The Life Brief: Lessons Learned at the 3% Conference

Even though it’s been a few weeks since I attended the 3% Conference, it’s still at the very forefront of my mind. Is it because it was my first year in attendance? Maybe. Really, though, I think the emboldening energy and passion of every person in attendance is what’s leaving my mind lingering on breakout speeches, uncomfortable topics, and questions we all need to still be discussing.

One session that particularly resonated with me was with Bonnie Wan, Director of Brand Strategy and Partner at Goodby Silverstein and Partners, who walked us through her “Life Brief.” Not only was it fascinating, it came at the right time in my life and I could start working on it immediately.

As Bonnie puts it, the Life Brief is “…not a plan, it’s a tool for creative living.” It’s an exercise in connecting to the honest needs and wants in your mind and aligning your life goals to achieve them.

The Life Brief was born out of a crossroads in Bonnie’s life. Even though by all accounts her career was a success, like many creative women she was struggling with balancing her career opportunities with her family responsibilities. She felt lost, and knew a ground up re-imagining was necessary.

This reflection gives us a chance to step back from the posturing of social media and editorializing of self marketing to take a look at our real aspirations. Starting with a very simple question:

“What do you want?”

No, really, what do YOU want?

This simple question stumped me. The last year of my life has been nothing but change and I have been having trouble finding solid ground. A year ago I was living in Chicago and planning a wedding and honeymoon with my fiancé when he got a freelance job opportunity in New York. An opportunity we couldn’t pass on. Zac left for three months and moved from one Air BnB to the next, while I stayed in Chicago with friends and sublet our apartment. Three months became six, six became a permanent position. I was left wondering what was next.

We got married, went on an amazing honeymoon and then flew back to our separate homes. I changed everything and moved to New York. Away from some of my best friends, transferred offices at my company, moved into a new apartment sight unseen, adjusted to the tiny size of the new place and started trying to make new friends, new favorite spots and a whole new life, all over again at 29. Needless to say I was anxious to figure this all out, and I couldn’t wait to get started on my own Life Brief.

So what is the life brief and how do I get started? Part of the beauty of the Life Brief is that Bonnie doesn’t over explain it. The answers need to come from an honest reflection of your own life and situation. It’s a guide to help you strategize your needs and make your own list, not targeted marketing questions or Bonnie’s life lessons to imprint on yourself. For me, this chance to really examine my life and career was so energizing and exciting that I snuck out of the networking event and started right then.

Find your quiet place

Of the few instructions included in the Life Brief, is to find your quiet place for reflection where you can clear your mind and your heart. So naturally, I ended up in Times Square.

As strange as that may seem, it seemed perfect to me. Times Square has played an important part in many pivotal times in my life:  As a starry eyed sixteen year old dreaming about living in the big city someday, as a fresh faced 22 year old starting her dream in the city watching the ball drop on New Years Eve, to 6 A.M. on my last night in New York the first time around, age 26, a quiet goodbye and a boisterous good riddance to the heart of the city. And now as a 29 year old, re-energized and refocused on a new chapter of my career in this city with a new husband. 

Take Stock

Before you can dig into what is missing or how your needs have changed, you need to take stock of the life you are currently living. What are your feelings towards your work, your relationships, and yourself? You respond to each of these questions by plotting your answer on a fuel meter: Are these areas of your life Full or Empty?

Stepping back and looking at these simple graphs, I was sad to see that compared to my career, the time spent on friends and family was looking pretty empty. Which made the next exercise a challenge – interview your friends and family about how they see you and what role you play in their lives. The opinions of my friends and family mean the world to me, so I was really excited (and a little scared) to hear what they had to say.

Next, Find Patterns

Bonnie says, “Life is a tapestry. It is easier to see the patterns when you step back.”

So I took a step back and looked at my answers and the answers from my loved ones. Many of the patterns reaffirmed what I believed about myself, but some caught me off guard.

My friends and relationships energize me and I try to give my all, but I can sometimes try too hard to hold on to relationships and friendships that drain me.

Many of my friends said that success and growth in my career were driving forces in my, but they also said I need to find a balance and make sure not I don’t lose focus on my own well-being.

After reading through all of the responses I was overwhelmed by the love and attention that the people close to me put into their answers. Which brought me back to that surprisingly close-to-empty section of my time spent on friends and family. That’s the first area where I will begin to “Think small, act daily” and try to move that needle to full.

And, finally…

Let Go

Bonnie says, “Allow your brief to realize itself. Focus on what matters instead of how to get there. Clear intentions are enough to unlock and reveal the path forward. And when you release yourself from self-doubt and limiting narratives, you make space to see opportunities you would have otherwise overlooked. Changing your story changes your life.”

So, while I don’t have all the answers yet, what I do have is a great start to the conversation with myself, and my new husband, on what we really, honestly want in life and how we can start planning to achieve that.