You’ll hear a lot of people, including me, encouraging you to follow your passion. On the one hand, it sounds completely logical. Pick the thing or things that you really love doing and find a way to generate an income from them so that you get to do them every day. On the other hand, if your passion is eating hamburgers, it might be difficult to generate an income out of that. Although not impossible, I’d argue.
Me and Angie had been discussing living differently for a long time before we came across a simple idea. To help you pin down what it is you’re aiming for, try to visualise your future. Essentially, you try and picture your perfect day, or perfect situation, and then over time you take small steps to make that vision a reality. Sounds simple, and yet also daunting. But, we each did it, and it gave us a real target to work towards. Here’s how I did it, and what I visualised:
Remove distractions and be calm
This is an exercise where you’re going to have a lot of thoughts flooding into your head, so you need it to be as clear as possible. I did it in Wengen, Switzerland, during our honeymoon, looking out at the mountains. It was a beautiful spot – check out the picture! You don’t need something as epic as that – even a quiet room in your house will do – but I found it helped to have that natural beauty to look at.
Narrow the field
Okay, I’m going to narrow your field slightly here. When I did this exercise, I imagined my perfect work day. So, that makes things tighter. For a start, it adds some realism. The chances are, we all have to work, and work takes up the majority of our days, so it made sense to me to imagine my work day. I didn’t limit myself to what I would be doing or where I would be, but I did accept that I would be doing something rather than sipping a margarita by an infinity pool.
Start at the beginning
When you let your imagination kick in, try to start at the very beginning of your day. The richer you make your vision, the more concrete it becomes. This is mine:
My day starts in the house where we live. I wake up in bed refreshed as the sunrise alarm gently wakes me up. Angie is next to me, still sleeping. I can smell coffee, as the coffee machine in the kitchen has automatically kicked in at the same time, and I can hear birds tweeting outside of our windows. I go into our second bedroom and put on a plain white polo shirt and some tan shorts. I stay barefoot. The curtains are drawn in this room so it’s bright. The sun is shining.
As I walk downstairs, I turn left and walk straight into a new light and airy extension at the back of the house, and I sit on a stool looking out at the garden as the sun shines, watching birds on the bird feeder. There are some big trees and bushes in the garden, so most of what I can see is greenery. As I look around the house, it is very, very minimalist. There is hardly any clutter and it all feels calming.
It is just after six am, and I know that the person I am meeting first is arriving at 06:30. Around 06:15 I walk out of our back door and stroll down the garden path towards our small studio where we train people to be fitter and healthier. I put on the lights and set up the olympic bar on the power rack, ready to teach squats. Someone arrives, smiling, and comes into the studio. We start warming up.
There you have it. That’s what cascaded out of my brain when I first did this exercise. What I remember most about doing it is how great it felt. I felt calm, relaxed, happy and really, really content. In my vision I was in a place that I love, doing something that put a huge smile on my face. And it gave me purpose.
When you do the same thing, see if you can add that level of detail. What can you hear? What can you smell? What is making you smile?
It doesn’t have to be a full day
When I went through the process, the visioning didn’t happen in a linear way. The above is a snapshot from about 05:50 to 06:35. I didn’t imagine what I was having for lunch, but I did imagine my evening – I can see myself playing my keyboard on a stage somewhere, my buddy Jim next to me mid-guitar solo, and a crowd of people listening.
Music and performance have been a big part of my life, and this part of the vision was just as vivid as the morning. When I originally did this exercise, I had been working with Jim on a set to play at my wedding, which was ridiculously good fun, but in general, music hadn’t been as much of a focus as it had been in days past. I actually think that the vision was a way of my subconscious saying ‘Hey! Remember how awesome it is to play in a live band and write music? You used to love it, so move it up your priority list again!” Since then, part of my thinking about work is to make sure I have time to sing and play. I think you’ll be hearing more from The Skylight Crowd next year…
Adjusting the vision
Over time, I’ve discarded parts of the vision. I don’t want an automatic coffee machine, as I like the ritual of making my coffee or tea from scratch in the morning. We don’t have an extension on the back of the house, and those plans are way off in the distance – we love our house just the way it is, and our financial priority is early retirement (as in, super early), rather than a new kitchen island.
But, the crux of the vision remains true. I imagined myself working from home in our simple, small house, working with clients in a health and fitness capacity in a studio at the end of the garden. Those are the two things that I’ve absolutely tried to make happen in the past few years.
Things to consider
I’m aware that this process has its limitations. For example, I imagined my perfect work day, which was working at home from the house that we currently live in. That makes a lot of sense, but I probably imagined our house because that was my reference point. If I had lived in lots of other places perhaps I would have imagined them instead. So, my vision was limited by my own experience.
Of course, you could also widen your parameters and imagine your perfect day. If it is going for a hike over a beautiful mountain pass, or surfing in California, could that vision give you the strength to make it happen somehow?
My vision was also pretty realistic – we don’t have a big fancy house, we don’t have a huge mortgage, and I was already signed up for the personal training qualification at the time. Those factors meant that giving up a corporate job and beginning a career in fitness were achievable. Perhaps I would have benefitted more if I would have let go of some of that realism.
Finally, the time frame is a factor. Do you imagine what you would like to do now? In the future? How far in the future? My vision was something that I could realistically work towards in the next few years. That said, if you do visualise something seemingly unattainable, who says that you can’t still go for it? If it’s blogging your way around the world, or teaching English in Japan, you could totally make it happen. I think setting a deadline in this instance would be a big help.
Time for the next one
Setting out that vision of what life would be like really helped me to understand what it is I am working towards. Over the past few years though, a lot has changed. There’s no Lucas in the vision, for example! Awkward for him… Plus, the way I think about things continues to evolve. We continue to declutter our house and realise we need less. I am more interested in travel now that I will have the flexibility to do more of it. I’m more interested in financial freedom, homeschooling and writing. Life constantly changes, giving you new dreams and visions along the way. Which is pretty awesome.
Without action, the vision is just a dream
Coming up with a vision for the future is an exciting process. But, if it stops at the dream stage, that’s all it will be. The key thing is to take some action. Any action that will get you closer to the dream. That could be simply to make a phone call. Send an email. Write a list of things to do and do the first one. No matter what it is, now that you have your vision, you have to take steps to get closer to it.
It always feels a bit weird to be writing about stuff like this. If someone had talked to me about ‘visions’ in my mid 20s, I would have thought they were mad. But Live Simple embraces the unconventional, and this is something that has genuinely helped us change our lives for the better.
Find your quiet space. Close your eyes. Dream about a different future.
Then make it happen, one small step at a time.