Rogue Mini-Retreats for the Self-Employed and beyond!
I have this friend named Wade Bixby. Wade has been a source of wisdom for me in recent years, first as a coworker and now as a friend. Wade is intentional, slow to speak, and reflective. There was a particular season of life a couple of years ago in which I was questioning all things career. Perhaps you've been there too, or maybe you're there now. Either way, I'm sure you know how difficult of an inner debate this is. Wade and I had many conversations during this "moment" (for me, a "moment" can be years...), and one of the greatest bits of wisdom he ever gave me - though I didn't know it at the time - was to take a personal yet intentional day off of work to reflect and plan. To do this on a weekend would be to take away precious rejuvenating time with family...and this was not to be a relaxing "meditative" time. This was to look at scary truths, ask hard questions, and feel uncomfortable with the answers.
I heard what he said and decided to use my week-long vacation that year as a "staycation." Instead of being intentional about thinking through my professional situation, I used it to paint my now office. And because I'm a terrible painter (I tell you, I'm AWFUL) it took me all week. ALL. WEEK. No thinking got done except "I think I just got some paint on the ceiling. I think I'll just go ahead and paint the whole ceiling."
Then, December of 2016, as I was facing self-initiated self-employment, I began getting many words of wisdom from MANY different sources. All trying to be helpful, but ultimately confusing me and stuffing my brain with more than it was able to fit! Wade's words of wisdom (that's a coffee table book waiting to be written...) floated like a whisper in my mind: "Take a day to reflect and plan." My experience with working for companies had me yearning for this kind of exercise, as there were MANY times I wish I had just a little less to do so I could hold myself up in a conference room and just THINK. and REFLECT. And PACE. And MUTTER. But there was always so little time and so many tasks.
So, I did it. I scheduled a day to use Belmont University's School of Religion Conference Room (I do recognize how random this is but this was the connection I had at the time) and held what I called, "The First Annual LET Business Vision Retreat."
It was magical and I will be doing it more than once a year, perhaps twice or maybe even FOUR times! I shared a little bit of my time from my second retreat a week ago on Instagram, and a few folks wondered how I ran it. I believe that whether you own a business, work in a business, or don't work at all, vision retreats should become a part of your year.
I thought perhaps a blog was the best way to explain, so here it is:
How to Run Your Own Rogue Mini Vision Retreat
Find a new space in which you don't already work: Rent a conference room for an afternoon, reserve a private co-working space, or ask a friend if you can use their office/conference room. Removing yourself from the familiar automatically alerts the mind to a new way of thinking. No distraction from phone calls, no piles of paper that you'll fiddle with when you come to a speed bump in your retreat. Just you and this new space that you'll be thinking new thoughts in. You want to find something with just enough space for walking around, but not too much to where you feel distracted. I also suggest finding a place with a MASSIVE whiteboard. We'll get to that in a bit.
Dress comfortably, prepare snacks and bring a blanket: This part is also stupid SOUNDING until you're one hour into the retreat and you think, "boy I could really go for a snack" or "Wow I'm cold" but you may not be in a space that offers snacks or you might be in a public space with controlled temperature, so now you have to leave to get nourishment or feel cold for the rest of the time. Focused thinking is hard work, and you want to provide the best opportunity for your brain to function at its highest level. This is a time for your brain to do lots of work, so wear those comfy pants and loose shirt. Put your hair up. OR - if you think better when you dress up, do it! You do you!
Bring a whiteboard (unless there is one already) and many colors of dry-erase markers: In fact, this should be the gift every person gets when they graduate high school. A 3x4 whiteboard with a mass amount of dry-erase markers. Steve Jobs used whiteboards all the time, and I have a couple in my small attic office. So basically I'm cool like Steve Jobs. That's how that works, right? (answer: wrong.) Why am I so obsessed with whiteboards? Because you can write something down and then erase it. Or move it. Or rewrite it because the first time you wrote it, it was sloppy. Whiteboards force you to literally put a word or an idea on a board with your own hand and DO something with it. Even if it's to erase it. I've found whiteboards to be incredibly helpful in my work life, and I don't know how I ever functioned without them.
Make an Agenda. Type it in Word and print it out: This might feel really, really silly. But get used to that, because you're going to need to get over doing lots of silly things like talking to yourself as you run your own meeting (because who else will?). Making a literal agenda will help you in a multitude of ways but most importantly: Your mind will only take something as seriously as you tell it to. Make an agenda with a schedule (yes, starting and ending times), talking points, objectives, and be ready to make a list of actionable ideas. Here are some suggestions to help you start your first vision retreat:
What are words to describe yourself? Your business? Your Art? Use this tool to help guide you in this exercise.
What are your ACTIONABLE goals for your artistic, business, or personal life in 6 months? 1 year? 5 years?
What are your dreams? Do they scare you? If not, dream bigger.
Use the words and goals of yours and write a Personal Mission Statement that touches on your relationships, profession, and, if applicable, your art.
For the self-employed: Who is your ideal client? What have you learned about yourself in the last 6 months?
For those unsure of their current career path: Write an exhaustive list of the things that come naturally to you in your current job, and also things that you love to do. Then, write the opposite. Things that aren't natural to you, and things you don't love to do.
For those confused about anything and everything: Been there. Just write it on the whiteboard. Evaluate what you write. See what happens next.
Prepare questions you want answered, but give yourself grace to let some things go unsolved: Take this seriously and write down a list of things you want answers to. For my most recent retreat, I wanted to know what tasks I loved in my first six months of my self-employed time. I ended up not having a concrete list, but it did spur me on to other topics I didn't even realize I had questions about! Write every single question down that your mind has spinning in it. Everything. Even down to "What will I make for dinner." Get it all out. Make room for yourself to build shelves in your brain to put the responsibilities on!
Run your own meeting: I alluded to this earlier but I want to expound. If you're the only one in the room, then you are the one running the meeting. Use this as practice for running meetings in the future. Call the meeting to order, welcome the attendees. I kid you not, I literally said at my first meeting: "I want to welcome everyone here today. Members in today's meeting include Leslie Thompson the marketer, Leslie Thompson the singer, and Leslie Thompson the chicken nugget. Welcome, all! I'm excited for today!" Don't feel silly. Set yourself up for focus and awareness!
Try to stay off of the wifi and hide your phone: I would say to leave your computer behind, but sometimes the vision retreatsrequire research and comparison, and taking notes in a word processor is helpful, especially if you want to archive the things you touched on. Do try to administer self-control and don't get TOO distracted. Though I do believe that every hour or so a good ole youtube video (like this one....click on it....CLICK ON IT...) might help give your brain a short break.
Take #Selfies: Seriously. Document the day. Document the process. Document the excitement in your eyes after you spend a couple hours being intentional about how you're spending your time. Here's one of mine if you're needing some inspiration. I'm always up for sharing a #selfie or two.
I could go on, but I think I would prefer you try it for an afternoon and see where your mind takes you. This should be structured but meandering thought...so there will be moments of uncertainty, and you should always feel free to follow all rabbit trails you come across, but ultimately know where the main road is. I trust that this exercise will prove to be an important part of your year as it has become in mine - you'll look forward to it and begin to find your own flow during these retreats. Some may be longer than others...but ALL will be beneficial. Would love to hear what you think about this, so please do share feedback here!