Design is essential to happiness. Since earliest memories, I’ve been fascinated by color juxtapositions, textures and form. Beautiful design fills me with positive energy.
The question is: How do you create and express beauty in something as daunting as designing your life plan?
Where Do You Start?
In designing a plan or strategy, seldom do you begin at the very beginning; that part is often decided upon later. You start with a desire, and based on that desire, you create an idea (or a series of ideas). A big part of this process is letting your mind wander and get lost; this journey, and the mistakes you make on it, will lead to resolution.
Before you express your ideas out loud, or write them down, you see them in your mind. The benefit of a mental journey is that you can successfully identify a direction to begin with. But it’s often difficult to let go and trust that getting lost is the very best way to allow such discoveries to happen.
And never fear: when you’re in the weeds, you will have the opportunity to experience new things that will help to shape your ideas. While many people find it difficult to visualize concepts—at least at first—it’s very possible to express thoughts and feelings so that others can relate, understand and possibly collaborate in your efforts.
The First Step: Visualize It
See it to believe it. Visualization is a particularly good strategy when you’re trying to articulate your life path. It’s not daydreaming; it’s having the courage to imagine what might be possible. The creation of a “mind map” that details your steps and goals is a great tool; but don’t be afraid if it takes quite some time (and many iterations) to find clarity.
And best of all, you’re using words, not chiseling in stone: once you’ve voiced the “first draft” of your plans, you can invite feedback from others to iterate and improve on it.
The Second Step: Find the Words
Thoughts must be expressed in words in order for others to consider their potential impact. Before you reach that point, you must allow your kernels of thought to grow to their full potential.
Indeed, that is a step that’s sometimes skipped: you should sit down (or stand, or take a long walk—whatever best frees your thinking) and work through your ideas and plans in your mind until they assume a more definitive state. That way, you’ll have something to talk about when the time comes.
"Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair.” That quote comes from Dr. Hyder Zahed’s essay “The Power of Spoken Words.” He’s right: words can rally people to your cause, bring ideas to life, and ultimately change the world. Every great thing in history started with someone saying, “How about…”
The Third Step: Brainstorm It
Run different scenarios, but make sure to do so without imposing self-judgment. Try all sorts of ideas on for size; and once you begin to settle on some good ones, rehearse how you’re going to share with others. Don’t be afraid of revising your ideas in radical ways; it may take some additional time, but the improvements could be worth it.
When communicating with others, keep your words simple and your points direct; make sure what you’re sharing is clear. If you’ve been unambiguous, your audience can give you feedback that you might use.
The Fourth Step: Design It
“Design is the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object, system or measurable human interaction.”
That’s the dictionary definition of “design.” Although many people might think that “design” is limited to the creation of specific objects, it very much applies to the strategies for your life and work. Words are the bricks and mortar of those strategies, and you can build a fine “structure,” provided you’ve thought through your ideas, figured out how to express them in a clear way, and made yourself receptive to any feedback you may receive from those around you.
The Fifth Step: Revisit It
The ideal “mind map” is the result of an iterative process. Things change over time, and your design must respond to the complexities of our world and its culture.
When we express our thoughts and feelings, we have the opportunity to objectify them. Once put into words, and externalized, these ideas no longer dominate our emotions; any inner tension is released, and we have the pieces before us to redesign our lives. As the curators of our own lives, we can surround ourselves with beauty and elegance if we go on a journey to design our life. What would you like to see happen for you? Why not begin imagining it today?
Janet Odgis is the President and Creative Director of Odgis + Co, an award-winning certified woman-owned design firm based in New York City. For 30 years she has worked with some of the world’s most prestigious corporations reinventing ways to define and express their brand. We Make Business Beautiful.