive focus. Here are the four main areas I explored:

Gratitude: I made it a regular habit to do a deep dive into gratitude. The more I did it, the more I saw reasons to feel grateful, both big and small.

Abundance: First I made a laundry list of all the kinds of abundance I experienced in my life (love, freedom and flexibility, ideas, beauty, health, fun, etc.). Then I started picking them one at a time and asking, “Why is that important? What is the positive impact of that in my life?”

Shifting out of the negative: When I found myself stuck in a negative rumination, or a habitual negative perception, I would sometimes explore how to shift that? How could I look at things from a more positive angle? What are the positive possibilities?

Positive question prompts: I started using open-ended prompts to help me spotlight the positive. For example, “Life is good because _____,” and, “I feel confident and capable when _____.”

So what about the title to this post? Isn’t that just a tad hyperbolic? Well no, in my experience, that was exactly what keeping a Positive Journal did. More accurately, it changed my experience of my life. If you think of your awareness as a pie chart, my daily focus on the positive increased the percentage of that pie that was taken up with seeing the positive.

I went into it with a fairly open mind. I didn’t really know what effect the experiment would have on me. Turns out it was huge. It was actually a key part of being able to emotionally navigate a really challenging time.

Here are some of the outcomes I experienced:

Noticing the positive: What’s good start entering my awareness more naturally. It was already there, but this expanded my awareness of it.The more I paid attention to the positive, the more positive I noticed.

Looking for the positive: Not only did I passively start to notice the good stuff in my life, I also found myself actively scanning to find more. It wasn’t something I put effort into; it just started happening on its own.

Short-circuiting the negative: I started noticing the negative, limiting stories my mind created and automatically looking for alternative, life-enhancing stories.

I highly, highly recommend trying this. Make it a 30-Day Experiment and see what happens. Try to find a regular time each day and dive on in.

If you do it, I would love to know how it goes! Please share your experience in the comments below.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

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