2012: My year of experiments

The Chemistry Of Inversion

In Work­ing Iden­tity—one of my all-time favorite books about career transitions—author Her­minia Ibarra urges us to approach our lives as a series of experiments.

Instead of research­ing, plan­ning, and exe­cut­ing our next moves, we need to live into them, says the Yale-educated pro­fes­sor of orga­ni­za­tional behav­ior, who con­ducted an exten­sive study of suc­cess­ful mid-career changers.

As she suc­cinctly sums it up, “We learn who we are—in prac­tice, not in theory—by test­ing real­ity, not by look­ing inside. We dis­cover the true pos­si­bil­i­ties by doing—try­ing out new activ­i­ties, reach­ing out to new groups, find­ing new role mod­els, and rework­ing our story as we tell it to those around us.”

This is advice I’ve taken to heart in my own jour­ney through Plan B Nation, and I often return to Ibarra’s book when I’m feel­ing lost or confused.

Among Ibarra’s sug­ges­tions is to try new things and see what hap­pens:  “Only by test­ing do we learn what is really appeal­ing and feasible—and in the process, cre­ate our own oppor­tu­ni­ties,” she writes.

More specif­i­cally, she pro­poses “craft­ing experiments”—getting started on one or two new activ­i­ties while mak­ing sure you have a sound way to eval­u­ate results.

This year, I’ll be adopt­ing Ibarra’s approach with a slight twist. Rather than focus­ing just on my career, I’ll be exper­i­ment­ing more broadly. I’m inter­ested in my life as a whole, not just in pay­ing work (crit­i­cal though that is).

Here’s what I’ll be doing: Each month, I’ll embark on a new experiment—a con­crete set of activ­i­ties tied to a par­tic­u­lar time frame. At the end of the month, I’ll reflect on how my life has shifted as a result of tak­ing these actions.

One of the things that most intrigues me about this approach is the idea that exper­i­ments often take us in unex­pected direc­tions.  We may not get what we thought we would, but we may get some­thing bet­ter. Or if not bet­ter, dif­fer­ent. Or at least interesting.

All of my exper­i­ments will reflect three criteria:

1.  The activ­i­ties are process goals, not out­come goals: In other words—things that I can accom­plish on my own, with­out the world’s coop­er­a­tion. (Exam­ple: Writ­ing a book is a process goal. Sell­ing a book to a major pub­lisher for eight mil­lion dol­lars is an out­come goal. Make sense?)

2.  The activ­i­ties are not directly related to my pri­mary goals: This one is a bit murkier, but basi­cally I’m curi­ous about how tak­ing actions appar­ently unre­lated to life’s big chal­lenges may para­dox­i­cally help us sur­mount them. Is this true? We. Shall. See.

3.  The activ­i­ties are sat­is­fy­ing (and even fun) in them­selves: Life coach Tara Sophia Mohr, who writes the Wise Liv­ing Blog, urges us to “cre­ate goals that feel like huge gor­geous presents to our­selves,” hav­ing found that they are “not only more fun but also more effec­tive.” This sounds almost too good to be true, but Ms. Mohr, who is equipped with a Stan­ford M.B.A., makes a pretty strong case here, and I’m going to give it a try.

And now, here it is: 2012 Life Exper­i­ment #1: Over the next month, my plan is to con­nect (or re-connect) with 30 people—and then observe what follows.

I’m a pretty social per­son, so it’s not alto­gether unlikely that I’d be doing this any­way with­out giv­ing it much thought. But that’s exactly the point. Over the next month, I plan to be mind­ful of such connections—savoring the plea­sure they bring, curi­ous about where they’re lead­ing. Because, when all is said and done, the spirit in which we go about things tends to be at least as impor­tant as the things them­selves (as I wrote last night in my final post of 2011).

As always, you’re wel­come to join me—or to share your own life exper­i­ments (or pretty much any­thing else). In the mean­time, have a great day—and a great start to 2012.

© 2012, amy gut­man. All rights reserved.

12 thoughts on “2012: My year of experiments

  1. Just want to check in here and say I ADORE HERMINIA IBARRA! I first found her through her work on net­work analy­sis… and then this was her new project and mega fanclub!

  2. I recently gave advice to a for­mer stu­dent worker about how to choose what to do after grad­u­a­tion. A BA in Art His­tory is not exactly the best train­ing for a job, though a good lib­eral arts edu­ca­tion is great back­ground for a ful­fill­ing life.

    I told her to try out dif­fer­ent work envi­ron­ments, cor­po­rate, small busi­ness, edu­ca­tion etc. to see what suits her best. Basi­cally, get­ting prac­tice at “work­ing” might help her decide if more edu­ca­tion or train­ing is what she needs. I wish I’d had more of a plan when I was younger. I’m not unhappy with the path I’ve taken, but I often stayed in bad jobs or took sim­i­lar ones because I didn’t view them as a train­ing ground which would serve me later on in life. I’ll be inter­ested to see your progress on these monthly goals. Maybe I could learn a few more things too.

  3. I like your plan for exper­i­ment­ing. As for your goal for this month — t reminds me of a pow­er­ful exer­cise Car­olyn See rec­om­mends in Mak­ing a Lit­er­ary Life. She rec­om­mends sit­ting down every day to write one let­ter, email or letter-to-the edi­tor to some­one you don’t know — to acknowl­edge them, their work, ask a ques­tion, what­ever. I did this for one month and was floored by the doors it opened up and just how hope­ful it made me. Though I don’t prac­tice this daily any­more, I always lis­ten to my urges to con­nect with folks. And, since I am process-oriented about this, I don’t care if they don’t respond. A non-response is infor­ma­tion, too.
    cathy recently posted…merry sol­sticeMy Profile

    • I love the Car­olyn See twist! Will file it away for future reference–thanks so much for shar­ing it. And yes, process ori­en­ta­tion is so help­ful, in my expe­ri­ence. Happy New Year!
      amy gut­man recently posted…Calm won­derMy Profile

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