I work from home, by myself, in a small town, far from the everyday hustle and bustle – and no, I have not yet gone batty. Instead, I have managed to create an incredible life by learning from, and paying attention to, letting the outside in. And this, my friends, has been the method to my gladness for years.
For me, learning to live from the "outside in" means both being outdoors as much as possible (that’s me walking along Lake Champlain with my dog in the photo) AND being outside the usual business and lifestyle construct. I have found that I learn by living on the other side of any more common boundary. Force an 8 to 5 schedule on me, and I’ll squirm and gasp for air ”“ resenting it all the way. But, allow for my life of structured randomness – unusual hours, a wide variety of project topics, many dog walks and Pilates breaks, with a dose of travel/speaking/being “with” people – and I deliver my absolute creative best.
But, I haven’t always understood my nature. I grew up in a fairly traditional family, with a dad who worked a lot and a mom who drove us kids around at least 8 hours a day (I swear). My three siblings all went pretty much directly to grad school after college, and then followed right along the corporate/professional path from there. So. I tried. For the first ten years out of college, I worked for trade associations and small businesses doing administrative and then marketing work. I’d always felt busy and productive for maybe five hours in my eight-hour days, tops. Then, about ten years ago, I realized that I felt best and functioned most highly if I was learning from outside of whatever box there was ”“ including the box of an office building.
Only by going out on my own as a consultant did I fully realize my gift and talent for writing. I had to force myself to “put it out there” and then invite/risk feedback from someone way outside my usual realm – and I had to get used to taking in criticism and learn how to funnel it back into my work effectively. Because my newfound writing was for my own business purpose, and I alone was responsible for it, I found that I learned much more quickly and deeply.
Then, as well, it was only by actually existing outside of traditional settling-in patterns, that I moved as frequently (and across the country as much) to experience different environments and cities, learn what worked/what didn’t, and meet all sorts of fascinating people ”“ most of whom are still good friends today. If not for my “outside in” approach, I’d be sitting at a desk in Washington, D.C. or Chicago right now, checking my watch to see when I could go work out. ;-)
Only by going outdoors and learning to snowboard, and, more recently, learning to ride horses, have I learned the benefit of testing my limits and stepping so incredibly beyond my comfort zone. In those spaces of time on the mountain or at the stables, I cannot think of my work-life for even one minute, or I’ll fall off my board or the horse. No phone calls and no emails ”“ just wind on my face and sometimes the scent of manure. There is nothing like it.
Only by getting a dog ”“ at the same time I started my own business 10 years ago, have I been more likely to wander the streets of whatever town I’m living in and learn more about my community and how I can contribute. I may live and work alone, but living "outside in" ”“ and really getting to know my neighbors and my city ”“ have made my life that much richer.
I have come to believe that this "outside in" approach works best for me because I am so naturally the exact opposite: an "inside out" person. If I didn’t force the issue, my brain would take over my life. I read more books (business and fiction) in any given week than a lot of people might read in a year (if the statistics I’ve come across in all that reading are true;-). Taking in media, in almost every form, is quite simply my job ”“ but I’d get nowhere in life or my career if I left it at that. Learning about the world from the "outside in" is the pendulum swing. It is the absolute opposite of what I do naturally and so it keeps me sane by giving my brain fresh ideas and perspectives to ponder along the way.
Learning from the "outside in" is a life balance choice, and it has ultimately been my method to long-term gladness.
And now, I’ll step away from my computer to walk my dog in gorgeous Burlington, Vermont.
Two books that helped Andrea see that living "outside in" was legit:
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
Related articles demonstrating Andrea’s outside-the-corporate box marketing mind:
Andrea Learned, women’s market expert, author and speaker is the founder (and Director of Different Thinking) for Learned On Women – a firm dedicated to changing the way businesses relate to female consumers. The co-author of “Don’t Think Pink: What Really Makes Women Buy ”“ And How To Increase Your Share Of This Crucial Market,” Andrea regularly explores, analyzes and interprets marketing to women efforts around the globe through her own blog.