Seven Questions to Live a More Intentional and Fulfilling Life

Photo by Anna Herbst
Photo by Anna Herbst

Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual.” 

-Scott Westerfeld

A manifesto, a written statement of believes or intentions, can help guide us in important areas of our lives. I wrote this one the summer my firstborn flew the nest for college, and my youngest was beginning to fluff his feathers. These are thoughts from my own personal experiences that I wanted to share with them before they ventured on their own.

Who Am I? Know and celebrate who you are. I’ve spent most of my life trying to define this for myself so you can confidently step into your colorful heritage. You will have questions as you travel the bicultural bridge. You are Puerto Rican American Swedes. Global citizens with a rich heritage to ground you, no matter where you live.

What Makes Me Special? You are unique and have a gift(s) to share with the world when you are ready. We all do. By not expressing our talents and ideas, we are, by choice, depriving someone else of becoming inspired or feeling comforted by our experiences. Cast your pebble into the wide-open pond and trust that the ripple you create will be received with gratitude.

What Can I Trust? Let your values guide you. When in doubt, trust your gut instinct. You will know your truth when your mind, heart, and intuition are in complete alignment. 

Who Can I Count On? Become your own best friend. Seek solitude and expression as a way to self-connect. These tools will center you and help you deal with difficult challenges. They are a quiet conversation with your authentic self, a way to connect your mind, body, and spirit. Meditation, for example, can happen in the traditional sense. But you can also find groundedness by taking a mindful walk in nature or composing music. Even listening to music can bring a connection to your truthfulness. Whichever way you choose to practice, mindfully observe your present moment and absorb the miracle of it all. You exist, and that’s wonderful!

How Do I Improve? Remember to jump out of your comfort zone. It happens quietly; we find ourselves in a plateau, not moving in the direction we had hoped. It may serve a purpose: information raising its hand to let us know it is time to challenge ourselves. Many people choose not to acknowledge the eager hand in the air, for the unknown can be scary and feel dangerous. But you are calculated risk-takers and understand that fearing something means you do not have enough information to move forward. Like your creaky pre-teen knees indicated you were growing, calculated discomfort allows you to develop toward your fullest potential.

How Can I Get the Most Out of Life? Life experiences over things! Life is a transaction of deposits and withdrawals: Positive life experiences are deposits. Sometimes we experience withdrawals in the form of setbacks. Like your funds, make sure to create more deposits. Invest in travel – opens your mind and connection to the world – and in relationships, making sure to give as much as you receive. Volunteer. You will receive so much more than you can ever give. 

How Do I Make an Impact? Stand your ground, participate civically, and treat people fairly. We live in an age where remaining silent about issues we care about means we are decidedly allowing them to happen. Educate yourself about the topics and perspectives, and respectfully voice your opinion. Always vote and stand up for the issues that matter to you. Ask yourself how you can best serve.

What about you? 

How might your manifesto look? 

What beliefs or wisdom from hard-learned lessons can you gift to your younger self or someone who is just starting on their own?

To create a goal-driven manifesto, imagine yourself five or ten years from now, living the life you hope for. What might your future-self share as loving advice to align your life today with your vision?

Let me know how you did. Comment here or contact me directly.  

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How Letting Go Was My Secret to Success

I was the first in my large Puerto Rican family to attend and graduate college. As such, it was my duty to help Latina girls proudly travel the bicultural bridge, while keeping a connection to their roots.

I did it through La Mariposa (The Butterfly); it was my life’s calling. La Mariposa is a groundbreaking empowerment program I created in 2016, by way of a nonprofit I co-founded called Together for Latinas, to help empower young Latinas in taking down barriers and succeeding in life.

It took me 8 years to create it. And, it took me another 3 years to let go of it.

Letting go wasn’t easy. I didn’t want to. But spirit conspired, in the way that it always does. My husband was transferred to Sweden, splitting my focus between my family in Stockholm and my organization on the east coast of the United States.

I felt an inescapable sense of worry about the burden of making sure the program reached those who needed it nationwide. My board was unwavering in its dedication and effort, but we needed more marketing and distribution resources to succeed. Supporters started expressing concern. Distance fueled my anxiety. Instinctively, I knew I needed to quit as the leader, but how could I let everyone down and be left a failure?

I had Founder’s Syndrome. It was hard to see how anyone but my team could take the program to the next level. If we couldn’t make it a success, who would?

But it was time to let go. To do that I first had to overcome certain misconceptions. 

Misconception #1: Good Leaders Don’t Quit

The Hispanic/Latinx population desperately needed programs like La Mariposa. As a Latina girl and young woman growing up in the ’80’s and ’90’s, I didn’t know of Hispanic role models who released their projects for the greater good. To overcome this fear, I searched for positive examples of such leaders – and happily, found many of them. This taught me that the process of letting go was more like “graduating” than “quitting.”

Misconception #2: Many Will Be Disappointed

Everyone at Together for Latinas established deep relationships with our benefactors, supporters, and communities. I didn’t want to let them down. Nervously, I began to communicate my intention and asked for help transitioning the work. To my surprise and utter delight, everyone I asked understood it was the right time and was relieved and happy to help. I feared letting them down and instead allowed them to have a deeper stake in the program’s success.

Misconception #3: No One Cares Like I Do

Part of having Founder’s Syndrome was believing that I am the only one who cares enough to make my life’s work a success. To help me overcome this misconception, I needed to do the same thing I encourage all our workshop participants to do: give the inner voice an outlet. So, I wrote freestyle, unhindered, about the question: “If we don’t make it a success, who will?”

And I realized in my answer that our next step was to find the organization that will.

For several months we had been in talks with a partner, One Circle Foundation, that could help us cast a wider net. When I told its founder about my decision, she said the program “would be in caring hands” with them. It was as if the cupped hands I had often envisioned in meditation were extending their reach through the phone. I found people who care as I do, and who also have the resources to make that caring a tangible reality for others who need support.

The answer was right in front of me. I just needed to be posing the right questions to the right people. Meditation and awareness helped me get there, and so did reaching out to friends and colleagues.

Often what we need is right in front of us. All we have to do is notice.

And, once a curriculum developer, always a curriculum developer. Here is my step- by-step journey and advice towards that noticing.

Step One: Understand why it’s time to let go. Write, nonstop, without lifting the pen or censoring thoughts. Let the words flow freely onto the page until the reasons emerge.

Step Two: Create an intention. Choose an internal message to serve as a guiding light. (Mine was “La Mariposa will succeed beyond what I can imagine!”)

Step Three: Identify any misconceptions. Create a list and positive affirmation for each, imagining what it looks like releasing the work as a great success (positive examples in your field can help). Acknowledge all your feelings. Is there a sense of relief or peace? Post the affirmations where you can regularly see them – visualization is a powerful life tool.

Step Four: Repeat steps 1-3. Repeat until there is alignment with the intention and the success envisioned.

Step Five: Make a plan. Identify stakeholders who can help create a roadmap.

Step Six: Execute. Identify the person or entity who can deliver the vision (remember they may be right in front of you!), plan the transition together and communicate it to all constituents and stakeholders.

Step Seven: Celebrate! Have a “releasing” party and acknowledge everyone’s role in the transition and its success.

Step Eight: Complete the circle. Practice self-care. Identify a way to capture this important milestone and the contributions you’ve made (for example, write a letter to yourself or craft a poem).

Releasing our work intentionally does not mean we have failed it. On the contrary, it’s a stepping stone to growth and greater potential. By viewing releasing as a way to graduate from our work while promoting it to the next level, we can create our own success story.

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