Best-selling author and executive coach Richard Leider and Fast Company co-founder Alan M. Webber recently teamed up to write Life Reimagined: Discovering Your New Life Possibilities (Berrett-Koehler, 2013). An inspirational how-to for readers who are preparing to embark on the next step in their professional and personal journeys, it’s peppered with stories from people with various vocational backgrounds and avocational passions.
The text, which is written in an accessible, conversational style, is structured so that you can read it straight through or jump around to the sections that prove most interesting. “That said,” the authors note in their introduction, “there is a map to make sense of this or any new phase of life. The map features six guideposts [Reflect, Connect, Explore, Choose, Repack, Act] that can help you find your way on your individual journey. Don’t think of these as steps taken in rigid, chronological order but as practices to guide your way.”
Earlier this year, Leider sat down with Experience Life to talk about the project’s genesis, his authorial ambitions, and the aforementioned guideposts, which he’s spent a lifetime perfecting. He also graciously agreed to let us share a selection from Life Reimagined.
What follows is a cutting from the first chapter to address a guidepost, “Reflect — What’s Real for You?” and an excerpt from Leider’s interview.
Reflect — “What’s Real for You?”
If you talk with people in the latter part of their lives and ask them to look back on how they’ve lived, you’ll hear a consistent refrain: “If I were to live my life over, I’d be more reflective.” Dig a little deeper, and they usually add, “Happiness is a choice, not a result of how life treats you.”
What they’re really saying is, reflection is all about choice.
What is reflection?
First, let’s dispel some misconceptions. Start with what it isn’t — and what it doesn’t require you to do.
Reflection doesn’t require you to go off to a monastery. You don’t have to light candles and learn to sit in the lotus position. Soothing music isn’t necessary; you don’t have to practice chanting or learn a mantra. (To be fair, these may be helpful practices for some people; they’re just not required.) The point is: It’s not an esoteric experience designed to make you self-conscious — at least not in an uncomfortable way.
But you do, actually, want to become more conscious of yourself — in a good way.
Reflection is about pausing to look at life from the inside out. . . . In trigger moments we tend to do two things: we go higher, and we go deeper.
“Higher” means we lift our heads to take a hard look at what’s going on out there that might have caused the trigger. Why did I lose my job? What’s behind my relationship crisis? What have I been doing to trigger this health problem? Going higher is what we do to get more information from the environment to make sense of the moment, positive or negative.
“Deeper,” on the other hand, is when we go within. We start to turn the questions inward. What are my choices? What are my real possibilities?
When you go inward, you begin to discover what’s essential. It’s when you learn what’s core for you. Going inside gives you the chance to discover what doesn’t change about you, no matter how much change is going on outside in the world. It gives you a chance to record the things in your life that are nonnegotiable. . . . What are your choices? What are you curious about? What are you ready to act courageously on?
It’s Your Time
Reflection is a break. Think of it as a mini-vacation from the daily business that absorbs most of our time, too much of the time. Reflection is a chance to get in touch with yourself, to go inside and listen to yourself.
For many people who have spent their lives taking care of others’ needs — raising a family, looking after parents, paying the bills, taking responsibility for outside concerns — reflection is a welcome pause, a chance to take some time for themselves.
It’s your time to explore yourself.
Each of us has a story, a narrative of our life. Part of reflection consists of telling yourself about yourself — of revisiting your own story, the narrative in your head about your life up to this time. But the point isn’t to extend that narrative into the future unquestioningly. The point is to examine that story and then to use it to reimagine what’s possible going forward — to use the threads that are the through-lines of your past to weave a new story for the future.
Getting To Know You
Reflection might start with culling your past experiences, looking at what worked and what didn’t work in your old story. Then you see what you might want to pull forward into your new story in this new phase of life.
It’s not that the old story is “wrong” — it simply no longer works, or no longer works as well as it once did. Reflection lets you look at the “in-between moment”: a time between the old story that is familiar and a new story that is unfolding. . . .
Reflection is a time to ask yourself questions about how you use your time. Do you reserve your time for things that matter to you? Are you more loyal to your past? Or are you forming a new, powerful loyalty to what you want to have happen in your future?
Reflection also serves a particularly useful purpose for people who have an impulse to charge ahead — who just want to get on with it. Sometimes that instinct to “just do it” is a clue, a suggestion that it would be a good idea to slow down, hit the pause button, and do a little stocktaking before moving forward. Otherwise the old story may take you in a direction that you don’t really want to go in — or that you may regret after you take it. You may be acting out of habit and familiarity rather than reflecting on new possibilities.
How many times have you thought or said, “If only”?
If only I’d known then what I know now.
If only I’d followed a different path.
If only I’d married a different person.
If only I’d bought that stock when I had a chance or taken that job that was offered to me, or moved to that other city, or acted on that hunch.
Hindsight is always easier than foresight. Which is why it’s always tempting to rely on hindsight as a crutch instead of working at foresight through reflection.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could see ahead into the next phase of life to make the choices that would work out better? Wouldn’t it be great to know what the wiser path was in advance, so you could follow it? Foresight can’t guarantee you a “right” answer—as if there were such a thing. But it can give you a way of reflecting on new possibilities that come from within your core self.
The problem with living in hindsight is that it leads to an identity based on “used to be.” It leads to being stuck. We’ve all had the unpleasant experience of being stuck at dinner or on an airplane, sitting next to someone who’s living in hindsight, someone who “used to be” someone—but who isn’t anyone right now. They’re not living in the present or the future; they’re not living who they are now or creating who they could become.
Simply replicating your past is a prescription for inner kill. Repetitive patterns deaden your curiosity. They anesthetize your emotions and numb your senses.
Reflection means resharpening your curiosity. It means exploring the future, using curiosity and courage as tools for foresight.
Reflection is when hindsight and foresight come together. It’s blending the story of your past with the possibility of your future.
Fulfilling Time, Not Just Filling Time
Reflection begins with a new relationship with time.
Without reflecting on your real priorities and new possibilities, you’re on autopilot. The excuses—too much work, not enough money, too many responsibilities for others—won’t fly when you recognize that you own your own time.
Time is your most valuable currency. Are you satisfied with how you’re spending your time? Your life? When was the last time you went to sleep at night, content with the feeling that “this was a well-spent day”? When was the last time you got up in the morning, clear about how you wanted to spend your day?
Reflection helps you say no to the less important things that simply clutter up a life and yes to the more important things that define the purpose in life.
Take Time To Make Time
Everything starts with time.
It’s one of the oldest and wisest truths of life: you have to take time to make time.
There’s something about taking time to reflect that teaches you how to live better. Reflecting is the ongoing and continuous practice of making your life your own.
Reflection opens up hope. It’s not always a reaction to a sense of disillusionment or frustration. It can be a proactive process, something you do at each step along the path, a way of examining what has brought you this far, evaluating what worked and what didn’t work, and imagining what’s possible. And it can be something that happens in an informal way—a short pause in the middle of a busy day when you give yourself a moment to reflect on something you saw, something you heard, something you thought.
The truth, however, is that for many people reflection doesn’t come naturally or easily, particularly in a life filled with busy-ness and outside demands. It’s hard for many people to create the time for reflection. They may not know where to start or how to begin.
Start with a Life Checkup
To get started with reflection, go to the Life Checkup on the Life Reimagined web site (www.lifereimagined.org). This easy exercise is a powerful tool for you to engage with the Reflect guidepost. It’s not the kind of exercise you do once and never revisit. Just as you have an annual physical with your doctor or a regular visit with a financial advisor, the Life Checkup can become a regular and reoccurring part of reflecting on your own journey. Use it to check in with yourself yearly, perhaps on your birthday. . . .
Simply by taking this annual life exam, you may discover themes that help you imagine a new way forward for this new phase of life.
Excerpted with permission from Life Reimagined: Discovering Your New Life Possibilities © 2013 Berrett-Koehler Publishers. www.bkconnection.com
Q & A With Richard Leider
The following Q&A is excerpted from a conversation between executive coach and Life Reimagined co-author Richard Leider and Experience Life editor in chief David Schimke.
Experience Life | What inspired the main title of your new book, Life reimagined?
Richard Lieder | About two and a half years ago. Actually I was part of a small team. So I can’t take full credit for it. We came up with it about two-and-a-half years ago. The guy who wrote the forward [Emilio Pardo, executive vice president, AARP] and I and one other guy did it after we looked at a language study. What we learned was that people absolutely hated was “reinvent,” which is used everywhere these days.
What “reinvent” says is that, “Something’s broken. I need to fix it.” The word “Reimagined” plays into people’s intuitive truth that their life up till now and their achievements up till now have been fine. It’s not that I’m broken. I don’t need to fix it. I need to unpack what’s no longer useful and reimagine and repack what is next.
EL | It used to be that this sort of professional and personal development was primarily of interest to people nearing midlife. It seems that audience – and you talk about this in the book – is expanding. Why are boomers and millennials equally drawn to this material?
RL | I hate to get into the segmentations like that, but I think millennials are more purpose, meaning centered. I think they understand the work realities of the free agent economy, that they’re not going to be going to work for one organization, going up a career ladder. Those days are gone for everybody — and for them in particular.
So taking charge of their lives and looking for meaning in what they do is kind of the hallmark of the millennials in a lot of ways. The AARP [co-publishers of Life Reimagined] did three linguistic studies and found that millennials tend to use a language of discovery, growth, possibilities, and learning.
EL | Is there something happening, whether it’s culturally or economically or politically, that makes folks between the ages of 25 and 60 believe — collectively and maybe more than ever — that there’s an opportunity for growth and living passionately?
RL | I think there are three revolutions happening. One is the longevity revolution. People are living longer — we’ve essentially added three decades to our lives. The second revolution is the productivity revolution. People having to work differently and work longer. The third revolution is the one I’ve been working on for four decades, and that’s the purpose revolution. With these changes comes a natural yearning to do something that has meaning. You don’t have to have a legacy that’s big, but you have to live a life that matters.
EL | There’s also a collective yearning for community, which is something you talk about in the book.
RL | Yes, we say two things in the book. One, that everybody’s an experiment of one. We have to figure this out in our own way in our own time with our own internal clocks, et cetera. And counter intuitive to that or contradictory to that is that isolation has failed. Going it alone is not a good idea.
There’s a survey called the “General Systems Survey,” GSS, which looks at things like community over time. They found that one-out-of-four people don’t have anybody in their life who really gets them, who they can talk to, who they can share their story with, who is not out to fix them or where there’s not some sort of connection in certain ways.
One of the things that’s very popular in this book — which is not new to it, I’ve written about it for many years — is the suggestion that you create your own sounding board, your individual board of directors.
EL | People who share your value system and share your energy?
RL | Exactly.
EL | That sounds like its easier said than done.
RL | So the number one thing is that, even if you don’t have a sounding board per se, you find a committed listener. Somebody who is about in care versus cure. Interested versus trying to be interesting. Then you need to find the catalyst. That’s somebody who inspires you either through their own life or the questions they ask. They are the people who say, “Well why don’t you try this?”
EL | I really like what you say in the book about how people tend to look for life change when they’re pushed by pain or pulled by possibility. Can you unpack that a bit?
RL | No one wants to live a life of regrets. So pushed by pain is when you lose your job, you got through a divorce, you have a health episode. You have something like that, that forces you to reimagine what’s next. Other people are pulled by possibility.
EL | And those possibilities can be personal or professional or both?
RL | I always make a distinction between happiness and fulfillment. For many people, happiness comes from outer success. But fulfillment only comes from being authentic and living authentically to your gifts, your passions, and your values. The most fulfilled people are the people who are living from the inside out. Those are the ones we read about. Those are the ones that we applaud, who have taken the risk to live from the core.
You readers will relate to this: A strong core is important to a strong body. The same is true with life and work. You have to live from a strong core — and that’s that inner story about who you are and what you’re doing. The older we get, the more we see that that’s really a basic truth.
EL | I really like what you guys wrote about reflection: that things like yoga and formal meditation, but they aren’t always necessary; that you just need to find a little time each day to think and reflect. It seems to me that that’s an important distinction.
RL | Huge. I think one of the best reflective exercises is take a walk with somebody and talk. Nothing happens with more clarity than taking a walk around a lake with a committed listener. But there are many, many ways to reflect. The main thing is simply stepping back for a moment to see the big picture. Stopping long enough to pause and look out over the landscape, so to speak — however that works for you.
*Featured image from Buffalo News.