Nearly everyone I’ve spoken to the past few months is struggling with the same question: What am I doing with my life?
But the mental spiral doesn’t stop there. Why do I feel so stuck? they wonder. Why can’t I just be content like everybody else? What is wrong with me?
If these questions are pulling at you too, then: Congratulations. You are a normal, healthy human being who made it through a year and a half of a global pandemic. It’s only natural now for life’s big questions to come knocking at your door.
Once you come to peace with that, you can start asking yourself a more useful questions: What steps can I take to actually find my next chapter?
The 30-Day Challenge
For the past ten years, I’ve been studying the mindset of success. I’ve interviewed the world’s most successful leaders, from Bill Gates and Lady Gaga to Jane Goodall, Maya Angelou, Larry King, Jessica Alba, Steve Wozniak, and Quincy Jones, and have been turning their insights into simple tools people can use to grow and rediscover what makes them come alive.
The 30-Day Challenge has become particularly popular. The goal of the exercise is not to give you an exact map for your career. It’s natural to want a perfectly laid-out plan for your life, but that’s not realistic. What is realistic is a tool to help you cultivate clarity and dig up clues to point you in the right direction. Think of the 30-Day Challenge as honing your compass.
This is how it works.
- Get a new notebook and write “30-Day Challenge” across the cover. Make it sacred.
- Open your calendar and choose a 15-minute window where you can commit to doing this exercise at the same time, every day for twenty-nine days. Perhaps it’s right after work or an hour before bedtime. Then create a reminder system for yourself. Maybe it’s an alarm at the same time every evening or coupling this new habit with something that already happens in your daily routine. Keeping your notebook somewhere prominent, where you will clearly see it each day (on your nightstand or coffee table) helps as well.
- Now, every day for the next 29 days, answer the same three questions in your notebook: What filled me with enthusiasm today? What drained me of energy today? What did I learn about myself today?
- Write your answers in complete sentences , as opposed to bullet points. Treat this as a free-write, with no requirements for length. Just commit to sitting in front of the journal for fifteen minutes total, giving yourself about five minutes per question. If on a given day you feel you have no answer to a specific question, write about why you may not have an answer that day to that question.
- The first 29 entries are the same, but the 30th day is different. It’s your graduation ceremony. For the final entry, carve out an hour. Make the occasion festive — go to a favorite cafe or a beautiful park. Use the hour to read your prior entries, reflecting on the patterns. Then when you write your thirtieth entry, the questions change to: What filled me with enthusiasm this month? What drained me of energy this month? What did I learn about myself this month? Make your answers as clear and concise as possible, as if you were writing a crisp summary in a few sentences. These final answers are like your graduation diploma, and more important: new clues pointing you in the direction of your path.
Why It Works
The best way to think of the 30-Day Challenge is like daily cardio. Some days will feel fun, some will feel repetitive. Some days will be energizing, some will feel pointless. The key to its success is consistency . If you stop after a week because you feel “it’s not working,” that’s like quitting the gym after a week because you don’t look like a bodybuilder yet. The results come from repetition.
Many of us were raised in environments that applauded us for chasing to-do lists and achievements, and we were never shown how to hone our muscles of listening to our inner-voice and cultivating awareness of what makes us come alive. Just like biceps and triceps, these abilities can be strengthened with the right daily regimen.
I’ve tested the 30-Day Challenge on professionals from Nike, Mastercard, Disney, and Google, and with entrepreneurs in India, Nigeria, Australia, and Japan. I’ve witnessed transformations that span the spectrum. A legal supervisor in Baltimore had a life-changing epiphany that shot her off in a career as sculpture artist. A Google software developer found a renewed sense of energy and purpose, helping him determine he wanted to stay at the company but transition to another team. An entrepreneur from Amsterdam realized she craved more structure and is now a global director at a company with 50,000 employees. Some professionals have gotten so much out of the exercise that they’ve done it six or seven times.
The 30-Day Challenge is powerful if people do it on their own, but it’s even more impactful when people do it with two or three friends to hold themselves accountable.
If there’s something whispering within you wanting to try this, give it a shot. Everyone’s takeaways will be different, but what is guaranteed is that you will know yourself better a month from now that you do today — and your path will be clearer.
Excerpted from Entrepreneur Magazine.