Have you ever made pros and cons lists about a job or relationship? Have you ever thought, It’s over. I’m done. I can’t do this anymore?
Have you ever laid awake at night, struggling with worry, doubt, or restless dissatisfaction?
I certainly have. My job is to make meaning out of just that kind of messiness. As partner and head of brand strategy at the storied advertising agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, I guide companies through chaos, complexity, and confusion, helping them uncover the essence of what matters to them and translating that into clear and actionable strategies.
And yet in 2010, I lost sight of it for myself. On the outside, my life looked picture perfect. Inside, I was completely depleted.
I was married to a handsome, emotionally present man. We lived in a one-of-a-kind house at the edges of wine country in Northern California. I was mother to three young children and had just returned to run one of our agency’s biggest accounts. I was drowning and full of unbearable questions. Is my husband the right partner for me? Are marriage, parenting, and life supposed to be this hard? Do I have what it takes to hold this big life? What if the answer is ‘no’?
To get to the essence of what I really wanted, I needed to cut through the clutter of my own confusion—to clearly and boldly declare what I wanted so that I could act on it. And for it to be meaningful and genuinely motivating, I had to make it sticky and brief. So, I reached for the tools I knew so well from my professional life and set about writing my first Life Brief. It would go on to save my marriage, recenter my parenting, and propel my career.
What exactly is a life brief?
The most important tool used by every strategist and creative agency is what’s known as a “creative brief.” This single-page, single-minded document concisely yet vividly captures a company’s essence and ambition. Great briefs distill complex problems into sharp and sticky strategies that focus our attention, unlock solutions, and inspire action.
When drafting creative briefs, strategists use questions to uncover clarity about the essential building blocks of a brand. The flow of these questions on a single page pushes you to connect the dots and culminates in a single-minded strategic idea for a company’s future direction.
The Life Brief is, at its simplest, a creative brief for your life.
But because you’re not a brand, the Life Brief doesn’t follow the same format as the creative briefs we write for brands. What we’re aiming for here are five clear, bold, declarative statements about what you want in the areas of your life that matter most, summed up in a sharp and sticky phrase that you can use to guide your decisions and drive your actions.
Ultimately, the Life Brief is a practice of alignment between who you are, what you believe, and how you live—one that begins with that crucial question: What do you really, really want?
The Life Brief has three distinct parts: Get Messy, Get Clear, and Get Active. The first phase, Get Messy, guides you through the disarray and confusion clogging your mind, blocking you from realizing what’s underneath: your sacred soul desires. It gives you the space to explore what you really, really want with honesty so that you can be present with what arises. Getting Messy will help you identify the brilliant and deeply personal “threads” of your life—your unique collection of values, beliefs, and desires—and shake them all out onto the table, using questions and creative exercises to stoke, stimulate, and cajole them into expression.
Once you’ve given yourself permission to Get Messy, the next step is to sort and separate what matters from what doesn’t. Getting Clear is about working with the vibrant yet chaotic pile of threads you’ve collected when Getting Messy—to understand the role each plays in your life so that you can weave them together into a beautiful tapestry. This stage is a process of distilling, sharpening, and zeroing in on the essence of what you want—then pushing it to its boldest place.
Finally, Getting Active is where we walk the walk of our Briefs, harnessing our personal agency and understanding that it is we who are the creators of our lives, not our circumstances. This is where the dance between you and the world takes place. You’ll see how your actions invite new reactions and interactions from people around you. This is a dance where tiny movements generate huge effects, where surprising outcomes are revealed in serendipitous ways.
The Life Brief is designed to light you up and awaken parts of yourself that have been dormant. It asks you to use muscles you may not have used in a while. So, if Getting Messy is hard, know that Getting Clear is just around the corner. If taking action is overwhelming, remember that you only have to take one step at a time.
This all may sound simple, but it’s a transformative process. In order to get to statements that are focused, specific, and above all, penetratingly honest, we first need to go wide—with warm-ups, exercises, reflective prompts, and questions designed to unlock your curiosity, creativity, and clarity.
Writing your Life Brief will help you fight back against your impulse to settle for a life full of agonizing what-ifs. It will help you fight back against the fear of what you might find on the other side of your mess. On the other side of fear is hope. And just beyond that hope is the change you’ve been searching for.
Excerpted from THE LIFE BRIEF: A Playbook for No-Regrets Living. Copyright @ 2024 by Bonnie Wan. Reproduced by permission of Simon Element, and imprint of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.