The first draft of the rest of your life

The subject of the email was “Need your help.” Since it was sent by a strong, confident friend who had never asked for help before, I was worried. It turned out it wasn’t a crisis, but she was stuck on something. “I’m in big trouble…do you have time?” So we scheduled a call.

The problem? She had committed to submitting a paper for publication, and she couldn’t get started. Though she has a lot to say on the subject, she had struggled for weeks to make any progress and now the deadline was looming. Her anxiety was evident.

I thought of the many bits of advice I had benefitted from and might share, and then I discarded all of it.

“Open up your laptop,” I said. “Let’s start right now.”

At first we just talked about the topic, and after a few minutes a theme emerged. We exchanged ideas for a phrase or sentence that might capture it until we came up with a headline that felt good to her. “Great,” I said. “Write that down.”

We moved on to headings. What were the main points she was trying to make? She talked about a wide range of ideas, including some resources she found helpful. It was scattered at first. She was still overwhelmed. I listened, and reflected back whatever major points I heard. When one made sense to her, she wrote it down. Then we came up with another. “That reminds me!” she said, erupting with ideas now. She began recalling related things she had written and read and thought about before.

Soon there was less talking and more typing. Her energy had shifted from nervous to excited, and she was still writing as we hung up. A few weeks after our call, she sent me a note that she had finished it. It wasn’t perfect, she told me, and she would do it differently next time, but she was glad for the chance to learn and get better.

Since our call, I’ve been thinking of how my friend’s experience is a metaphor for how many of us live our lives. We struggle to think through what we want our life to be like. We may have ideas but it can be hard to put them into a coherent picture. And we may feel time is running out.

Waiting doesn't help. The only way out is through. Maybe you start with writing a letter from your future self, or describe your perfect month, or do whatever exercise would help you capture the first draft of an intentional life. It may not be exactly right, but that step attunes your attention and opens you up to next steps and new possibilities.

As the poet Mary Oliver asked

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Voice your intention. Pick up your journal or laptop and begin writing. Clip pictures from magazines and craft a vision board. Call a friend if you need to. Let’s start right now.

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More Than A Hut

Thomas Lukoma

Thomas Lukoma

I used to think of Thomas Lukoma as just a guy at work. Smart, nice, helpful. But just a regular guy. Then recently our paths intertwined, and I came to understand that Thomas is anything but ordinary. Over the last few years, he’s found an inspiring personal mission and he’s doing something about it.

The story of how Thomas discovered that mission holds lessons for me and for anyone who wants something more out of work and life.

An example of purposeful discovery

Thomas would be the first to tell you that he's had a lot of interests but wasn’t always clear on where he was heading. He’s busy with a big family, a technology job that he likes and is good at, serving as a deacon at his church, and mentoring  young men. He also writes occasionally at komasworld.com on a wide range of topics - “musings on design, technology, and leadership.”

Thomas felt that it could all add up to more, but he wasn’t sure what it was. In a post several years ago, he described how when examining our own lives we typically can’t see the whole story and all the possibilities. As a result, carefully plotting our future path is impossible.

“The only way to combat this bias towards ignorance is to understand upfront that getting the whole picture about the future and how your goals will progress is impossible, so never assume that you have it.  Instead, focus on getting a healthy set of perspectives – even some that contradict each other – and then take action with an open mind.”

So Thomas continued trying new things and kept an open mind. He began reading the work of people like Seth Godin and Fred Wilson, experimenting with building Wordpress sites, and working with his sister to support her new business. He continued writing as a way to capture what he learned and also to share it with others. As he was learning, he was beginning to see how he might combine his interests into something meaningful for him.

”I’m discovering my purpose,” he said. “You have to be doing things in order to discover it.”

More Than A Hut

More Than A Hut

More Than A Hut

Thomas had another interest in his life: Africa. He grew up in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, and still has connections there. It always bothered him that what most people see of Africa - strife, starving children, and safaris - did not capture all the wonder and promise he knows is there.

His work with his sister showed him that he could use his different skills to help someone trying to do or be something more, to amplify their intentions and extend their reach. His emergent purpose (and new blog tagline) became “Help regular people do great things.” He formed a small business, More Than A Hut, to help anyone build their tribes and, ultimately, to show that there's more to Africa and Africans than we may think.

What Thomas gets by working out loud

In many ways, Thomas was already applying the five elements of working out loud. Yet he admitted a tendency to putting others first and neglecting his own mission. Two things changed that.

First, he generously volunteered to help me improve my site and build my own tribe. He gave my personal blog a complete makeover, created workoutloud.com, and now we’re collaborating on a wider range of things.

Then, our work together brought him into contact with other people working out loud around the world, and it motivated him to join a working out loud circle. That gave him the structure and peer support he needed to develop new habits, enabling him to work more systematically towards his own goals while continuing to help others.

Since then, More Than A Hut has gotten additional referrals and some new business. More importantly, each step Thomas takes builds his learning, connections, and confidence. Each step makes every day more enjoyable while increasing his access to yet more possibilities, bringing him closer to helping himself and other regular people do great things.