Learning from the Outside In: One Woman’s Method to Gladness

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:

People Buy From People 
Want To Connect With Women: Sponsor A Cause 

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


  1. says

    Thanks for sharing, Andrea. The green mountain state is indeed a great place for one to be outside. The freshness of the outside let’s you approach the media with a unique perspective, balanced. Keep up the good work, and check back after that walk, or horse ride, to see how your words have inspired this community.

  2. says

    Your post reminds us that life’s greatest opportunity is to find one’s own niche, pace, style, nature.
    “But, allow for my life of structured randomness … and I deliver my absolute creative best. But, I haven’t always understood my nature.”
    Your quest for understanding is inspiring. Your words express that the “outside in” approach makes you fuller, more substantial, than other options would allow. Thank you for sharing. Blaine

  3. says

    I just had a phone conversation with a wise man in the advertising industry. We discussed the life/work balance issue a bit and he made the great point to me that for some people, a 70 hour work week tied to Blackberry/cellphone IS their balance point. So, I do need to acknowledge that mine is not the only way (but I really do recommend most people give it a try if they can)

  4. says

    Thanks Andrea, it is inspiring to hear how you learned to honor yourself and your ‘nature’ by identifying your need to get ‘outside’ of the corporate box.
    Having been outside the coporate box for 16 years now your post reminded me how I am an “inside out” guy. I have been such an agressive life long learner that I came to a point in my life that I wanted to get all my knowledge (inside) out by writing, speaking and coaching.
    Until, I got out of the corporate box, I could not expalin my restlessness and constant frustration working for others.
    Perrsonally, I have found business to be the ultimate opportunity for personal expression, fulfillment, and self-actualization.
    Thank you for reminding me that out of “structured randomness … I deliver my absolute creative best”… Aloha! WooHoo!
    P.S. I went on my summer vacation this year without my laptop and put all phone calls straight to voice mail. It was a very restful, reflective, and inspiring vacation.

  5. says

    What a great prospective you bring to this dialogue we’re having Andrea – as someone who is “inside the box” right now you present a tantalizing view of what it’s like on the other side. It’s wonderful that you were able to make this discovery about yourself – that took a lot of courage. I also liked the point about taking responsibility for your writing, in order to find your true potential. That inspires me to do the same, even if it’s just my little old blog. Thanks for your post and well done.

  6. says

    Aloha Andrea, for me your contribution to our learning forum is about Nānā i ke kumu, the Hawaiian value which urges us to “look to our source.” It’s a very powerful concept. Our families and friends can be very well meaning in their wish to mentor us, and set a good example for us, but there are times when the best we can do is to look within, and listen to the patterns of our own feelings, trying our best to listen to what they tell us.
    Amazing how timely this is:
    I very recently spoke about MWA to an MBA class. Their professor had assigned MWA as one of their course textbooks, and I received a wonderful gift: copies of their book reports, revealing how they planned to use the book’s coaching. He had also urged them to send me some questions, to help me prepare a presentation for my visit that would be very personalized for them (as you can imagine, I’m one author who is a big fan of this particular professor, but I digress.) One of them had this question for me:
    “I can’t seem to get a break these days even after all the years of listening to my parents, teachers, professors, and mentors about going to school to get a degree, because with it, I would be able to get a job. I’m about down on my luck after so long and so many disappointments in my job search. If you were my mentor, how would you motivate me? What would you advise?”
    In a word, my advice was “Nānā i ke kumu.” I told the student that although we had just met, my hunch was that she needed to shut out all those “helpful” voices and find her own ho‘ohana, looking within to her own strengths, values, and seemingly selfish wants and desires. I explained that as an employer, I would go through hoops to find an opening for someone applying for a job with me if they reeked of their own passion versus one who supposedly said all the “right” things.
    However it can be difficult to listen to our own voices; we become our biggest naysayers. As everyone has said here, your quest to learn about yourself is very inspiring. Thank you so very much for sharing this with us.

  7. says

    How great that you can influence students with this wisdom so early on in their lives/careers, Rosa! I, too, find myself encouraging this sort of thing with the college kids I come across here in Burlington.
    Anyway – it has been wonderful to feel like my story might have inspired one or two of your readers. I am impressed at how active this community is.. and thanks to all of you for a fun experience.

  8. says

    Andrea, One of Julia’s things is to “write from where you are.” You have painted a most clear portrait of that for us here. May the constraints of boundaries never limit your beautiful, creative spirit!

  9. says

    Oh Andrea
    As one who finds safety and security in CHOOSING boxes and structure in my life, I am astounded that you could so tempt me with your perspectives.
    Now you’ve got me really thinking!

  10. says

    If I’ve convinced just one person to look a teeny tiny bit outside of their boxes and structure – like you, Chris! – my intention for participating in this forum has been met! Glad I got you thinking… And, let me know how it goes after you’ve tried “outside in” for a while.

  11. says

    Andrea – I just love your writing. Have you secretly been looking at my life lately?? You were certainly speaking my life – that of an ‘inside out’ person who needs to weekly, even daily, remind herself that ‘outside in’ works better. (Although I have never heard it put that way before – simple and meaningful – thanks.)
    I’ve just taken the leap, and added not one but TWO dogs to our family.. and they are already providing the impetus for not only me, but the whole family, to get outside their boxes.

  12. says

    Dogs are actually the big secret to getting anyone outside. My parents didn’t have one for years and just recently ended up with one. It has really got my mom outside and noticing the little things again.
    Have fun with your dogs! And, thanks so much for your kind words re: my writing. I love to do it.

  13. says

    Thank you for sharing your experiences in this way. I work with women and mom entrepreneurs who are definitely living outside the box, mostly working from home and I also encourage everyone to take time to nurture themselves (particularly when they have kids!) and to eat well, get out (and meet nature and friends!), and just breathe deeply. I love that you’ve developed your own style, I am developing mine too…trying to find where it is with my 3 little ones and running a home business and a women’s entrepreneur network. I am confident that I will find my own rhythmn for work and keep the balance that I need so everyone can be peaceful at home and grow my business too. I look forward to reading your book! Check out my blog sometime. Best, Kelly King Anderson http://www.startupPrincess.com

  14. says

    Going Against the Grain – Introvert plays Extrovert

    When you have a couple of weeks where you’re so busy (read – launch of SOXS – click here to see why) that even getting dinner on the table before 7:30pm each night is a real challenge… it’s hard to