Your Next Experiment

“Caminante no hay camino. Se hace el camino al andar.”

—Juan Manuel Serrat sings this in Cantares, one of my all-time favorite songs.

In English, the quote is translated as:

“Traveler, there is no path. We make the path by walking.”

This quote is attributed to many sources, including the First Peoples of Australia.

 

I invite you to ask yourself a question:

What parts of your life do you love the most?

This might be a child, a partner, a pet, a job, a creative pursuit, or something else.

Then, ask yourself: How did this person or thing that I love so much come into my life?

Imagine yourself going back in time, trying to trace each step that brought this beloved part of your life into your life.

You’ll probably notice that while there may have been several intentional steps, there were probably many other chance occurrences that you could not have planned for.

For example, I love my work as a city councilor, but joining city council was never in my plan.

Instead, one day in April, 2023, I received a random text from my city council president, telling me that my precinct councilor was resigning and asking if I wanted to do it. Lots of smaller interactions during previous campaigns had led her to think I might be interested.

Initially, I said no. I anticipated—and my predictions proved true—that being on council city would be a huge time commitment with basically no financial compensation, and that it would slow down my plans to bring my book into the world.

I tried to find someone else to take the role, but everyone I asked said no.

And, so after tuning in to my inner guidance and asking my soon-to-be colleagues on council lots of questions, I realized I wanted to do it.

One thing that helped me get clear was something I’d learned from years of career coaching, which is that clarity is an emergent phenomenon. Emergence is the process by which something we could not have foreseen and that is greater than the sum of its parts arises from multiple small steps and interactions.

Just like breathing, clarity is not an endpoint, a destination, or something we check off a grocery list. Getting clear about what to do next is an iterative practice—we notice the possibilities around us, do experiments, have conversations, try things out, gather information, and choose our next steps.

Sometimes the information we gather tells us to keep going. Other times, we learn things that call us to pivot, choose a new direction, and try again.

By repeating this process over and over again, some doors close that we had hoped would stay open, and other possibilities emerge that we might never have expected.

When we resist emergence—as most of us do when we’re deeply invested in a plan or afraid what might happen if things go awry—we can overlook new opportunities, slow down the process, and feel more distress along the way. Of course, we long for certainty, perfect solutions, and an end to all the decision-making. Emergence can be uncomfortable.

In fact, many facilitators call the twisty-turny path between divergence and convergence—between seeing possibilities and making decisions—the groan zone because we so often feel confused, impatient, bored, scared, and other flavors of discomfort during this phase.

When we view our choices through a lens of finality and try to find the best, perfect, or final answer we are more likely to languish in doubt, indecision, and procrastination.

But when we recognize the inevitability of uncertainty and approach each step as an experiment, it becomes easier to engage decision-making with a sense of play, the closing of doors can feel less painful, and new possibilities become easier to see.

Everything is an experiment. We cannot know with certainty where any step will lead us. But we can learn from what happens.

Conducting experiments is like flirting with a path. First, you say hello. Then, you go on a date. Perhaps that turns into something more. Perhaps not.

Either way, you get to know the path, step by step, better before you make a long term commitment. You wade in rather than diving in. You test-drive the car before you buy it.

If it works out, awesome! And, if it doesn’t, it will probably feel pretty disappointing. But you’re building skills of experimentation and learning along the way rather than staying stuck.

And what still amazes me is that when we approach life as an experiment, we don’t just explore known possibilities; we create new ones. Experimentation builds momentum. One thing leads to another, and we discover opportunities that we could have never anticipated.

Now, I invite you to play with a practice that I’ve come to rely on for choosing next steps and experiments called Satisfaction Scaling.

One: Satisfaction Scaling

  1. Choose a goal that you want to move toward or a need that you want to focus on.
  2. Ask yourself—On a scale from zero to ten (on which zero is not at all satisfied and ten is completely satisfied without being judgy or grade-y), how satisfied are you with how well you’re currently living this goal or fulfilling this need? Sense what number feels right in your body.
  3. Ask yourself—What has brought me to this number, as opposed to a zero? Why are you a one or a three or a five instead of a zero? Notice what’s already working to help you reach your goal. Write down what arises.
  4. Ask yourself: What might be my next toward a ten, my next experiment?

    It’s important to acknowledge that often, the choices that we have aren’t great ones. We need systemic change to create a world in which all people have better choices and easier access to meeting our needs.

    And, at the same time, we reclaim a bit of our personal power when we consciously choose a next step, no matter how small.

    So if reaching toward a ten feels completely unattainable, I invite you to get curious about what teeny, tiny step you might take in the direction of meeting your needs. If your energy is at two now, how might you shift to a four or a five? If it’s at five, how might you get to an eight?

    Choose a next step that feels doable, even if it seems negligible. You might be surprised about what a big difference a tiny change can make.

  5. After you identify a next step, ask yourself—What number do I imagine I’ll be at after taking this step? Imagine yourself at this new number and notice any insights that arise.
  6. If you’d like to identify more steps toward meeting your need or fulfilling your goal, repeat the process. You may come up with steps all the way to a ten. Or, you may feel done before then. Stop when you feel complete.
  7. Finally, make a plan to take your next step, to do your next experiment, breaking it down into a small enough chunk that you can commit to taking it this week.
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