Each person is elemental. No one else is like you. Your life, times, and biology combine to give you a unique view and experience of every moment you encounter. It is your right – and depending on how you value yourself – your responsibility to develop your distinctiveness and add it to the diverse interactions which shape society. There are two phases to this process (discovery and expansion), and they should be engaged iteratively throughout your life.

Let the Discovery Begin

In the first phase (discovery) you take stock of who you are, what you know, and experiences you’ve had. Preparation is an essential component to introspection. The more you free up your mind to focus your attention, the better the outcome. Reducing the noise of your life a challenge depending on how you live day to day. Preparation might involve meditation, exercise, and clearing time to begin the inventory – admittedly a challenge with work pressure and attention-robbing demands of today’s always-on society. Going into the discovery process intentionally is key; if you admit that you are investing in yourself, this process deserves first-class status among all of the activities you undertake. Set yourself up for success with a distraction-free environment and period, at the time of day when your thinking is at its best (for me this is first thing in the morning, while my wife tends to work best in the later part of the day). If you have a system for organizing your attention and accomplishing your tasks day to day (e.g. Pomodoro Technique, GTD, etc.) this should fit in as another to-do item.

The goal of discovery is an inventory which can be validated and then used later on to develop a plan to improve what you know and experience, or to identify areas of growth. A stream-of-consciousness diary is a good first place to start and uncover what you know, what you think of what you know, and importantly, how you feel about your skills and experiences. If you are giving yourself full permission to turn your attention inward, it can be frightening to really see yourself and access the internal monologue that may have been playing subconsciously in the background (this is where I often come face to face with my impostor syndrome). External tools can help here either for initial discovery or refining what you discover; skills tests, counseling, conversations with friends or peers, even blogging can give further insight and most importantly some validation. (NB: if you are working through mental illness, trauma, or are in treatment already, you might want to only undertake this process with full awareness from your counselor. Remember to use the support systems that you have – that’s why you have them!).

Expand Your Horizons

Once you have your catalog of abilities and experiences the exercise of expansion can begin in earnest. This part of the intropreneurial journey can take many paths. Which path one takes comes down to personal motivation and desired outcome. I like to work backwards from an action-focused outcome. For example, rather than say “I will learn conversational French in six months,” I am more motivated by “I will have a basic conversation in French in six months.” For a PHP developer looking to modernize their skills, rather than say “I will learn TDD by [some date],” they might say, “I will deliver an app in the next six months using TDD.” Language – the language we use for intentions – matters! It is also important to step back from the goal and put into place a system for measuring progress. The SMART framework can be a valuable approach, and depending on one’s level of discipline, it may help (or be outright vital) to be accountable to a friend or colleague, or to use a motivation app (there are literally dozens out there) – this may be more comfortable if you are struggling with impostor syndrome or other forms of crippling self-doubt (there are literally dozens out there).

The wonderful thing about the intropreneurial process is that even if you fail to complete the goal – or to really work on it at all – you are regardless left with valuable insight into who you are, what you can achieve, how you set goals, etc. Lean into that insight at the conclusion of your timeframe and use these insights as you dive back into the discovery phase. Over time this cycle can become a dependable adventure, and a review of your discovery diary entries should reveal new skills and new experiences, which will serve as further motivation to expand your horizons even more.

Each of us brings a unique mix of motivation, experience, and bias to every decision and situation we encounter. We owe it to each other but especially to ourselves to focus some energy on deepening and broadening these things that make us who we are.