When it comes down to it, personal sustainability is a concept I have been passionate about since college. It's my north star. For me, a sustainable life is one that is filled with joy, curiosity, change, growth and adventure. These pillars guide my decisions (from what I do on the weekends to my next career move), which can sometimes make my path appear unstructured on paper.
By the time I graduated from JMU in 2006, I had decided that the typical career path wasn't for me. This took me by surprise because up until that point, I was someone who thrived in the traditional system. I loved school. I was driven. I was heavily involved in about a dozen clubs and organizations. In spite of this, I knew that if I took a step toward a traditional career path, I wouldn't last long. I knew it the first time I put on a suit for an interview. I knew it in the spring of my senior year when I read job descriptions that could have put me to sleep. I remember thinking, "Where does it end? When do we finally 'arrive?'" It all started to feel like there was this horizon we would never reach. It seemed like there was this dangerous loyalty to the almighty career trajectory that actually wasn't making people happy or fulfilled. I wanted more, and I didn't want to wait until retirement to start living. That prompted my backpacking trip to New Zealand that changed everything, launching a five-year adventure through 25 countries.
It was through this life of travel that I started to reflect of what it would look like to create a sustainable life- one where I could support myself financially, channel my ambition, leave my mark on the world, find joy and adventure, and avoid wearing a suit and sitting at a desk at all costs. Maybe it was a tall order, but I was determined to find a way. Building OutGrowth not only has allowed me to build a sustainable personal and professional life in the way I had always dreamed, but it also has given me a platform to show others how to do the same.
This month, as we celebrate sustainability, we examine its multifaceted definition through the OutGrowth lens. Sustainability is an important goal from an environmental, social and economic standpoint, three areas which are targeted through OutGrowth's programming. However, at its core, OutGrowth is based on the concept of building sustainability from a personal/professional angle, so that we can build a life of purpose and connect to work that lights us up. Whether we are starting a new project, building a business or just exploring new ways to craft a career or a life, finding ways to avoid burnout, stay in it for the long haul and most importantly, remain energized and fulfilled, is so important.
As we wrap up our June content, I wanted to share with you my Top 5 Thoughts and Strategies for crafting a sustainable life, based on my three years of entrepreneurship, and a lifetime of finding ways to approach a career differently.
1. Start with What You Can't Live Without
When I first started to build OutGrowth, I did so because at its very core, OutGrowth does two things:
-It solves a relevant problem
-It solves a problem I deeply care about
I was once told that you shouldn't start a business if you are lukewarm about what you'll be doing to make it a reality. You have to love it. And not just love the idea of it- you have to love the doing part. The business development, accounting, marketing, hustling and failure have to all be welcome components, because in the end, you care about what you are doing that much.
To that end, I think it's essential that we figure out what drives us in life. Even if this doesn't turn into a business, or even a career, it will point us to pursue a hobby, a volunteer opportunity or even a mentoring relationship that will connect us to our purpose bottom line. Figuring this out can be challenging, and requires reflection. But once you know what drives you as a human, you can make more informed and intentional decisions moving forward.
2. Know Your Top Three
Different from knowing what you can't live without, your top three are the life conditions that bring you fulfillment. They comprise the how of our living.
For example, I know that I love to work independently most of the time, and the freedom to build my own schedule is hugely important to me. I also know that I need to be active, every single day. Finally, I know that if I can do something creative on Mondays and on Fridays, at the beginning and end of my week, that I am invigorated to be my best self.
While these top three don't dictate a specific career path or give us insight into the what of our lives, it is important to know what matters to us, and what differentiates a fulfilled week from one that we are just "getting through."
3. Be Disciplined, But Build in Time to Step Back
For any goal on my list, personal or professional, I have a clear, overarching timeline. I then chunk that bigger timeline into blocks of work. I stick to them, as my own boss, and I rarely deviate. My work days, then, become highly-disciplined, where I wake up every morning knowing what items need to get completed, and how long I have, exactly, to complete each one.
Building in this structure keeps me focused, motivated and extremely productive. It also gives me another very important thing- an end point. Because I've taken an overflowing list of projects and tasks and mapped them out in advance, I know that when I have a gap in my schedule, it is truly a guilt-free gap. I can intentionally not fill it, and do something that lights me up.
If you are an entrepreneur, or starting to tackle something that is more of a personal goal (meaning, no one will reprimand you if you don't get it done), building this out is more freeing than it is limiting. It makes tasks more digestible, successes tangible and it keeps us constantly growing. When you do have that time to step back to take some free time for yourself, it then recharges you to enter your next block of productivity.
4. Find Moments of Wonder and Awe
I'm big on this one. I started OutGrowth because I believe in the power of immersive experiences. What kind of business owner would I be if I didn't walk the walk? Finding ways to get completely immersed in nature, in travel and in new environments doesn't just recharge us- it actually inspires us to be uncomfortable. It invigorates us to take bigger risks, to see our pursuits from a new perspective, and to realign ourselves with our true purpose. We get to pull ourselves our of our own heads, and get out of our own way. We are better people and professionals when we make the time to reconnect with something much bigger than ourselves. I think many people will be surprised to realize that these experiences don't require a plane ticket to a far-off place. Within a 30-minute radius, we can find something that inspires us. Just Google local hikes, find a nearby park, or look into local shows, art galleries and museums. Find a friend who ignites your creativity, and get a coffee on the books. Inspiration is everywhere.
5. Do Quarterly Reassessments
Our lives, careers and projects are constantly evolving. It's smart to be open to new opportunities, to follow the market and to be responsive to changes in our environment. Every once in a while, however, we do need to come back and reassess. Am I still living out my purpose (and achieving success as I define it)? Am I staying aligned with what matters to me, or have I deviated? Am I sticking to my schedule, finding blocks of time to pull back? If not, how can I adjust? Did the thing I wanted most turn into a life that isn't making me happy? What can I extract from what I have built to still achieve my goals, while focusing on doing what makes me fulfilled?
Especially as we navigate new territory, we have to remind ourselves that in many ways, we are developing new habits of living and being. Therefore, growth isn't a "one and done" task. We have to come back and reflect to make sure we are staying on track, at least every few months.
Anna Fitzgibbon is the Founder and Owner of OutGrowth, and is dedicated to re-imagining how we design our lives and careers. To learn more about OutGrowth's range of services that will inspire your team and arm them with tools for success, click here.