The Life Brief: A Playbook for No-Regrets Living

The Life Brief: A Playbook for No-Regrets Living

by Bonnie Wan
The Life Brief: A Playbook for No-Regrets Living

The Life Brief: A Playbook for No-Regrets Living

by Bonnie Wan

Hardcover

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Overview

“If you want to be happier, you should write a Life Brief.” —Fast Company

“A brilliant companion on the road to more aliveness. This book is a wonderful invitation. Take it.” —Dave Evans #1 New York Times bestselling author of Designing Your Life

Life is a creative act. Let The Life Brief guide you to creating the life of your dreams.

We all have moments when we doubt the path we’re on. Is this the career for me? Am I in the right relationship? Is this as good as it gets? These questions can feel uncomfortable without a method for uncovering the answers.

Enter The Life Brief, a simple yet effective playbook for navigating life’s decisions, crossroads, and curve-balls. Modeled after the creative brief, a tool used by the most innovative companies in the world to unlock clarity and unleash action, The Life Brief carves a path for living with intention and imagination.

Designed by leading brand strategist Bonnie Wan, The Life Brief is a practice in three parts: The first phase, Get Messy, is a set of open-ended writing prompts that cut through limiting beliefs and false assumptions about what’s possible. The second phase, Get Clear, offers prompts for finding clarity around what you truly, deeply want. The third phase, Get Active, catapults you into the steps to making those desires a reality.

This is a practice for unpacking complexity with curiosity, shifting attention to drive action, and challenging the limiting beliefs that create friction in your life. This powerfully adaptive tool has transformed thousands of lives, from refining career paths to repairing relationships, rediscovering passion to cutting through overwhelm. Don’t let another moment pass you by. Discover The Life Brief and unlock your path today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982195502
Publisher: S&S/Simon Element
Publication date: 01/16/2024
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 144,730
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

AdAge’s 2022 Chief Strategy Officer of the Year, Bonnie Wan has helped the world’s most iconic brands align with their essential virtues using a tool called a creative brief. So, when she found herself on the precipice of her own deep dissatisfaction and doubt, Wan turned that same tool inward. What emerged was The Life Brief, a profound practice that she and thousands of others have turned to over and over. This is a strategic practice for connecting deeply to the things that create meaning, spark joy, and make life worth living. Don’t let another moment pass you by: Discover The Life Brief and find your path today.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Sitting with the Mess I am ready to... drop into myself.

The question: Where do I start?

The practice: Surrender to your fear.

The action: Find Your Quiet.

That long night in my childhood bedroom was my moment to get the chaos out of my brain and onto the page.

I cried and I wrote. I scribbled and underlined, tore out pages, and kept writing. After an hour, I was exhausted, but had a confident feeling that this was the first step. I had to sit in my mess, without avoiding or denying it, in order to gain clarity on what I really wanted... what mattered most.

Practicality be damned; fear be double damned. The only way through the misery was to be uncompromisingly honest with myself, without putting boundaries on my needs. What could my life look like if I stopped dictating what was unrealistic or impossible before I’d even tried it? What could my future look like if I dared to admit what I wanted and needed without fear or shame?

I had placed boundaries on my life based on beliefs that Chip didn’t want the same things I did, that we were tethered to our existing way of life, that I could only do my job the way it had always been done by others before me, with no room to consider anything different.

But were these beliefs real? Or had my fear dreamed them up?

Many of us are hostages to fear. It’s one of our primary boundaries, what holds us back from the life we want. We fear change. We fear disappointing others or ourselves. We fear that the answers to our own questions will create disruption from which we will never recover.

Fear limits the possibilities of alternative stories and outcomes. It makes the path forward seem impossibly narrow, our lives and worlds oppressively small.

Yet getting curious about the fear is the fastest way to unshackle its binds. Accepting, embracing, and reflecting on it—rather than denying or running from it—allows life to unfold in unexpected and unimaginable new ways.

So, I faced my fears head-on. The scary stuff came out first, the anxious stories and raw emotion: fears about the way I’d shut Chip out when I was stressed, anger at how little control I seemed to have over my life and my time.

This isn’t working.

Our family is going to fracture and fall apart.

I’ve pushed him away one too many times to ever bring him back.

Then out came a lot of “if only” dreams—followed quickly by the reasons they could never happen.

If only I could quit my job and have more time with the kids. But we’ll be forced to sell the house and ask our parents for support.

If only we could move somewhere more affordable. But Chip will never go for it—he loves our community, as do I. Besides, the agency will never allow it. On and on I went, until I ran out of worries and worst-case scenarios. After I put my pen down and took a deep breath, I felt something I hadn’t felt in a while.

I felt space.

Something fascinating happens when you face your deep fears and intense emotions—when you bring them out of your mind and onto the page. You see them for what they are: stories that are often distorted or disconnected from reality. Capturing them on the page somehow took their power away.

Not only that. I’d cleared up space in my mind for something else I hadn’t felt in a long time—curiosity.

It was then I asked myself: What if I could live my life in line with what matters most to me? And almost immediately, another question arose: Do I even know what matters most to me?

I didn’t, not at first. No words came. But when I asked myself again, I found they wouldn’t stop.

I scribbled furiously across the page, rewriting words and adding new phrases. What do I really want? That was the insistent question driving my mind. In my heart of hearts, what do I really, really want? I vomited every feeling out onto the page.

I’m not sure how much time passed. I was too swept up in the writing. But at a certain point, I dropped my pen, and that’s when I knew I was done.

I was empty—but in a good way, the way you feel after a challenging hike or after sitting down to a meal you’ve spent all day cooking. I’d let it all out. And when I read through my scribbles, an insight and pattern surfaced—a linchpin to everything I craved... the gulf standing between me and all that mattered most in my life, at that moment. What kept coming up, emerging as a theme, and the missing link across everything I longed for—written in various angles on the page, in letters big and small, underlined, and circled—was

TIME

Here’s what I ended up with, the five things I allowed myself to admit that I wanted.

THE ORIGINAL LIFE BRIEF: WHAT I REALLY, REALLY WANT

  • Time with my kids, my husband, and for myself
  • Time to lean into work that fulfills my unique strengths and gifts
  • Time to create an inspiring and loving home for our growing family
  • Time to travel and expose our family to the many facets of humanity
  • Time to actively participate in a community that shares our values


I looked down at this list, exhausted yet elated.

I had done what had seemed impossible for so long: I had turned my agitation, frustration, and despair into a clear and tangible portrait of the life I wanted and needed. More critically, it was a bare, honest declaration, to myself, of what mattered to me and only me.

I sat back and studied the words I’d scrawled on the page. Two realizations came to me. The first was that the stress and terror I felt over the decline in my marriage could be a symptom of something far less severe than the story I was telling myself. I had been gripped by anxiety that I’d married the wrong person and that we were incapable of building a satisfying life together. But when I finally allowed myself to examine the strife surrounding my marriage, I saw something extraordinary. My Life Brief was telling me a different story than my fear had been telling me for so long.

In my heart, I was craving more time with my husband. But not just more time—more meaningful time. My Brief cut away the assumptions that my marriage was in trouble and redirected my focus to how I spend my time.

The second realization was that what I wanted most was neither extravagant nor extreme. My desire for more time was stunningly simple. Yet, it was out of my immediate grasp.

The art of the Life Brief is to cut away things that are misleading or distracting—doubts, drama, thoughts, and fears that weigh us down, fail to inspire, or detract from the essence of what matters most. When you cut that away, you create a clearing, so that you can zero in and redirect your mind, center your heart, and focus your attention. It’s here in this place where clarity appears, and change begins. Shining a light on what’s essential puts you on the path towards your unadulterated, most audacious vision.

The Life Brief becomes your constant reminder of that vision, easy to remember because it’s sharp and sticky and motivating. It’s a key that unlocks new ways of seeing your life, your relationships, your work, yourself. Once you learn to see your world and your choices through the lens of the Life Brief, it’s hard to unsee. And that’s when everything shifts—your attention, your decisions, your words, your actions.

My first Life Brief was the widest brief I’ve ever written. It captured everything I needed in my life at that moment in big strokes. I typed up my Brief and texted it to Chip explaining what I’d gone through, how I felt.

Seconds after I sent the text, it hit me that I hadn’t texted or called him yet on this trip. Years ago, that would have been unthinkable—but now it was just par for the course to go long stretches without really communicating.

I felt a flood of fear coming back. It was after midnight by that point. He was probably already asleep, and when he woke up, there would be three kids who needed to be dressed, fed, and whisked off to school. No way was he going to be in the headspace for this...

Just as I started to doubt what would happen next, I saw those three dots on my phone turn into three letters, all caps, followed by three exclamation marks.

YES!!!

He’d read the Life Brief and resoundingly agreed. What a high, after months of struggle and fighting, cold silences, and unrelenting stress. A simple all-caps, triple-exclamation-mark “yes.” This moment of confirmation and alliance was a spark of hope for me—for us.

Of course, practical concerns flooded in right away. How would we go about making this our life? The Life Brief wasn’t a bucket list. It was fundamental and urgent. It couldn’t wait for the next promotion, the next big client, or the next birthday—we needed to start now.

Then the phone rang. It was him. Soon, we were having the first heart-to-heart we’d had in ages. What I remember most about that conversation is the purity of aliveness and desire to connect—a sense of electricity we hadn’t felt during the long winter of our cold spell. It was as if we had both come out of hibernation.

And though there were hundreds of miles between us, I felt right there with my husband for the first time in months. Where there had been silence, suddenly, we were both teeming with eagerness. I could hear the crack in his voice that told me how much this mattered to him. His voice was deep and resonant as he shared his dreams about the kind of community we could participate in or create, the kind of school he hoped to find for our kids—you know, the way people speak when heart and voice are aligned.

Right there on the phone, sometime between two and three in the morning, we made each other two promises: first, that we would be willing to move our family if we needed to; second, that we wouldn’t let our fears about money—or, more specifically, the lack thereof—scare us off from making change.

This first Life Brief inspired us to go “off-road” from society’s definitions of a “good life” to carve our own path. Once we realized we could reconceive our priorities and agreed that we would reorganize our lives with our Brief at the center, we became united and energized in a way we had not previously experienced in our marriage. And after that night, when either of us became deflated or flirted with defeat (which definitely happened), we would remind each other, in just a couple words, of our first Life Brief: “Take Our Time.”

Those simple words, “Take Our Time,” helped us return to our vision whenever we needed. It was a shorthand to remind ourselves and each other of the life we wanted to build for ourselves and our kids. It gave us a way to organize and prioritize our choices and actions. More importantly, the alignment between us redirected our attention away from our critiques about each other, and towards a united view of the life we were energized to create for our family and future.

Our attention shifted away from the usual distractions, and we spent our small slivers of free time trying on ideas, energized by our newfound clarity and alignment. With our sights set on making changes that would allow us the time we needed, I felt a sudden freedom to consider options and opportunities that had never crossed my mind as possibilities.

Without that tear- and snot-stained first Life Brief, I would have never dared to imagine what else our lives could be. I would have told myself, No, it’s unrealistic, or talked myself out of taking a leap. Many Life Briefs (and moves!) later, the Life Brief has become my central decision-making and life manifestation method.

The Life Brief is your chance to think beyond how things are and give space to explore how you want them to be. I encourage you to put nothing short of your everything into your Life Brief—to fully embrace how messy it can get. This book is meant to be handled and dog-eared. Stains from your wineglass or coffee mug will dot the pages. Highlight, take notes, and scribble in the columns. Keep it with you wherever you need it, until you realize you are actively living it.

This is your moment to start seeing differently, so that you can start acting differently.

That is what creative, courageous living is all about.

Now, if you’re ready, I invite you to ease into your Life Brief—with a simple practice that will help you drop into yourself. If the idea of exercises or action steps stresses you out... if it feels like homework or busywork—or any kind of work at all—have no fear. This first action isn’t technically an action at all. Instead, it’s permission to stop doing.

(Yep, I know. Easier said than done.)

When I teach workshops, I give people a little plastic red egg of Silly Putty to play with while I speak. Yes, Silly Putty—the kind we played with as kids. I ask them to take the putty into their hands and squeeze it. Warm it up. Feel the sensation of the stretchy, rubbery, doughlike substance running through their fingers.

I do this to get people to drop into the present moment, to let go of their thoughts—the text they just sent, the rent due next month, the decision or deadline fast approaching. There’s a science behind this. Tuning in to our physical senses takes us out of our minds and brings us into the moment.

Turning down the volume on the noise that surrounds us and getting present with ourselves is essential to the Life Brief process. Our minds are incredible theaters but also traps, separating us from the life unfolding right in front of us. We live in a time where we could, if we wanted to, avoid all quiet. We doom scroll late into the night and binge-watch early into the morning. The distractions are infinite—we couldn’t even get through a fraction of it in a lifetime.

So, before you go any further, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Feel the air enter your nostrils. Follow it as it fills your lungs and inflates your abdomen. Relish the release as it flushes back out of your belly, and out of your body. Repeat again and then once more.

Drop down into the quiet of this moment.

Note: this isn’t a formal meditation where you’re trying to train the mind to be still. What I mean by “your quiet” are those moments when you are fully present with yourself, when you’re not giving your energy to anything or anyone else.

Ask yourself, what does your quiet look like? When and where does it show up? Or, when and where can you create space for it to show up?

For me, it’s the twenty minutes I lie in bed before the day begins, luxuriating in my thoughts before I enter the first sprint of the day. Sure, there are emails to answer, lunches to make, a day to plan. But this time has become too valuable for me to give it away—it’s when I’m most connected to my creativity, I receive my biggest aha’s, land my sharpest ideas, and untangle my trickiest problems. My quiet is my strategic advantage.

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