Paying Attention to the Inner Journey

There and Back Again

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
J.R.R. TolkienThe Lord of the Rings

Self-employment is a personal journey. You really have to overcome a great deal of your own hangup and weaknesses. Sometimes you can (and must) do that on the fly, busting down the walls that only you can see. Other times it requires deep introspection in order to bring forth that growth.

In my own case, I was startled to find that a lot of my personal “studies” were made a long time ago; either in school or shortly after. Nothing wrong with that– in fact, that’s the ideal time to do them. But I was dismayed to find that they had nearly stopped altogether. I still had things I was interested in, concepts and ideas and models that I wanted to explore, but that I hadn’t made the effort to study. I would read something, think it was really cool, write a note to myself to explore it “later” and then never get back to it. I was busy building businesses. Making a sustainable living for myself.

That’s what the priority is supposed to be, right?

Radical Self-Edification

But, stupid me, I realized that part of what made me a successful business person was the studies (self and otherwise) that I had made when I was younger. The deep research I had done on group dynamics, human motivation, organizational methods, cognitive biases, linguistic coding and much more, was responsible for a great deal of my success. And in my shortsightedness of making bank, I had neglected what I’ve come to call self-edification.

Self-edification is one of those delightful practices that seem dreadfully selfish and unproductive on the surface, but which are actually quite valuable. Potentially invaluable, but of course you can’t know that yet.

Self-edification is, at the most general scope, the pursuit of excellence for excellence’s sake, exploration for exploration’s sake, and reflection on knowledge and experience in order to live more fully and deeply.

What that looks like can differ a great deal from individual to individual. Because I’m a lover of words, writing is my métier. I need to not only do a thing, I need to examine it verbally. That’s how I learn, and that’s how I experience life, through language; a written journal. Other people might do it through art, through an artist’s notebook, and some people might not even need words at all (although I confess I don’t quite know how that works, I have know people who have done it.)

Being self-employed, there is a certain impulse to submerge myself into my business. I love it. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to do what I do and I’m grateful every day to be so privileged.

But when you have little to talk about other than business, that’s a concern. I know I didn’t used to be so one dimensional. I used to write about all sorts of things, but gradually I drifted to only writing things it “paid” to write. Instead of a gift I gave myself, writing became a form of currency.


And maybe some people get stuff all figured out and no longer need to do any self-examination, or learning, or experimentation. Maybe they don’t need to become aware of their habits and ways of thinking and weaknesses and strengths. Maybe they can go through life simply doing. But I can’t.

I also know that there’s stuff about me, and the world, that I still want to understand, non-work-related goals that I still want to achieve, and so on. When did I stop paying attention to those things? I’m not sure. But it’s been a while.

One of the weaknesses in Your Next 6 Months Forever that I mentioned, was that I show people how and why to envision and write down their personal goals at the 5-year and 1-year mark, and then I completely ignore them. I basically say, “So, you’re going to want to figure out how to accomplish these personal goals, but that’s not really something I can help you with. Try not to forget about them, though!”

Part of the reason I couldn’t help you with that is that I didn’t have a system myself to manage them. Treating personal goals like work goals is a good way to become a royal bitch, in my experience.

My Journey

To be honest, I’m not sure what triggered the realization that I really needed to focus on self-edification. I have told several clients about something called “kaizen journalling” which is an absolutely wonderful thing– it eventually became the backbone of my edification system. In part, I think, was that I started using Evernote and suddenly it seemed possible to have a well organized dashboard, a sort of virtual brain where I could keep all my plans and lists and dreams and research and spreadsheets. In the same way that Leonardo DaVinci’s notebooks could contain plans for helicopters and illustrations of physiology and notes on experiments and lists of things to pick up at the market and books he wanted to read– suddenly I had a place to do that and I realized that I wanted it, desperately.

It was like a thirst that I’d ignored for too long. It burst out of me and demanded my attention. All of it. it refused to be ignored. And soon, I was addicted. It enriched my life in ways I can’t even describe, and I can only imagine how much more valuable it will be after a few months or years.

Because, you see, I’m smart. I’ll admit it. I solve problems, I think profound thoughts, and I have tons of ideas. I do little tests all the time, as do other people, I think. But the question is never, “do you have knowledge?” it’s “what can you do with this knowledge that you’ve accumulated?”

I think far too often, people are moving swiftly from one goal to another, one situation or crisis to the next, without ever stopping to take inventory. What did I learn? How can that knowledge be applied elsewhere?

And what about the other side? Sometimes we get stuck in a rut. But self-reflection can help that. You can say, “What do I like about my life? What do I not like? What would I need to change to be really happy with where I’m at in twenty years?” And then, you can set little goals, make little experiment to see what works.

Right now, I’m testing to see what spending at least twenty minutes outside, every day, does for my life. (Preliminary results are feelings of contentment, more exercise, and a sense of well-being that permeates my days) Another test I’m doing is paying attention to my arousal levels to ensure that I am not over- or under-stimulated, as being in the sweet spot tends to trigger the flow state more effectively. I am also testing a henna shampoo to see if I can go red again without having to piss around with dyes and salons (Problem: I like having auburn hair. But I hate the cost, inconvenience and maintenance of dyeing. Henna shampoo is a possible solution I am testing.)

I feel so fucking alive. I am so conscious of my thoughts, of my experiences. I feel like I’m taking a far more hands-on approach in my life without having to be so calculating and driven as having business goals tends to make me. I have one friend who’s been blogging for 6 years. Nothing special, just his thoughts about whatever he’s reading. He says that his life, since he began, feels more vivid than before. He has a more fully developed inner life, more thoughts about his experiences, which of course make the experiences all the richer.

That’s what I want, too.

But more than that, I fully expect this sort of explosive consciousness-raising to have a marked effect in my business. I don’t know what that will be, yet, but I greatly suspect this habit is one that will spawn inspired business decisions, even aside from whatever lateral opportunities it brings me; I think self-edification is the sort of hard work that makes you lucky.

Your Turn

The system I’ve developed over the last little while when I dropped off the map is still a bit vague. I’ll tell you more about it later, if you’re interested. But I want to know, how vividly or consciously do you feel your experience of life is? Do you have some process of self-edification, or journaling? Do you think I sound like a pothead puffing on some wicked chronic? =P


37 thoughts on “Paying Attention to the Inner Journey”

  1. I love these kinds of posts, because instead of telling us what to try, you’re showing us.
    You already know I LOVE this stuff. I’ve had glimpses of how cool it could be (thank you, morning pages and weekly reviews). But I know there’s so much more I could do, if I can just figure out how and then make it a habit.
    I never understood, really, what the heck an “examined life” was or why I would want to live one until recently. Now I feel like I can’t get enough of this kind of thing.
    Also, thanks for the link 🙂

    1. @remadebyhand Thanks for the vote of confidence! I usually refrain from using *my specific example* because A) I’m the queen of overkill, and it can be intimidating and B)My way is not THE way, so I think it tends to make people think too much along one track.
      But yes, an examined life…is definitely Worth It.

      1. @Shanna Mann In moderation, though, examples can be so helpful. One of my problems is visualizing how some theory or other might look in practice. Once I have a concrete example to go from, I can adapt and experiment to my heart’s content. Having the example just helps me build a bridge from abstract to concrete, if you will.

        1. @remadebyhand  @Shanna Mann I love the examples too.  I find it so hard to grasp the abstract – do this and that.  I need to see it and feel it.  Shanna, what a post.  I felt like I was floating along on your thought stream and wondering, in an awe-inspiring way, where it might take me as a result of your self-reflection.  Thank you for going there!
          Self-edification, hm.  I think I am a mad mess when I don’t do it.  I find that writing, talking with CJ, and reading are my best ways.  As of late, we’ve been focusing on writing and not really reading.  I was rather disturbed about the not reading until one day I told myself, Hello, weirdo.  It’s not like you can’t pick up a book if you want.
          So glad to hear you’re in nature, Shanna.  I find that even just walking out our front door and sitting helps.  Just sitting with whatever happens to be out there.  Usually just me and my thoughts and a few cars zooming by, perhaps a rogue squirrel.  Thank you for sharing, and I’m so happy this actually came to my Inbox on its own!  I hope I am officially on the list!

        2. @tammyrenzi  @remadebyhand “Floating away on my thought stream” That’s a wonderful image, Tammy. That makes me feel better about a 1500 word ramble. And yes, of course you can pick up a book. It just feels weird to be so engaged and fulfilled elsewhere that something so integral fades into the background like it ain’t no thing.
          It’s made a big difference for me to decide, not to go outside and do something but to simply go outside. And then maybe do whatever I feel like. The distinction seems to be more important than I thought.

      2. @Shanna Mann  “My way”, “A way” or “The Way” is all in the wording, and fear not, I’ve never heard you say “Here’s THE way…”

  2. Well, you already know how I practice self-edification, Shanna. Spreadsheets and curating; my world’s greatest combination!
    As I read through this article and appreciated the change of tone and topic – from all about me (your reader) and business-y things to all about you (a big reason why I read Change Catalyst) and our entire existence – I smiled. I don’t read (most) blogs or pay attention to people exclusively because they have stuff that will help me. I normally do it because I feel a personal connection too, one that’s deepened when I read something like this. So please, continue doing these introspective posts from time-to-time. Because you can bring clarity for me at the same time you write about bringing clarity for yourself.
    I did notice a word choice in your post that I wanted to call out though. You talked about “submerge myself into my business” and perhaps you should aspire to emerse yourself instead. Both are directions you can go when floating on the water and observing the flow of your personal river. But you tend to go down instead of going up. Be that yo-yo! Show us that you can rise above and break free from a distorted view of the water. It’s a much clearer view from above the water than below the water anyway.
    And by the way, anyone who claims they have everything figured out and and no longer needs to do any self-examination or experimentation is someone I stay far, far away from. There may be people who legitimately achieve this, but maybe 1 out of 1,000 who claims it actually lives it.

    1. @joeyjoejoe immerse does seem to be a better word choice than submerge… but it took quite a bit of flailing last night before I was able to even call to mind that word. I was deeply embarrassed by all the typos I found this morning when I read it over. 
      I’m glad you liked the change of pace.

  3. Our blog and book has made living extremely vivid.  Everything we are writing is about us so self-edification is a natural part of the process.  In many cases, we had no idea we’d accomplished so much or so little or how or when.  But writing it down, examining it and reviewing each other’s work has been totally enlightening and has made us feel more alive than ever.
    Glad you’re back and with a stunner of a post. No, you do not sound like a pothead, unless of course you speak of one of those geniuses who puffed a bit to churn out their best work.

      1. @Shanna Mann  So nice of you to say, Shanna. The edification part only began about 6 or 7 years ago. I don’t know what the hell we were doing prior to that.

        1. @cjrenzi  Isn’t that always a good question – “What the hell was I doing before that?” It seems to slip completely off the radar / out of one’s personal history, once ya find something that’s so much better.
          ~ Probably trying to live the standard ladder-slog “dream” that we were all sold as kids…

        2. @Karen J Standard ladder-slog. Now there’s one for the fridge. An honest questioning of past habits and philosophies has been a great tool for avoiding Erin’s plumbs.

        3. @Karen J  @cjrenzi It’s a typo. She talked about plums awhile back, and how disappointing they always were. So she made a rule “no buying plums, no matter how delicious they look.”

        4. @Karen J @Shanna Mann Sorry for the typo!!!  And thanks Shanna for helping with this!  Here’s the link Karen if you have not already found the post.  It’s one of my faves that I’ve read of Erin’s:

  4. Love this, Shanna. I’m all for living an examined and conscious life, and I think it’s cool that you’re realizing that you don’t feel fulfilled if you let your personal projects get swept under the rug while you focus on business. In fact, it’s probably what drew me to you way back in our IL days. (What was that… like two years ago?!) Kudos for kaizen, and getting outside, and all of that fabulous stuff. I honestly believe this kind of inquiry and experimentation is the only viable path to happiness… (something I’m working on both personally and maybe as a future offering…)

  5. Writing in general has made me more conscious. Both journaling and blogging. I get distracted easily and I’m always in a rush, so writing helps me slow down and savor the details a whole lot better.
    And no, you don’t sound like a pothead, lol. Self-edification, as you call it, is very relateable. I welcome more posts on this topic 🙂

    1. @deniseurena I’d love to hear how you make yourself slow down, Denise. Sometimes I feel like it would be easier if someone tied me to a chair. 
      I’m glad for so many votes for self-edification!

  6. I really don’t know anything other than self edification. I write, I talk, I swing a racket, or I sing. It’s all the same for me. The cycle of edification that works best for me is Pause and Reflect > Make a goal > Do it > Repeat. Getting caught up in any one of those places kills the learning, and as for Flow, setting goals is the best way I know to find Flow. So I wonder why this is true for you: “Treating personal goals like work goals is a good way to become a royal bitch, in my experience.”

    1. @PilotFire I find it difficult to maintain any sort of balance in the pursuit of a goal, and I never have only one goal at once. So while one or two things can enjoy my single-minded focus, and I’m okay, once I start thinking, “Ok, I’m going to do this home-improvment project, and I’m going to work for at least three hours a week with colored pencils, and I’m going to log at least ten miles a week” those are the thoughts that wind me up because it IS all too easy to focus on them, most likely to the detriment of sleep and relationships. And then I get overwhelmed, and feel guilty for neglecting my relationships AND not living up to my goals. And that’s what makes me bitchy. 
      I spend a good bit of time just massaging the Type A out of my intentions lest it throttle me.

      1. @Shanna Mann Yes Indeedy. Type A behavior is hard to crack, and while the seeds of it lie way beneath the goals, I find the nature of the goals can effect everything about how we behave. I have a student who thinks of goals as measuring sticks for her future failures. 
        How about a goal to get to bed by a certain time on a certain day? A goal to schedule lunch at the park with a friend? Those are more realistic and you get to call them complete. I have a hard time with every day or every week goals because they do set you up for failure. I like the short term goals you check off and you’re done. Those are the ones that keep me focused on the stuff that’s most important instead of focussing on some fantasy of achievement.

        1. @PilotFire I don’t mind short-term goals. I like having short tasks to do that give me a sense of accomplishment. But most of what I want to achieve requires a sustained change that is more or less permanent. And those tend to require daily focus and implementation for at least a month, and you have to strike a balance between “Yes, it’s healthy for me to skip my workout because I’m better off with a long bath and an early night” and “No, I can’t skip my workout just because I’m tired or want to do something else.” Goals, while giving me a definitive target, tend to make me rigid and inflexible when it comes to making those kinds of good decisions.

  7. michaelwroberts

    This weekend I read two books. That never happens for me. I feel pretty proud when I finish a book over any period of time, but I got started on these books that both touched parts of me profoundly and I finished them in a single day each.
    Reading is becoming my self-edification. It’s what keeps the words flowing and my inspiration alive in so many areas of my life right now.

    1. @michaelwroberts I love books. I started keeping a simple list last year of what I read, because a) it actually incentivized me to read more, not blogs and forums and b) it was cool to look over everything I’d read and finally c) it was a lot easier to find the name and author to recommend them to others. After about a month, I can’t remember names for shit.

    2. @michaelwroberts I have so much trouble competing with the allure of the internet reading sources, podcasts, soundgecko, and other streams of information. It seems that I only ever read when I’m on vacation or away from my normal routine, and I always love the feeling and inspiration I get from it. This is really making me want to build in specific time to my day for reading.

  8. I’m soooo happy to see you back in the land of “eclectic interests”, my dear!!!
    The ‘business-oriented’ posts have been interesting and useful, to be sure, but I was seriously missing your philosophical wanderings and life-observations (and the set of commenters who seem to have wandered away, too).
    And this reminder not to become one-dimensional is timely, as well.
    I’m adding “get outside at least 20 minutes a day” to my so-called-schedule (and “going to the grocery store” doesn’t count! {unless I’m walking…}).
    Bright Blessings, and Happy Wandering ~  Karen

  9. Self-edification . . . sounds dirty.  I like it.
    But you’re absolutely right. A little self-reflection from time to time is a must. We’ll never figure out just where the hell we’re going if we never stop to look back on where we’ve been.
    Writing is great medium for that kind of reflection, but there are many others as well. All that matters is that we find what works for us. Whatever helps us get our shit together.
    Because unless we have a clear grasp of what we want in life . . . who we want to be, and just who the fuck we actually are, we’ll never get anywhere.
    Nowhere worth going anyway.
    I’m glad I found your blog Shanna (thanks to our Hoombah friends). You write some pretty deep stuff over here. I like “sweary and edgy” and all that good shit.

    1. @Trevor Wilson Well, Trevor, if you came in via the Renzis, you must be Good People =)
      What are the other mediums for self-reflection, in your opinion? I have to admit, I’m such a writer I have quite a blind spot in that regard.

  10. Oh how lovely, just as I am climbing out of my groundhog-like hole, I see someone else popping up as well!
    This is the THIRD, I say, 3rd, post I have read today while catching up on Feedly (yech) after a few weeks, that sticks a pushy finger in my face to say: JUST FRIGGIN TRY IT (did I catch your lingo enough, Shanna?? 😉 So obviously the Universe is trying to tell us something, yes? Experiment and Evolve, and then evaluate… I’m glad this whole ‘become your truest self’ process isn’t supposed to be an overnight one, because… I think I’m halfway through Year Two! And in some great company, I might add… @Shanna Mann @remadebyhand @sarahemily …

    1. @MargaretTLT  It’s totally a process that everyone experiences. Not everyone is conscious of it or upfront about it though. I’m afraid to think about what year I’m on….

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