How a Life Audit Changed Everything in One Afternoon

Today I finished up my very first week as a full-time writer, and let me tell you, it’s been amazing.

For those of you who don’t know, I was recently able to make the transition from being a part-time author/full-time editor to a full-time writer. Now instead of getting up at 5:30 or 6 a.m. to work on my books and working from 9 to 5 at my “regular” job, I get to spend my entire day writing. It’s a dream come true.

Granted, not all that writing is fiction. I still need to supplement my income with other writing — more on that in a minute — but it means no more 12-hour days in front of my laptop and no writing on Sundays. Whoohoo!

Obviously, I’m incredibly grateful — both to all of you guys for making this a financial reality by buying my books and to the company I still work for — but there was one thing I did a little over two months ago that has been incredibly transformative to my life.

Please understand that what follows is not advice. I am not advocating that you use a self-help exercise to make major life decisions the way I did. However, I still think the Life Audit exercise is extraordinarily valuable, and I wanted to take some time to share it all with you.

The Post That Changed My Life

A while back, I stumbled upon this Medium post called “How and Why to do a Life Audit.” The concept is simple: The author took one afternoon and about 100 Post-It notes to reflect on all her life goals — big and small — then she organized them to see big trends and analyzed how to make them a reality.

Basically, you just lock yourself in a room, write one goal on each Post-It note, and stick it on your wall. I colored-coded mine by categories — Family and Love, Professional Goals, Bucket List Items/Hobbies, and Values — but you can divide yours up however you like.

I completed this exercise one Sunday afternoon and had the editors on my team complete it, too. I’m not exaggerating even a little when I say that it completely changed my life.

I had 67 goals total, but here are the highlights:

  • Get married to the love of my life
  • Have 2-3 kids
  • Have a spouse who will read my books
  • Be a full-time author/storyteller (I stole the “storyteller” bit from Sean Platt because I think it’s good to maintain a loose definition for what I actually do.)
  • Produce things that enrich people’s lives
  • See one of my books made into a movie franchise
  • Read every day
  • Get outside every day
  • Take lots of pictures
  • Be a good gift giver
  • Get a black belt in something
  • Visit all 50 states
  • Get a six-pack
  • Get massages often
  • Live to be 80 and be as active and independent as my grandma
  • Be a happy and energetic person
  • Be willing to take risks
  • Be someone who’s not worried about what you’re “supposed” to do.

The next part of the exercise (optional) is to make a list of the five people you spend the most time with. This relates back to the law of averages and the saying that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. I took this one step further and made another list of the five people I would like to spend more time with. The idea is that you want to spend a lot of time with people who can help you achieve all your goals. (Think driven, positive people who motivate you.)

Once I’d done all this, I was a little bit surprised with my own aspirations and my “people” lists. For instance, lots of my goals revolved around being more of a risk taker than I actually am. They referenced travel, entrepreneurship, trying new things, and just generally not giving a fuck. (It also told me I should probably move to Chicago, since that’s where two of my good friends will soon be living and because it’s a very walkable city.)

I was also startled to realize that none of my professional goals revolved around my current job as an editor. They were all about being an author. This kind of sucked because it was about as clear a sign as you can get that I was on the wrong path.

Then there was my “Family and Love” list. I had another problem: The person I was with at the time just didn’t check all the boxes, yet he was at the top of my “People I Spend the Most Time With” list — again, a clear sign that I was doing something wrong.

The Big ‘Aha’ Moment

I ruminated over my findings for a little while and had a really interesting breakfast meeting with my author friend Bryan Cohen, who supplements his author/YouTube income with freelance writing. This was the catalyst for one of my big “aha” moments: I wanted to become a full-time author, but that didn’t mean I had to go cold turkey and shut off all other streams of income overnight. A move like that was beyond my personal tolerance for risk, which was why I hadn’t been able to make any progress in that part of my life.

But what if I could create training wheels for myself so that I wouldn’t spend my days hyperventilating over my sales rank? I could, I realized. I had skills, damn it!

Within the next couple weeks, I made some pretty drastic decisions: I quit my job as an editor to work as a freelance writer (for the same company) to supplement my author income. I figured I’m only 24 years old; I have no mortgage, no car payment, no kids, and no other pressing financial obligations. If I’m going to do something like quit a perfectly good job and lose my health benefits, now is the time to do it.

I also broke up with my boyfriend of four years, which was much more difficult to do from an emotional standpoint. It didn’t come as a huge surprise to him, though, because he could see that my life just wasn’t aligned with what I wanted to be doing. And in the end, we both came to the conclusion that it was the best thing for both of us.

A few interesting things happened after that: The company I had been working for made me an offer to stay on as an hourly part-time employee — writing, not editing. This was truly the best of both worlds because it meant I could still be part of the team, I would have both the stability and flexibility I wanted (I rare combination in any job), and I’d get more time to work on my fiction.

I also started hanging out with a couple of the people on my “People I Want to Spend More Time With” list, and they’ve already helped me move closer to some of my bucket list items.

Yes, the pressure to move my business forward is much heavier now, and yes, time management has been kind of a struggle, but I already feel less stressed out, more fulfilled, and just generally happier with my life.

What I Learned

Here are a few of the lessons I learned from all this:

1. Half the battle in life is figuring out what you want. The other half is having the guts to ask for it — or just reach out and take it.

2. When you ask for what you want, you often get it…which can be terrifying. You have to be prepared for the possibility that you may actually get your ideal scenario. Now I have the time I need to write more and build my author business, which is scary because it means I’m out of excuses for why I don’t have X or Y done.

3. When something is no longer serving you, it’s time to reevaluate. Sticking with something (whether that’s a job or a relationship) just because you think you should or because it’s the sensible/responsible/”normal” thing to do is not always the right call.

4. Stay flexible so you can seize opportunities. This is strange advice coming from me because I’m a planner at heart. I like to know what to expect, and once I have a plan in place, that’s what I’m going to do. But there can be huge benefits to staying open to the opportunities that come your way (like the in-house writing gig). Don’t say “no” to things just because they’re inconvenient or they don’t fit into your original plan. You can almost always adjust course as long as you’re willing to.

5. Nearly everything is negotiable. One great thing I’ve recently learned in my adult life is that people, on average, are extremely disorganized, which has made society really flexible and forgiving. HealthCare.gov has a special enrollment period for when you don’t conveniently quit your job during open enrollment, terms of employment are always negotiable, and you can get just about any problem resolved if you’re willing to get on the phone and bother enough people. Even things you are dissatisfied with in your own life are negotiable.

6. People make decisions fast. I’m currently reading “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell, and it’s a fascinating study of how quickly people make up their minds and how accurate those snap judgments actually are.

If you’re thinking about doing something, chances are that you’ve already made the decision — you just aren’t willing to admit it, or you don’t yet know how you will do it. Obviously, you need to get your ducks in a row from a logistics/financial standpoint, but sometimes it’s better to take action instead of trying to talk yourself out of something.

Recently I learned that I make decisions really fast — usually based on gut calls. But I still don’t always trust my gut, so I tend to make pro/con lists, do lots of research, ask other people for advice, and create beautifully color-coded spreadsheets to try to provide a rationale for my decisions.

Yes, planning is important, but there’s a difference between preparation and procrastination. If you’re procrastinating by telling yourself it’s just not the right time, keep in mind that there’s never going to be a perfect time to completely overhaul your life.

If you haven’t done a life audit before, I highly recommend it. Just be prepared — what you find out about yourself could change your life forever. Be sure to send me a message and let me know how it went!

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