My Journey to Intentionality

It was a little after 7am on April 5, 2013. It was the 5th day of my exciting new role at JPMorgan Chase at their New York City headquarters. I remember staring out the window on the 32nd floor as I had everyday that week. It was a nice little treat being situated by the window, so that I could take in as much sunlight as possible. But little did I know that my life was about to change forever.

I got a phone call to my desk, which was odd for 7am; it was my aunt (mother’s sister) who had informed me that my parents had been in a highway accident for the bus trip they sponsored for kids to visit Hampton University’s open house. It felt like my aunt had something more to say but wouldn’t. I told her I’d give her a ring back after calling my parents. To be honest, I assumed it was something minor. I called both my parents on their cell phones, over and over again. No answer.

I called my aunt back and her voice was cracking. She said “Isa, the accident….the accident, it was really bad.” Fast forward about 30 minutes, I’m on the phone with the Virginia State Trooper who informed me that my parents were ejected from the front window of the bus after it ran off a straight road and flipped over–he then continued on to tell me that my father did not survive, and that my mother had been airlifted to a hospital in the region.

In that moment, I didn’t have the framework for how my life just shifted, but that was the start to my journey to intentionality. Pretty abruptly, I realized life is  much shorter than I ever thought –and I did not want to spend one day on this planet complacent in unhappiness, stress, or being unfulfilled. One discovery, one shift at a time, over the last ten years, I’ve unlocked what I believe are powerful tools of intentionality to help me center my joy.

The first change I made after my dad’s sudden passing was being more intentional with my friendships; I invested more time and effort into my friendships than I ever had before. I quickly learned these connections were an undeniable source of joy. This extends to building strong relationships with my godchildren, and any relationship where I feel love and compassion. There isn’t a week, or even a few days, that goes by without me speaking to my friends on the phone or making time to catch up with them in person. It refuels my tank in ways that I did not know was possible.

The second change I made was to incorporate purpose into my work. While my time at JPMorgan Chase was a great experience, it wasn’t feuling my greater purpose in life. “Isa, your job is to share your blessings with as many people as you can while you’re on this planet because your time is limited,” my dad used to always share with me. This became much clearer to me years into my tenure at JPMorgan Chase. I saw the impact social media was having on our society, and the disconnection it was driving. I, too, had experienced extreme loneliness because I was conflating consumption of social media with true connection. So I left to start Squad as a solution to empower deeper , easier and fun connections between friends. That’s not to say that you can’t work on Wall Street, and be “intentional” in life; but that was not the path for me.

The third change I made was to master the art of refueling, and setting boundaries. As a kid, my dad would wake me up at 5am nearly everyday to study. I am an early riser who will work hard throughout the day until I pass out (basically). I did that on repeat for years until my body shut down. It forced me to learn balance, how to slow the depletion of my tank, and how to refuel through intentional activities. I tried many things, such as meditation, journaling, exercise, outside walks, and time with friends. I would find the assortment of activities that worked for me at that time. But it shifts, and changes. Now, I skydive.. And it is the most meditative thing that I do. Yes, yes I know what you’re thinking. “How is jumping out of a plane meditative?!? Please explain!” Well, skydiving is a perspective setting activity where my focus is not shared with anything else. It is the relaxing, mental health reset that I need every other week. On the boundaries side, I became very intentional about managing the space around me–my emotional space, my personal space. I don’t engage with people who engender negative energy. I don’t engage with people who disrupt my spirit. And I don’t absorb the task of proving anything to anybody. It is no one’s job to protect my peace but my own; when I made that a priority, I sat in a much greater state of mental prosperity. Some folks take that as standoffish–or mean–but I am unapologetic about preserving my peace and centering my joy. After all, I don’t owe anyone anything. I am kind, I am respectful–and beyond that, I will engage more if I feel the interaction is a net positive for my spirit.

Lastly, I’ve completely changed my relationship with technology. I don’t sleep with my phone near me. I don’t get on my phone within an hour of waking up. I don’t scroll Instagram or TikTok. Like when you start a new healthy diet, my mind just felt more clear and free. I refuse to allow my phone (or technology) to be the center of my life. That’s not living, that’s existing–and my life is too valuable to just exist.

In today’s America,

  • 3 in 5 teenage girls feel “persistently sad, lonely or hopeless” (CDC)
  • Half of U.S. adults reported experiencing measurable levels of loneliness (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
  • Suicides (adult and teens) reached an all time high in 2022 (CDC)

What’s going to save us is intentionality. I define intentionality as using the potential of our minds and power of our actions to live a life rooted in joy; I believe the more we sharpen that tool in our toolkit, the more joy we’ll unlock joy in our lives.  My vision for the Day of Intentionality–launching on September 20, 2023–is to elevate the conversations around how we center our joy, and remind us that we have the power to do so. There is always going to be more that we can do and achieve; there is always going to be another distraction, or reason that we can feel bad about where we are in life. But a little intentionality can go a long way as it pertains to living a life where we feel happy (again).


  • Isa Watson is the founder and CEO of Squad, author of ‘Life Beyond Likes’ and creator of the Day of Intentionality