Indian Beach, OR
July 30th, 2014

In My Short Life So Far

Ilyssa Kyu
Senior Researcher & Strategist

Recently I attended a conference in Portland, OR called the World Domination Summit. Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds.

While I anticipated a generally great and inspiring experience, I could never have imagined the profound effect it would have on me and lead to a defining moment of my life—realizing my dream. In my time at P'unk Avenue, I've had many experiences and support in thinking about my dreams – during company retreats and our annual Junto Retreat – but for the first time I felt like I had a crystalized vision for what I want to be doing and the impact I want to make on the world. While I can’t provide suggestions or insights on how to help you identify yours, I wanted to create an exercise that would help myself and others work through making them real.

WDS

Dreams

Dreams give you something to aspire to—they empower you to take action and propel you towards accomplishing something great. Often times we associate dreams with an economical endeavor, like landing your dream job or maybe running your own business. But a dream can also be the impact you make in the world or even an outcome to your own life, like being a stay-at-home parent or retiring at 50. You may even have two, maybe three dreams. 

Though they may evolve and shape themselves into something else over time or take you in a different direction than where you started, dreams not only provide you with some grounding and something to strive towards but they give you invaluable experiences to collect along the way.

A great example is Dee Williams who spoke at this year’s World Domination Summit. She shared that when she was young, all she wanted to do was live in the forest pulling thorns out of the tiny paws of her little woodland creatures. She pursued many things in life but faced a serious wake-up call after suffering a heart attack. Following this experience and reevaluating her priorities in life, she recalled her dream of living amongst her tiny woodland creatures and through the course of this journey, built the Big Tiny house—her 50-sq ft home she built herself, has written a book about, teaches others to build professionally and will eventually retire to. She learned that through letting go of the things she accumulated over her life, she got back time and now is able to measure success in life by just showing up and her deepened relationship with friends. And, all the while, living amongst her tiny woodland creatures.

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In My Short Life So Far

It was not the kumbaya moments during the presentations (yes, there was an actual guitar playing sing-along) or the synchronized bollywood dancing at the closing party that turned me into yet another huge fan of the WDS. Rather, it was the very careful curation of speakers and the subjects on which they spoke of—each one building on the next and resonating with me deeply. Sure, a majority of the presentations were more aspirational than tactical – but, at this moment, this time in my short life so far, it was exactly what I needed. 

And that’s precisely the overwhelming, overarching takeaway I left this conference with—in my short life so far. 

Today in one’s young adult life, the absolute measure of success when you’re just starting out and recent graduate is getting a job in your field, let alone any job that actually pays for the work that you contribute. At the same time, many recent graduates and young adults face the anxiety of “whatever I do now is going to set the course of the rest of my life.” And for many well into their careers or lives, they often feel stuck or that it’s too late to follow their passions or dreams. What we forget is that – while in past generations, many people did stay in a line of family professions or committed to a life-long career post-college– you have a lot of time and opportunity to reinvent yourself, to shift courses, to accomplish other things or your dreams later in life. 

If I’m Still Alive, It’s Not Too Late

Recently, the morning after Pete Seeger passed, I happened to be sitting in Quaker meeting just before our company retreat at Pendle Hill. A woman rose to share a long, rambling but moving story to honor the legacy of Pete Seeger and his activism. She shared a story about “Granny D” – a 90-year old woman named Doris Haddock who walked over 3,200 miles across the United States to advocate for campaign finance reform. As her final remark and lesson learned from ‘Granny D’, she said, “If I’m still alive, then it’s not too late.” This resonate thought that has been lingering in my mind for the last several months connected to many of the talks at WDS – particularly those from speakers Michael Hyatt, Dee Williams and John Francis. 

Granny D

They led me to think about my 90-year-old self, looking back at my life. 

What will my be my regrets? My greatest accomplishments? And, as Michael Hyatt asked, how do I want people to remember me? What brave decisions will I have made?

Trumpets & Trombones

As I hiked through Forest Park during a thunderstorm and explored the brilliantly beautiful beaches of the Oregon coast the days after the conference, I was processing all of what I had learned, and all of the emotions and ideas the talks at WDS conjured up.  Then, on Route 26 on my way to Ecola State Forest, feeling suddenly exposed as I drove through the naked mountains entirely logged—it struck me. As though it barreled into my brain with literal light bulbs and confetti floating around my being to the tune of brilliant and bursting trumpets and trombones. I suddenly had a clear vision of my dream

I’ve wanted to be a lot of things in life – a Nascar driver, a cat, veterinarian, dolphin trainer, Alanis Morissette, photographer, a designer. And in my adult professional life as a designer, I’ve always dreamed of contributing in making the world a better place. But I’ve ever been more certain that in the wilderness of Oregon, I finally figured out exactly how I was going to do that. While the specifics of my dream may continue to evolve and take shape over the course of my life, I finally have that point out in the distance to looks towards and I can take comfort in knowing that all of the things that I have done and are doing now are on the right path and part of the journey in getting there.

Future Self

As my conscientiousness shot around my brain for all of these collective experiences and nuggets of wisdom that led me there, I couldn’t help but feel like I was thinking of my life in the format of a presentation I want to give one day about my life and my work in 30 years.

I felt that perhaps this moment I was in, this realization if this dream… this was the story arch—the defining moment in the narrative that the rest of the story takes off from. It was the moment I had the realization it was time to take risks, muster up to courage to be brave and pursue this newly articulated dream. While I am only 25 and I do have the rest of my life, I don’t want to wait until I have a heart attack or lose somebody I love deeply to have my Eat Pray Love wake-up call moment to take action. As Michael Hyatt said in his talk, we get to be the architects and the engineers of our future selves.

And I want to start now.

While this idea may seem silly and, whether or not I actually give this presentation in 30 years, it doesn’t matter—what it allowed me to do was finally see the point in the distance I want to get to and allow myself to envision real, actionable steps in getting there. Additionally, imaging myself in Dee William’s spot in center stage, holding myself accountable to all 3,000+ people waiting for me to tell my story in the auditorium of World Domination Summit 2044 didn’t hurt either.

Writing My Story

Like any good story, I was following a structure we’re all familiar with—a beginning, climax and an ending. While the meat of the story and the climax are the perhaps the moments I’m experiencing right now and will continue to collect throughout my life, I could begin with identifying the beginning and the end. The beginning is, well, the beginning so that felt like an easy and natural place to start. For anyone who knows me, they already know that my story begins at the age 5 when I met an earthworm who changed the course of my life. And, the most scary, thrilling, exciting and did I mention terrifying part of it all is that I identified the hopeful “ending” to my story — accomplishing my dream.

Writing

So I am going to break my own rules in telling a good story by leaving the “dream” as a teaser because I want to get to the exercise part of this post. But first, let me tell you about tacking.

Tacking

As I mentioned, I started to think about my life and my newly discovered path in the context of giving a presentation 30 years from now. In my own head, as a visual outline to my story, I was thinking of where I am now, what my next steps may be and my dream all in the form of a tacking diagram, a sailing strategy that I remind myself of and use every day.

Sailing

If you aren’t already familiar with this sailing technique, tacking is a maneuver used when sailing towards the direction of the wind. To tack, you turn your boat through the wind at a 45° angle, actually pointing away from that point out in the distance you want to sail to. Though you’re technically sailing a longer distance (picture a zig-zag), this method allows your boat to arrive at that point in the distance much faster.

At P’unk Avenue, we use this as a metaphor in our work and the work we aspire to do together– the shortest route is not always the quickest (or the best method). I often use as a personal reminder of patience and the value of taking thoughtful, sometimes seemingly divergent but strategic steps in reaching my goals or dream. It also reminds me that these experiences I collect along the journey propel me to the next and towards that point off in the distance—tacking.

Presentation in 30 Years Exercise

I want you to start to think of your story—the presentation you will give in 30 years. Since many of you may be further along in your career or journey in achieving your dream, I’ll allow you to adjust accordingly.

You’re in a college auditorium full of graduating seniors or maybe you’re in a theatre presenting in front of 3,000 people at the World Domination Summit 2044 (ew, 2044... gross, right?). Or maybe you’re sharing your story with your grandchildren around a fire or sitting on the beach.   

I want you to think about and write down the following:

  • Where does your story begin? 

  • What was a defining moment in your life? (if you’ve had one already)

  • Where does your story “end”? What’s your dream? 

  • What are some significant steps you’ve taken to reach your dream?

  • What are some significant steps you need to take to reach your dream? 

If you have more than one dream, that’s perfectly fine. For the sake of this exercise, let’s focus on one at a time—let’s start with perhaps your biggest or wildest dream. If you aren’t sure of what your dream is yet or where you want to be in 30 years, perhaps try to identify a more broad point off in the distance. You can always readjust and start a new diagram when or if that realized goal or dream hits you, but discovering that should be yours and yours alone. 

We’re going to write the outline to your presentation using the tacking diagram below. We’re going to plot these experiences and goals along the way to your dream. 

tacking exercise web

On the diagram shown above, write down your:

  • Beginning - a defining moment where your story begins (next to the sailboat)

  • Ending – the dream, the point off in the distance you want to get to  

On the first several lines on the diagram (starting from the bottom), write down:

  • Any steps you’ve already taken towards achieving that dream 

  • Defining experiences you’ve had that got you to this point  

We’ll call these tacks.  In a different color pen or marked with an asterisk, I want you to write in your tacks in achieving this dream. Fill in as many as you can think of.

  • What are the brave decisions you’re going to make to help you get there?

  • Who are the people you’re going to reach out to? Ask for their help or support?

  • What are ways you’re going to find time in your day to work towards that dream?   

But here’s the catch. I also want you to leave space in your tacking diagram. There should be points that you leave empty—intentional spaces for your narrative’s climax, new opportunities, wrong turns, mistakes and yet-to-be made accomplishments. The experiences you collect along the way are equally important—good or bad.

Let it serve as a reminder as where you want to be in 10, 20, maybe 30 years—the point in which you’re reflecting back on your life and the things you’ve done or places you’ve gone, for that moment you are sitting down to prepare your presentation in 30 years. Hold on to this diagram—hang it on your refrigerator, pin it to your workspace wall, carry it in your wallet.  Add to it when appropriate—perhaps when you’ve accomplished or experienced something significant. Or perhaps you’ve thought of your next step. But always leave spaces.   These are the things that I’ve learned In my short life, so far.

Muddy shoes
Ilyssa Kyu
Senior Researcher & Strategist

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