Live a big X life. As your life slogan, what is X for you?
What is the first word that comes into your mind. Quickly now, don’t overthink it!
Imagine you are at a meet up event and the host has asked you to write your word on a sticky name tag underneath your name.
Imagine you’re sitting around the dinner table with friends you’ve known a while, what is the word? Something that you’d write on a t-shirt. Live a big X life.
There are no right or wrong answers. What is the word. What do you wish it could be?
This article is about knowing your values, and expressing them with intent in a concise way that helps you to live and work the way you want to.
The occasion of my 50th year on the planet led me to a bit of a conundrum about how to celebrate. I’m mostly a minimalist (except when it comes to audio plugins, or camera equipment, in which case the list is endless), so a big-ticket gift was not it. Neither was a kind of showcase experience like going on safari or climbing a mountain, or something. That didn’t feel authentic to the headspace I was in, which was nearer to ruminating on what the next chapter might hold for me, my business, what I’d been trying to do.
What statement of intention was going to set the tone for the next decade?
With time running out, I decided to take a quick whistle-stop visit to Hong Kong and Sydney to visit old friends. If I didn’t find what I was looking for, so the thinking went, then at least I’d have a ball with some mates. And that’s always good, particularly having lived away from Australia for near on 17 years.
Long story short, the medium of catching up with old friends was also the message: be honest, take some encouragement and tough-love and get back out there. Aussies aren’t known for mincing their words. One night, staring at the stars by a firepit in a suburban backyard, and after the grilling had finished, dinner and then me, I realized that all I or any of us have is our values, and trying to do the best we can. If that sounds humble, it is, but it is not small. It can change the world.
All I’ve been doing since I left my corporate management consulting job is trying to get leaders to step up and operate to their authentic higher selves, by putting myself out there as guinea pig, weathered role model, and sometimes a bloke with something sensible to say, very occasionally in a humorous or borderline entertaining way.
Reflecting on my conversations with friends, a restructure at work had left one friend pondering her future career, another was successful in his job, but wished to be more creative (like I had, in his words). A third was, to his account, living life on his own terms, but living small.
It seemed that we all needed some encouragement, and some tough love (a.k.a., the stick, to go with the carrot), if we were to live the type of full life that we all sought, without regrets.
The type of life that Frank Sinatra might croon about.
That means any big decisions and directions in life must be anchored in values. Who you are, and then who you want to be. Having that so-called north star or values aligned vision, and yardstick that prompts the right behaviors and action.
There are many different values exercises (and this is not one of them). You can search on the internet, or get the values exercise and other great self-knowledge ones by joining the mailing list at The Good Life Book website (https://www.thegoodlifebook.com). Mine are things like curiosity and teaching and fixing problems and fairness and novelty/creativity. Find an exercise and do it. Although your values might not necessarily cut paste straight into X, they’ll definitely set the context of your X, the why, the how, and so on.
Did you pick a word for your X?
If you did, keep it in mind as you look at this list of candidates for X: good, happy, impactful, generous, fun, connected, authentic, peaceful, passionate, expressive, successful, creative, free, famous, healthy, irreverent, laid-back, calm, provocative, family.
Mark down any of these that appeal. Any fit the bill for your X? Now we’re on a roll, what other words could be candidates for X? Add them to the list if you like.
If you’ve got a good one, how about saying “Live a big life” out loud. How does it sound? Say it looking at yourself in the mirror. How does it feel? Yes, I know it might feel silly, but that doesn’t change how effective the mirror test is. Look yourself in the eyes and say out loud what kind of work and life you want to live. After you’ve finished reading this article, come back to the word in a few days. Did it age well?
If the exercise seems a bit trivial, it isn’t because one thing we’re actually doing here is uncovering the identity and personal brand that you’ll engage the world with. That is the sort of thing that will help define your differentiation and “lane” and all that good stuff. When I think of brand and aspirational values, and the trip reminded me of this, many are Australia’s cultural values: egalitarianism, irreverence, mateship, and optimism to name a few. Tough, not giving up.
What if you could have three words X, Y and Z representing your top three in order of priority?
If I had three, they would probably be: authentic, creative and impactful. Those words in that order actually break the rule of prioritization I just mentioned. Instead, they match the sequential journey that I went on, and a path I’m trying to light for others. Know yourself and what you really want, get creative in how you achieve (and market) that. Remove obstacles to making a positive impact, and don’t take yourself too seriously all along the way.
I do want the serious things like improving leadership in business at scale (and that knocking on to how we lead society as a whole), but also I want to impact people at the individual level, to make them feel something that is what they need at that moment, makes a memory, or even changes a life (and is borderline entertaining, or better).
The word or words also have to motivate you, tap into your drive, and be a yardstick for behaviors in the moment. If not, they’re just hot air, and can be disempowering. Does your word motivate you to work and live to your higher self, or not? Can you use it to help you make the thousands of decisions we have to make in the average week?
Impactful is something that is absolutely part of my personal brand. It is what I did and was measured on while consulting for clients, and impactful is what I want to be now. But it doesn’t make me feel in this moment, even as impact remains a good yardstick. It’s easy to get down if you’re trying to change the world, since the world doesn’t seem to want to change, or see that it needs to.
Don’t burn up, or flame out, keep a constant burn from your fire within and give it a good go.
So, what is the word?
“It's got the latest groove & it's really clean
Haven't you heard about the bird?
Don't you know that the bird's the word?
Come on, jump here & get on your knees” The bird’s the word by The Rivingtons
Let’s pause on that question for a moment to talk about “big” in the sentence “big X life.” I chose that word really because, for me, it encompasses getting out of your comfort zone, taking chances, getting the word out there, putting myself out there, and so on. It can be hard to do that, you need courage, and even so you also need determination and grit to keep going, particularly when you feel like giving in, or living small. The world needs you.
As an artist, writer, entrepreneur, whatever, it can be easy to succumb to the siren song of perfection and thus do nothing. When that comes to work, I sometimes feel, particularly of late, held up or stuck, not wanting to put work out there that isn’t ready, isn’t quite right, isn’t an immaculate articulation of an overarching paradigm. Except my message is about expressing yourself fully, even if that isn’t perfect. My medium is a jack of all trades, about working in public, “failing” publicly, but also succeeding publicly. Succeeding because you’ve stepped from one stone to the next, are now in a different place with different perspectives.
Sure, be intentional about what you’re trying to do, then set the work free. Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.
As it turns out, the word “big” is enough to motivate me without adding another word. This is because I know, and you know too, that the only success that really counts is authentic success. Therefore, talking about authentic success is somewhat redundant, particularly when you’re talking to yourself. And I know that expressing myself and being authentic is also about having a holistic approach to life, particularly including health and relationships, those being the means and end of life. And creativity, what I often refer to as a superpower, is only super (like any superhero) if you use it to do something good. Your mileage may vary, depending on where you are in your journey. If the idea of living a big creative life (or authentic one) gets you out of bed in the morning, then that is the right word for you right now.
The big mindset is about being bold, courageous, adventurous (another good word), gutsy, sometimes brash, plucky, sometimes rash, but humble, proactive, not timid. Not being in the place where you regret what you didn't do.
Pick a word, and post it in the comments.
Aim to be big my friends.