There is a line from the film, You’ve Got Mail, in which Tom Hanks tells Meg Ryan (their characters anyway!), that he would buy her “a bouquet of sharpened pencils”. He’s talking about the things that he loves about the fall, or autumn, as we call it here in the UK.
I adore autumn. For me, it’s the most sensory time of the year. I think there are so many things to feel, to smell, to taste, and to see that are all so very distinctive and provocative. I also associate autumn with a return to school. And I associate the return to school with fresh starts. I suspect I’m not alone.
I think it’s something to do with the school year and the institutionalisation of the school year in the UK. I can’t think of September, without thinking about it being a good time to refresh, reset, explore goals, and reconnect with my hopes, dreams and ambitions. When we returned to school, it was a chance to see old friends again, treat ourselves to new stationery, and have a crisp, clean and fresh uniform with all the possibilities ahead. It was, and still is for me, the opportunity to decide how you are going to be during that year and where you want to put your focus.
In adulthood, I feel the same about September. September provides us with an opportunity to
look back at the year so far, and to look forward to the last quarter of the year (I can’t believe I just said the last quarter. That’s going too fast! Speaking of which, the September quarterly personal review kicks off at the end of the month. Are you in? Why not sign up?).
As adults, we quite often use some of the summertime to take a break from our work. Inevitably, with the sun on our skin and the salt in our hair, we take advantage of the opportunity to slow down, reconnect with ourselves, with our families and friends, do some reading and notice what matters; what’s important to us. It gives us the opportunity to think about where we are and what we want from lives. Some of the big decisions I’ve made have certainly been made during the time that I’m away from work, with the worries of the day to day pressures off my mind. We have the opportunity to think about how things could be. How we’d like them to be. September is the time to begin to put some of those things into action.
So what are your next steps?
I’ve you’ve noticed yourself exploring your options and thinking about big decisions, I’m a big advocate of writing things down. Being thoughtful is really, really helpful, and the opportunity to daydream is very important. But we know from research that if we write things down, particularly goals, aims and ambitions, we are much more likely to achieve them. So I’d invite you to spend at least 15 minutes alone with your thoughts and capture everything you can on paper.
In terms of the things that have felt important to you over the summer, what things did you start to explore? What dreams came to light? What felt important to you? What did you notice that you’ve been wasting time and energy on, but no longer felt like they held a place in your life? What felt scary but tantalising? Don’t hold back; no idea too silly, no daydream too big.
Maybe this is the time when you realise that the work you’re doing now does not align with your purpose and values, and is not fulfilling in a way you would like it to be. Maybe you realise that you’re not spending time with loved ones as much as you would like. And we’ve all experienced that over the past 18 months. Perhaps it was noticing that actually everything felt like it was where it was supposed to be. And that really in the grand scheme of things, you are right where you want to be.
Whatever it is, take 15 minutes, set an alarm, find somewhere quiet and jot it all down. Get it out of your head and onto paper where you can see it clearly.
When the alarm goes off, or you reach a natural close, begin to look through your notes for patterns. What can you see? What are you curious about? What are you noticing? There may be some themes that come forward to you that you’d like to spend some more time thinking about. Set another alarm and explore those themes further in your journal or writing.
Once you’ve emptied your head of everything you think is there, and you’ve explored your themes and taken those further. What do you notice? How does it feel to see these things written down?
We spend a lot of our time in our heads and not as much time as we should in our hearts and our gut. Listening into your body, and trusting your instincts are very important things to do. Sometimes our heads takeover, our inner critic gets in the way and talks us out of things that we know that our body is telling us are important, exciting, and energising. You will know if you’ve journeyed with me before, that the inner critic is there for a very important reason. But she also will try and keep you safe by avoiding risk. So anything that’s different or new, is a threat to her. So don’t let her be in charge. Make sure you’re listening into your body too.
Ask yourself, how your idea or dream makes you feel. Does it feel exciting? Does it give you energy? These are key indicators that you’re thinking along the right lines.
So next, I’d invite you to look at your list and pick five to 10 things that you are feeling excited or interested or curious about.
List those five to 10 things out clearly. And sit with them for a bit.
Again, notice how they make you feel seeing them written down. Play around with the wording. Are they quite right? Do they go back to the themes that you pulled out earlier? If you have a clear idea of what your values are, then check in and see if they align. Whittle them down to 3-5 things that feel most important or interesting to you.
Now for each of those 3-5 things, list three tiny little steps that you could take to move you closer.
Let me give you an example. A big one that might feel scary is that you realise your day job no longer aligns to your values or your purpose. Perhaps you’ve decided now is the time to move on. That may feel scary and saying it out loud might be the thing that triggers your inner critic into telling you ‘no, this isn’t the right or sensible thing to do’. But again, listen to your body. If that excited feeling is still there (which can sometimes feel like fear!), it probably is still the right thing to look at further. In which case, what are three small steps you could take to move you closer to this new and exciting goal in a way that doesn’t feel scary, intimidating, or totally terrifying.
Choosing a big action may put you into paralysis and stop you from doing anything at all about it, but the trick here is to break it down into tiny, manageable steps.
So, if you’ve decided that your day job needs to change or go, here are three small key actions you can take as your next step.
- Have a conversation with someone who does seem to love their job where you are. How do they make it work for them? What is it that they love about the role? What is it they love about the company? ask them some questions that can help you to think and further to how you feel about working that.
- Is your CV up to date? If it’s overwhelmingly out of date, choose just one section to update this week.
- Sometimes the paralysis about changing our role is around not really knowing what to do next. Make a list of all the things that you love to do. This doesn’t have to be work related. This can be in your general life too. Just make a list of them. Nothing more to do this week. Next week you might choose to think of roles which include some of these elements, but the small step this week is just to make the list.
So you see how you can make a list of small, incremental steps that don’t feel too overwhelming to take, but by the time you’ve done them will move you a step closer to where you want to be. Go through this process for your list of 3-5 things, and do so each week, ticking off each microgoal as you go. If you need some support, join the Three Things Sunday community every Sunday over on Instagram.
So, don’t let those summer dreams become distant memories. Use what you’ve learned from your daydreaming, conversations with friends and family and creativity of thought, and turn them into something that you can work with for the next quarter of the year.
By December, you might be in a very different place or have a clearer idea of where you want to go and what you want to do as a result.
And if you’re stuck for inspiration, or it all feels a little too overwhelming, I have the perfect solution. Be gentle with yourself. Tell yourself that before long the nights are going to begin drawing in and you’ll need to cosy up to sit on the sofa and revisit You’ve Got Mail or any other good Nora Ephron movie that makes you feel a little braver, a little more hopeful and encourage you to do a little more daydreaming about what might be out there waiting for you.