On Goal Setting, Desires and Intentions

“You are what your deepest desire is. As your desire is, so is your intention. As your intention is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed.” From the classic Vedic text known as the Upanishads

A few years ago, I bought and started reading a book by Shakti Gawain called Creative Visualisation. My close friend had mentioned it over late-night drinks and had explained how internet visionary Natalie Massenet often credited it as a source of powerful inspiration in her life. Said friend had worked with Natalie closely at Net-a-porter, and so did I, though externally, for about 15 years or so. She was an inspiration for us both and many others around us in the world of fashion and luxury retail.

At first, I only dipped into the book. I wasn’t trying to gain anything specific from it. Most days, I opened it at random and explored the various meditations and affirmations that the book offered. I saw value in it for sure, but I didn’t feel like being linear with it. Also, I have a powerful imagination, so visualising felt like second nature, something I was already well attuned to.

One section of it seemed harder though. It looked like something I would need to actually need to put some real work into. And that was the chapter on Goal Setting. I think it took me about three years from buying the book to deciding to get into this section.

Now it’s easy to see in retrospect, so I can tell you honestly why it was a challenge for me for such a long time. You might know this already. An essential part of goal setting involves taking a deep look at yourself and your life and discovering (or admitting) what you really, truly desire. Only then can you start the work of getting what you want, backed by the knowledge of your heart’s deep purpose.

I then learned that most of us are afraid of that first part: the bit where we need to figure out our deepest desires. It can feel quite scary to face your own heart. Because once you have made that connection, once you know, it’s hard, if not impossible, to ignore your truth. You can attempt to stick it in an imaginary Tupperware box that you hide deep at the back of your mind (borrowing this image from my friend Merve). But you still know it’s there. It’s not an option to go back to simpler times when you didn’t know. Ignorance is bliss, some say.

Now that’s not true for everyone, of course, but I for sure was happy with a more misty, unclear view of my future. A type of fog was covering up much of my dreams and purpose. As I see it, our egos, our limbic brains, are wired to keep us safe in the status quo of whatever life we have followed. Because good or bad, there is comfort and safety in the known.

For me, getting out of my comfort zone and looking at my heart’s purpose involved quite a lot of digging, some surprises and well… discomfort.

Classically, I had fallen into the life I was living back then. I never wanted or aimed to get into the fashion world, and yet there I was, in a grand Parisian apartment next to the Louvre, head of Global Communications for a luxury fashion house. My dream, towards which I had worked very hard in my twenties, had initially been to get into the music business as a singer (and songwriter though songwriting wasn’t my forte). One minor issue: I had no desire to live the (late night) life of a performer and had no desire to be famous. To be an artist, yes, but a public persona, no.

To support myself during my studies, I started to work in retail and it turns out I was pretty good at it. I am chatty, personable and well organized, plus I like to make things happen for people. So things took off, so to speak. From Geneva I moved to London and ended up in a lovely boutique which I became the manager of in the early 2000’. A small business, it was all hands on deck most days so I started doing some of the PR coordination for the brand. 

I was then given the extra remit to develop the wholesale in the UK for this beautiful shoe designer. As my career and skills developed, organically, so did the company which went through explosive international growth. Meanwhile, the music industry was going through its TV show makeover, anyone wanting to make a name for themselves having to get on the X Factor or equivalent. This felt like it was just not an option for me.

So I decided to embrace this new world of high fashion that I had stumbled into. It was a real decision and I even remember when I made it and who showed me how. For some time, I was disconnected in this world, let’s say in some kind of limbo because I had no money to my name, I worked very hard for what I got, my parents certainly didn’t help me and it felt like it wasn’t for me. Like I wasn’t worth it, like I wasn’t good enough. 

But in embracing the environment, the industry I evolved in, I delved deeply beyond the surface of things, as I do, and I discovered so much. Such great craftsmanship, artistry, heart, dedication. I met and befriended wonderful people, designers, writers, journalists, and everyone else behind the scenes who made this business’ heart beat faster. So many people are dedicated to creating beauty in the world, with a work ethic and a passion that continuously inspires me, to this day. Because they all choose to show up for what they love and what they believe in. I cannot help but be awed and grateful by my startling path.

So somehow, almost unwittingly, I climbed the corporate ladder as the company shaped itself to mirror the rest of the booming luxury fashion industry. Of course I put in the hours, and was rewarded by traveling to amazing places around the world, meeting and working with even more amazing people. I learned so much, most of it on the job, for years thrown in at the deep end. Luckily I managed to swim, mostly, rather than sink.

A few years in, I became partly imprisoned by a lifestyle that started to define me, from the “always-on” culture, the workload, including the benefit of a big paycheck and the international traveling habits. Due to my own nature, my dedication to servicing the business’s needs, and looking after my teams the best way I knew how, I ended up near burnout. This probably went on for a couple of years. Something that my corporate boss knew and which I did not. Something that he did nothing about.

It’s only when I came face to face with the problem I wasn’t addressing, that I decided it was time I should figure out what I wanted for my life going forward. After all, I am a problem solver at heart. I was ‘the Fixer’. So I would fix myself, get clear on my goals and be on my merry way: exiting the company was one thing, leaving the city I disliked so, and stepping into the light. Yes, slightly romantic notions. So one morning, on my sofa in my beautiful apartment, looking over the Seine, I opened Shakti Gawain’s book at the scary section and finally started to do the work.

Out of a roughly three-hour writing session came out one particular vision that was truly unexpected. In the process of jotting down so many things on paper, addressing all areas of one’s life, a couple of amazing ideas came through, which linked my personal story, my interests in yoga and meditation, and were putting me on a path of service. I won’t get into more details, because I am still flushing it out, three years on, suffice to say, it was taking me out of the industry I knew and would require me to dig deep.

Where do you start, when you need to change your life around. Well, it’s like the classic question: how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time…

I started by resigning and making an interim plan that would take me out of corporate life and ideally out of the burnout zone, and out of Paris. I decided that freelance work would be best, because I could be in charge of my own time and hence could choose not to work full time — leaving space for studies and reading. These were things that seemed essential to guide my next steps towards future plans. Throughout this time, I experimented daily with various meditations, some guided, some on my own. Whether Loving Kindness, Vedic mantra meditation, contemplation, the practices all supported me and helped me get clear on my intentions. To follow a life that would be true to my heart, to connect with others with kindness and compassion, with openness and love, joy.

Words I had started using before leaving the job, which had left some team members slightly confused.

But big shifts push our buttons, fear creeping in throughout the day and mostly at night. The first few months were really hard, especially when like me, one is used to working relentlessly. I found myself feeling increasingly guilty when not at my desk from morning to night. Two years in now, I am only just starting to accept and enjoy the fact that my life does not need to be solely defined by work. Progress.

“Hard decision as are only hard when you are in the process of making them.” – Debbie Millman

Interestingly this change has created some issues in a couple of my friendships. Occasionally, I catch a glimpse of who I used to be. I see some friends completely immersed in their work, with not a second dedicated to their life, whether sentimental, intellectual or even their physical health. Our communication is sometimes strained, probably because they don’t understand what I am doing. I don’t participate so much in conversations where everyone explains how busy they are. 

Because I’m not that busy, I’m trying to make space for new things and I think it’s fantastic (most of the time, until I think there is something wrong with me…). Anyway, each to our own. I don’t want to judge them, after all I have been there and I cannot dislike this life, or what I did then, because it led me to who I am today. And I love where I am.

In any case, life has a funny way of putting the right things in front of you at the right time. This year I found myself enrolled in both a 200hour Yoga Teacher Training and Meditation & Mindfulness Teacher Training. Both of these are pillars of my dream vision and I am incredibly lucky to be receiving the teachings of these wonderful courses.

So I am studying, doing the work alongside freelance consulting, and as you can tell I am writing. All this being possible because of my Paris vision-writing home-workshop. Possible because I made space for what could happen, certainly helped by my meditation and mindfulness practices. Possible because I found some openness in myself and embraced the risk, trusting that I got this.

The Practice of Goal Setting:

I have encouraged many friends to try out Shakti Gawain’s method, but I would also like to recommend a few others. I tried these too and found they had their merits. For example, consider writing a 10 year essay, as explained by the wonderful Debbie Millman in her interview with Tim Ferris. Tim actually introduced the episode by saying to his listeners that to most of them this would be the most important podcast interview they would ever listen to. I concur! One of the most beautiful and heart-opening conversations I have ever heard.

I also greatly enjoyed how Deepak Chopra presented another method of getting clear goals in his book the “The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire”. I dearly hope that this will be of use to someone who, like me then, needed to be shown a way out of the known, and that you will be able to make the leaps your heart desires.

This article was originally published on Medium.com