Actionable Essence


I recall being asked once what I wanted to be when I grew up. Ya know what I said?

A witch.

Another time I said I wanted to be an artist.

And since I was always tumbling and performing, the circus seemed like a great fit.

Then I “grew up” and none of these options seemed realistic or profitable.

And so I tried to forget about the desires of a child.

But what if we didn’t have to forget? What if you could live all the lives you desire – no matter how far-fetched they may seem?

In her bestseller, Wishcraft, Barbara Sher explains that you needn’t pick just one life to live. In fact, you’ll have a much fuller and fulfilling life if you live each of your lives. Sher calls this idea your “five lives” and explains that there’s no reason you can’t live all of your lives – in this life you’re living right now.

I really love this book and have been particularly entranced by the idea of living all my lives right now. Each of us has many facets and abilities that bring us joy. And there’s no reason that we must pick one and follow it at all times, though conventional wisdom will try to tell you otherwise. Most of us are brought up with the idea that we need to find the one vocation we’re good at (or even worse yet can simply get hired for) and do that until the day we retire. The fact of the matter is, diversifying allows you to be better at all of your abilities. Even if only one of your “lives” earns money, it is still important to give time to the others as this will help you be a wholly improved person.

Since it may have been a long time since you allowed yourself to explore your many facets, it’s time for a little brainstorming. Make a list of the five lives you would live. These can be “real” professions or simply things that you really enjoy and would be fulfilled doing for an entire lifetime. Remember that this is the place to think only about what you really love, not if you could make money or if it’s a “real” career.

To give you an example, here’s the list I came up with:

1. 18th century philosopher
2. A witch/sorceress/magic healer
3. An old-time circus performer
4. A homesteader
5. An artist

Completing this list was fun in the way of self-discovery, but there didn’t seem any practical use for these lives. And I imagine that many of you will feel the same confusion upon looking at your list. Perhaps you love being near the mountains or walking on the beach and collecting seashells, but can’t see how to apply that to your life. That’s how I felt for several months after making my list.

And then I realized it’s all about actionable essence. You see each of your lives can be boiled down to its essence.

Essence is the attribute or set of attributes that make an object or substance what it fundamentally is

If your stumped about what the essence is for any of your lives try a little visualization. Imagine in great detail one day in a particular life, paying particular attention to parts that bring you joy. Write down these joyful moments and the essence of that life should be clear.

Now that you have the essence, it’s important to make it actionable. You need to take the essence of your ideal lives and find ways you can begin immediately incorporating it into your current life.

Let’s look at my actionable essences as an example:

As you can see, I found actions that I can incorporate into my life regardless of life circumstances (like where I live or how much money I have) and that I’m able to enact immediately. If you have any trouble making the essences actionable, just go back to your visualization and pick out actions that bring you joy in that life. Then find ways to incorporate these actions into your current life.

And for more information on the concept of the five lives (and other great topics) check out Wishcraft by Barbara Sher.

If you’ve already read the book leave a comment sharing one of your favorite parts of the book, because you know I love having discussions with other “philosophers” :) .

Also, I’d love to hear what lives you come up with, so please leave a comment sharing your list.