For the past two years, I’ve met a friend of mine for a business strategy retreat. We’ve done three retreats now—two in California, one in Idaho—and most recently met last November in Santa Cruz, California. We spent a few days disconnected from client work, immersed in nature, and engaged in strategizing for the year(s) to come.
These retreats, I’ve found, are crucial to clarity, and also provide needed motivation to tackle the next Big Thing (cue adventurous music).
I walked away from that last retreat with clear goals. I also arrived at personal insights and realizations that have fueled my reading, study, and decisions since. At these retreats, I often make personal commitments to myself that I am compelled to honor throughout the year.
In 2017, for example, my commitment was to “let Thailand be the big thing.” In the past, everything in my family and personal life revolved around business being the main driver. I committed to let this life change take precedence.
In 2018, I made several commitments, but an important one is that I will write a solo-authored book. I’ve written or coauthored nine, but the last one out under just my name was 2013, and I’m ready to contribute another to the world. The timeline I gave myself after analyzing my goals and workflow is three years to published book. I also committed to develop a digital program that will help more people write their books.
What’s your Big Thing? Do you want to write a book, travel internationally, start a business, run a marathon, get a master’s degree, run for political office, make a career change, learn a language, move abroad, try for a baby, buy an investment property, quit your job to stay home with your kids, start a side hustle, found a nonprofit, or something else incredibly lofty and exciting?
I hope you’ll make 2019 the year you go for it.
For me, clarity around the next Big Thing keeps me alert, excited, and engaged in my work and family. Life is richer. Work is more fun. I have more drive and energy.
Maybe you already know what your Big Thing is. Or maybe not. Either way, here are some things I’ve learned that will help you ring in this New Year ready to do something huge.
Set aside specific, intentional time
Scheduling a retreat solely focused on strategy was one of the best moves I’ve made. While I did spend days every year focusing on strategy, this was the first time I left Boise and engaged with someone else who is equally and differently driven. Investing the money and, more importantly, the time set about a huge mental shift for me.
I should also say our retreats are not all business. We always make time for fun. We’ve gone to the beach, done a kayak tour, gone to the spa, and hiked along the coast or in the forest. The recipe for a successful retreat is a mix of focused strategy time and rejuvenation time. Even one day can be beneficial.
Get out and get thinking
Sitting in your office (home or work) or in the coffee shop you always go to is not going to spur new ideas. If you can’t get out of town, at least shake things up.
Buy a new notebook and pen—my favorites are the Moleskine Cahier slim journal and fine point Sharpie pen—put your computer away, and get outside. Is it cold? Bundle up! (Some of my favorite outdoor experiences have been in the snow. The world is still and magical because no one else is willing to brave the weather.)
Start with an intentional walk, thinking deeply about the future you want. Since you are focusing specifically on strategy (versus life visioning), I suggest thinking eighteen months out. In a year and a half, what do you hope will change about your life or work? What do you want to have accomplished? What will make you feel proud? What do you not want to be doing anymore? Be really honest with yourself. Sometimes the answers can feel scary, but this process is just for you—you don’t need to share it with anyone else, so feel courage in answering honestly.
After your walk, head somewhere new and creative to write. If it’s nice outside, I like to do this outdoors, either sitting on a bench or even at a quiet restaurant with a nice view. If it’s too chilly, pick a cozy spot indoors with lots of windows. Get out your notebook and pen.
On the first page, write: What I want. Then, write! You can make a bulleted list or write free form. Let yourself dream as far ahead as you want, but concentrate more energy on the next eighteen months. If the idea of writing something down scares you, then it needs to be on your list.
Set measurable goals
When you’re done describing the life and work you want, start a new page labeled “Career goals” if you’re employed or “Business goals” if you’re self-employed or hoping to start a business or side hustle. Set measurable goals for yourself based on what you defined in the previous list of what you want. For example, two from my list: “Creative work that connects to the depth of my desire to create” and “To feel a sense of purpose and impact—to make a difference in this world and leave it better than I found it.” Those translated to “Publish a book by 2020,” because the thinking I did helped me determine that a new book was a path to helping me find creative meaning and feel that I’m giving my best to the world. I didn’t need to spend a bunch of time explaining or justifying the goal in writing. I just needed to write it down and make a commitment.
A note: goals shift. Since writing this, I have altered my timeline a bit, because I spent more time teasing out what needs to happen and when. That’s OK. The idea is to get goals down, and then do your due diligence later to lay out a clear strategy to achieve it (we won’t tackle this now, but let me know if you’d like me to write an article about strategy—I can nerd out on that all day).
When I was in my 20s, I was just a woman in a boat, paddling my way up stream, not that interested in adding another person to help me row. I certainly leaned on mentors and colleagues, but I really didn’t have anyone else to journey with. It was exciting but also lonely. Today, I am blessed with great entrepreneur friends, including my Next Level Women Leaders cofounders and the friend I take retreats with, who I also do a mastermind with every month or so.
Focusing on the latter: I get to be real, raw, and present with my friend—who is a brilliant entrepreneur and fantastic person—and we set aside time to share what we’ve been thinking about and working on. We also contribute our expertise to each others’ growth. Recently, for example, I supported her in clarifying her core message, and she supported me in the nuts and bolts of a book coaching program (in progress—will share soon!).
Tell others and ask for help
When you’ve really committed to a goal, talk about it! I’ve written twice now in this post that I’m going to write my own book and create a program for aspiring authors. While you might not remember I said this, I will. There is power and accountability in telling others what you want to accomplish, and research shows that publicly sharing your goals will make you more likely to achieve them.
As you set goals, you’ll also be able to easily identify someone (or many someones) who can help you. Focus on developing these relationships, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. One study found that “we overestimate the chance that our requests for help will be denied—especially after we’ve been turned down before. And that suggests we should be asking for help more readily and from a wider set of people than we currently are.” So, ask!
For a long time, I did not ask for help from the people who could help me. I just hoped those individuals would magically figure out what I needed and offer to support me. But everyone is busy, and they have their own dreams and goals they’re trying to accomplish. Ask for help, and ask big. Believe in yourself and your ability to do the Big Thing, and guess what? Others will believe in you too. And they’ll want to help.
Armed with clarity, specificity, and support, go out and do the thing you want to do. Don’t waste the potential and possibility within you.
That said, I’ll be real with you: dreaming, strategizing, and acting at this level is a reality check. Every time I reread my “What I want” list, I’m reminded of the work I need to do on myself. I fall short daily. But the continual quest to be better—that’s my promise to myself, my family, and the world.
This is one way to get started on your Big Thing. I’m curious to learn your strategies. Let me know in the comments what your Big Thing is, and if you do yearly goal setting or strategizing.