Twenty Things That Bring Me Joy


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You know that saying, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results? Well, I have lived it.

It was New Year’s 2016 and I knew I needed to find a new job. My fellowship was supposed to come to a close soon, so I was doing all the usual stuff: touching up my resume, reaching out to my network for coffees and phone calls, scouring job boards. What I call ‘pounding the pavement.’ Outwardly I was doing everything I knew how to do to find a job, but on the inside I felt sluggish, deflated and directionless.

I’m not sure where the idea came from to seek out a coach but, like the definition of insanity, I knew my old approach to job searching wasn’t working. In fact, even when I had been ‘successful’ in past searches using these methods and found jobs that felt right on paper, I wound up feeling unhappy or unfulfilled, sometimes shockingly soon after I started. 

So I knew I wanted to find a coach – but how do you even start with something like that? I reached out to some friends who’d worked with coaches, got referrals, sent out a few inquiries and waited to hear back. One of the first to write back to me was a leadership coach named Ricki Frankel. We scheduled an introductory phone call for later that week.

Ricki doesn’t know it (in fact, I should tell her!) but our conversation together so long ago had a lasting impact on my own trajectory and path. In just thirty minutes Ricki recognized in me something that I was feeling but hadn’t named: burn out. “How can you expect to ‘solve’ your job challenge when your creative well has run dry?,” Ricki challenged me. She was right.

Those feelings of sluggishness and uncertainty around the direction I wanted to head in? They had everything to do with having worked really hard, balancing work life and home life, not taking care of myself – and it was all catching up to me. “Of course everything looks dull and grey,” Ricki said, “you’re not creating space for your own creative spirit to emerge.”

As a homework assignment, Ricki asked me to make a list of twenty things that bring me joy – and then to commit to doing a couple of them every week for the next month. After those four weeks, she challenged me to consider how I might see my own interests, energies and curiosities in a new light. Perhaps re-filling my own creative spirit could help me look at my job troubles from a different angle? It was worth a try.

I sat in front of my computer, hands on the keys, and started to work on my list: yoga, going for a walk, trying a new restaurant with my husband. Some of them were small things (taking a nap!) and others required more planning (coffee date with a friend). My list grew - three things, five things, ten things, eleven things….and then, I got stuck. Oh no! I’m a failure! I can’t think of 20 things, I only have eleven! I felt momentarily paralyzed. But then I thought, ok, let’s stick with eleven and see what happens. I pulled out my calendar, and started scheduling them in (what can I say, if it’s in my calendar, I do it). 

The first week, I went to a yoga class and I also made sure to get down on the floor and really play with my toddler. The second week, I tried out a new cookie recipe and made plans with a friend. And I decided to keep my yoga class in the rotation. By the fourth week, I’d had a date with my husband, tried out new meals in the kitchen, sought out time with a girlfriend, gone to four yoga classes, and had even signed up for a spring art class. 

Suddenly I was starting to feel renewed and inspired in a way that I hadn’t felt in a while. For me, having this assignment – where I was ‘required’ to seek out things that brought me joy – gave me the permission and space to make my own creative energy a priority. And because of that, I started to see the world in color again.

Did this simple act of list-making and joy-chasing completely resolve my job angst? Of course not. But it did help me let go of the tight grip I had around my job search and ‘figuring this out’ (preferably immediately). It helped me press pause, to reset and reconnect with what makes me feel alive – so that I could then take that energy and apply it creatively to exploring my next steps from a new angle.

If our journey to find our way in work and in life is a creative act – one that takes time and curiosity and inspiration – consider how you’re opening up space in your schedule for the things that bring you joy. 

Take some time today to explore what’s on your list. What are the activities and experiences that make you feel joyful? And what will you commit to doing this week? Give this exercise a try and let me know what you think.