The Challenge

Explore the world and expand beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone.

The beach at sunset

I’m feeling a bit stuck in life right now. I feel like I haven’t quite figured out where I belong or what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m very lucky in general. I live in a cozy home, I have a good job, and a steady income. I have a few close friends, and a lot of great acquaintances.  I have more options then many many people, and for that I feel very grateful. However, I am currently NOT excelling at optimizing my sense of enjoyment or fulfillment in life. I know I can contribute more and be more useful to the world in general.

The mundane chores of everyday life combined with a full-time job leave me with little time to explore, enjoy, create, and collaborate. When I do have free time, I’m often challenged to figure out how to optimize that time, as there are so many different things I’m interested in and things that I SHOULD do that are vying for my attention. That inner conflict often ends with me either doing nothing (staring at the cell phone or TV), or trying to do everything (going for a run, then cooking a new recipe, then making some jewelry, then starting an online class in statistics or coding) – leaving me little time to reflect, absorb, or enjoy.  The end result is that I’m always on edge. When I do have free time, I’m rarely focused or mindful, and often I’m not enjoying what I’m doing or finding a sense of fulfillment. I’ve decided it’s time to make some changes this year to turn things around!

June marks my 39th birthday and the start of my new one year project. My goal is to explore the world and expand beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone to see both how much I can learn and grow and what I can contribute to others. My hope is that creating this blog will help me to reconnect with all the things that I find inspirational.

Each month I am planning to challenge myself with something new, and I’m sharing these challenges both for some accountability and to find potential sources of collaboration. I’m committing to make the challenge topic my main focus for each month, with everything else vying for my attention taking a secondary role.

I created some simple rules for myself in constructing this challenge:

  1. Focus on doing, instead of thinking about doing! I tend to make a lot of plans, and I have a lot of ideas, but I always find reasons not to execute. My first rule is that each challenge will include action of some kind.
  2. Collaborate! I am a big fan of collaborating and a firm believer that bringing people together to solve a problem almost always yields a better result than going it alone. Each of my challenges will involve a collaboration with at least one other person.
  3. Take small actions to see where they will lead. In many professional and education settings I hear “begin with the end in mind.” It’s also common to hear that in order to get somewhere you need to know where you are going. With this experiment, I don’t know where I’m going, and I’m giving myself permission to let the end evolve on its own. In each challenge, I plan to take small steps to see where they will lead and try to get comfortable with ambiguity. If I hit a dead end, that’s okay too (see rule number 5).
  4. Don’t expect perfection, but demand forward motion. I am committing to keep moving forward. Even if I lose track of my why, become unmotivated, or have a setback. If I pause in this challenge I will continue on, if things take longer than expected I will adjust.
  5. Restructuring mid-way is okay. I want to complete each challenge I set out for myself this year. However, if the definition of done changes half way through, I’m okay with that as well.

I’ve established two major themes to explore over the course of this year: (1) identifying and breaking through habits and behaviors that don’t serve me and (2) trying new things to identify and add in those that are most fulfilling. My plan for the year at the outset of this project is included below. I’m also going to keep the live plan on a separate page so I can track the evolution of this experiment as it unfolds.

June – Start a blog. Starting a blog has been a longtime goal (it’s been on my list of yearly goals for at least 3 years). I’ve always enjoyed writing, and in June I’m going to commit to starting a blog and continuing it for the rest of this project.

July – Shift My Perspective. Explore the framework with which I see the world and make decisions. What do I believe to be inherently true that can benefit from re-examining? How can I change my perspective to open my field of view?

August – Fear.  This is the month I am most dreading, but I probably can stand to learn the most from. I want to examine the things I fear and the balance of how that keeps me safe or holds me back. I’d like to end this month with a clear picture of what fears to keep and which I need to work to abandon.

September – Scarcity Vs. Abundance. A lot of the reading I’ve done over the past few years points to the inherent abundance in life. How can I change my outcomes if I approach my time, money, and interactions with a sense of abundance instead of scarcity?

October – The To-Do List Challenge. I am VERY To-Do list focused. I have a weekly list, daily list, and a larger list of things that need to be accomplished. While the daily brain dump is definitely useful to clear the clutter out of my head, I think that adhering strictly to the lists prevents me from benefitting from spontaneity.

November – Sample New Things. I’m interested in everything! I love to cook, work out, learn about health and nutrition, make jewelry, and take classes and read books on a wide variety of topics. This month I plan to pick 4 things, 1 each week, to explore.

December – Month of Recharging. The holidays are often a stressful time for me where I pack extra responsibilities into an already tight schedule. This year I am going to try to turn this around and use the month of December to practice self care and re-examine my workouts, yoga schedule, nighttime routine, and meditation practice. And…avoid the seemingly obligatory junk food as much as possible.

January – Nutrition. I am very interested in learning about health and nutrition and experimenting with the impacts of food and diet. I think this challenge will be well-timed after the holidays. I plan to do a January whole 30 possibly combined with a 30 day sugar challenge. I will also challenge myself to try new recipes and read nutrition blogs, books, or take a class.

February – Month of Giving. So far my challenges have been mainly introspective. In February I plan to focus on giving back. I may volunteer, fundraise, or teach.

March – In Depth learning. In December I explored 4 new things. This month I want to pick one of them as a focus for more in-depth learning.

April – Month of collaboration. Over the past ten months I will have sought out collaboration in each of my challenges. This month I want to focus on the art of collaboration itself. I want to explore what can be achieved if everyone brings something to the table in the classic stone soup fashion. What can I learn from crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, or more tailored collaborations?

May – Month of play. I love toys! More specifically, STEM toys. When I was growing up, an aspiring engineer and maker, there were very few STEM toys geared towards girls. That is changing rapidly. I want to explore how I can contribute to this emerging market.

June – Wrap-up: Month of Introspection. What did I learn? Where did I succeed and where did I fail? What did I love doing? How do I want to move forward and where do I want to focus my 40th year?

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