My husband, dog, and I are currently living in our converted campervan for 3 ½ months. To make this possible, we are location-independent entrepreneurs. I have been self-employed for the last two years. My husband quit his job at the end of February so that we could hit the road.
You may be thinking, “Wow. They must be fearless go-getters to make such a significant life change.”
I’d like to disabuse you of that notion. We are some of the most risk-averse people you will ever meet. Not only do we have a plan B. We also have a plan C, D, E, F… and so on.
What made this possible for us is that we didn’t immediately jump from step one to step one hundred. We experimented. We tried things out. We learned and adjusted.
We took so many small actions that led to bigger actions. We got to the point where this large lifestyle change no longer felt like a bit scary leap. It simply felt like the logical next step.
This approach has helped so many others take bold action to improve their lives.
Marni, a coaching client, in service to designing a radical life, sold her house in Los Angeles and moved into an RV to travel the country. She worked remotely in her business while enjoying the outdoors.
After a year, she decided that she loved full-time travel, but didn’t love doing it in an RV as much as she thought she would. So, she sold the RV and has since spent time living in Australia, and Colorado, and is currently spending the next few months in Portugal.
None of these changes happened overnight, and all were successful experiments. Marni experimented and tested RV living before deciding to go full-time. Living full-time in the RV was simply another experiment that she could learn from to move forward.
She didn’t jump from living in one location to full-time travel. She experimented along the way.
That’s what today’s post is about – Experimentation. It’s how you move from ideas, no matter how big, to concrete action. Experimentation is how you get unstuck.
Why You Need to Experiment
When you think about an experiment, your first thoughts may bring you to a lab with beakers and combinations of different chemicals.
Experiments can include a lab, but they don’t have to.
An experiment is simply trying out a new thing or a new way of doing things, making a discovery, or testing a hypothesis.
Before diving into the process, let’s talk about why experimenting is important.
1. Human beings are terrible at predicting what will make us happy.
First, human beings are notoriously terrible at predicting what will make us happy.
Unless we try it, we won’t know. I sat around and thought about photography for a long time. I assumed I’d love it and be great at it. I finally took action by taking a photography class. While I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it. I realized that I’d much rather experience the moment than focus on capturing it. That was important learning, so I moved on to a new idea!
2. We learn valuable insights (that we wouldn’t otherwise learn).
Second, when we experiment, we learn valuable insights! Not only do we find out if we enjoy something (or not), but we also get to solve the whole variety of challenges that arise (which results in more learning)!
When we are approaching something as an experiment, the purpose is to learn something valuable from it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s conventionally successful or not. If we learned something valuable from the experience, it’s a success! What we learn will help us adjust course for the next experiment.
One of my clients, John, absolutely loves cars. He dreamed about building an auto detailing side hustle and expanding it into a full-time business. This would allow him to quit his toxic job that was causing burnout. He decided to experiment with his side hustle (while concurrently focusing on improving his life at work).
After a year of running his side hustle, it was conventionally successful. He generated thousands of dollars detailing cars on the weekend. But, he realized that he didn’t love cleaning Cheerios out of the third row of the minivan in thirty-degree weather.
John learned something valuable from the experiment. He’s grateful that he learned this insight in the side hustle stage so that he can incorporate the learning into his long-term plans. It doesn’t mean that he’ll necessarily call it quits on his side hustle. Instead, he now knows how he could adjust it to make it work for him.
3. Experiments help us take small steps toward our goals and, thus, build our confidence.
Every experiment we do is a small step toward our goals, which helps us build confidence along the way.
For example, when I first started dreaming about putting on a retreat, I didn’t go and plan a full retreat right away. Instead, I decided to shrink it down to test it out. I planned a local meet-up for women interested in personal finance. I gave a presentation to my Choose FI group. I started facilitating monthly online workshops and meet-ups.
And, you know what?
People actually showed up! Not only did I learn valuable things from running the workshops and meet-ups, but I also built confidence. I started to believe that if I put on a retreat, people would actually come!
Instead of planning a retreat feeling like a big scary thing, it felt like the logical next step. I won’t lie and tell you it wasn’t scary, but I already had some evidence that I could do it!
Let’s use Marni’s story (from above) as another example. After doing several RV experiments, she sold her house in LA to move into the RV full-time. After living in the RV for a year, she realized that she craved even more simplicity. Owning the RV added more complexity to her life than she wanted. So, she sold the RV and is free to live a more simple, unencumbered life.
Without doing all the experimentation (including the year of full-time RV travel), it would have been a lot harder for Marni to sell the house she’d raised her daughters in and hit the road as a digital nomad.
Experimentation: How to Move from Ideas to Action
Moving from ideas to action can feel really scary. Through experimentation, you can move forward with more ease and less fear. Let’s walk through this systematic process.
1. Articulate the Ideas You Want to Explore
To move from ideas to action, you first need to have concrete ideas. Do you have something that you’ve been thinking about for weeks, months, or years, but simply haven’t taken action on? That idea is a good candidate for experimentation.
If you aren’t yet clear on what ideas you even want to explore, I’d encourage you to check out this past blog post – Relearning to Dream Big. In the post, I walk through the full process of figuring out the ideas you want to explore.
2. Determine the Questions You Have about these Ideas
Instead of starting with the actions you can take to experiment, I recommend starting by asking questions. What questions do you have about each of your ideas?
Your list of questions could include:
- What resources (money, skills, connection, energy, etc.) are needed to do this?
- What does this thing look and feel like on a day-to-day basis?
- Would I actually enjoy it?
- Would it provide me with enough… (fill in the blank with whatever you value, such as free time, connection, ability to travel, etc.)?
- Is there a way to make money doing it? If so, how? Do I want to make money doing this or keep it as a hobby?
- What are the first steps to getting started?
During this process, I’d also encourage you to pay attention to the doubts and fears that come up. When you notice them, turn them into questions.
For example, when I was originally considering starting my coaching business, one of my fears was that I could never make money doing this. Instead, I changed the fear into a question – How do people make money as a coach?
3. Brainstorm Ways You Could Answer the Questions with Experiments
There are three types of experiments:
- Conversations: By having a conversation with someone who has done what you are considering, you can learn a lot and answer many of your questions. For example, when I decided to put on the Slow FI retreat, the first thing I did was to reach out to everyone I knew who had put on retreats to learn from them.
- Observation or Participation: You’ll learn a lot by observing someone else or being a participant in what you are considering. For example, I attended a few retreats to learn more about the process.
- Beta Tests: Instead of diving headfirst right away, how can you shrink down your idea into something that you can try in an afternoon? Or a weekend? Or a month? Each subsequent beta test can get bigger and bigger. Some of my beta tests for the retreat included planning local meet-ups, facilitating workshops, speaking at events, and creating a waitlist to find out what the interest in the retreat would look like.
I would recommend writing down as many ways as you can possibly think of to answer your questions using any of these experimentation types. And, remember, these ideas can be wild and crazy. You don’t have to do any of them. Once you make a full list, you can narrow it down to the ones that you actually want to do.
4. Pay Attention, Reflect on Your Learnings, and Adjust Course
Doing the experiments is important, but it’s also important to make sure we glean insights from the experiments as well.
First, pay attention to how you feel while you are doing the experiment. Do you feel energized and excited? Or do you feel drained or bored? Those feelings can help you determine whether you would actually enjoy doing more of what you are doing.
Second, take time to reflect on the experiment after it’s over. You’ll want to consider:
- What you enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy) about the experience
- What you learned
- What questions the experiment helped you answer
- What questions you still have
Once you’ve reflected on the experience, you can determine how you want to adjust course.
How Experimentation Helped Us Become Location Independent Entrepreneurs
I want to use our example to walk you through the full process.
1. Articulate the idea you want to explore.
In 2018, we articulated our big idea. We wanted to be location independent and have the ability to travel as much as we wanted.
2. Determine the questions you have about the idea.
We had so many questions about this idea. Here are a few that we articulated:
- Do we need to reach full financial independence to also have location flexibility? What other options are possible?
- Would it be possible to build a business doing something we really loved that would allow us to semi-retire someday? How? (Note: at the time, I couldn’t even fathom building a business that would cover all my expenses. I was still dreaming too small).
- What kind of travel would we want to do? International? Travel in an RV?
- Would we want to keep a home base or be fully nomadic?
3. Brainstorm how to answer the questions with experiments (and carry out the experiments)
Over time, we did so many experiments to test these things out. Here are a few:
- Conversations: I started the Slow FI interview series, in large part, because I wanted to hear and be inspired by people who were designing their lives before reaching FI. Doing these interviews and having conversations allowed me to start seeing what was possible. I’ve also had many conversations with people who had started businesses and had the ability to travel as much as they wanted.
- Observations: When we honed in on RV travel (particularly small RVs or campervans), we started watching vanlife YouTube. This helped us get a sense of the ups and downs of vanlife and if we’d actually enjoy the experience. I also participated in a number of retreats, courses, and coaching programs to help me get a sense of what I might want to do in my own business.
- Beta Tests: In the summer of 2021, we decided to do our “campervan experiment.” We rented a campervan from Outdoorsy and took a 10-day trip through New England. We had assumed we’d do more than one campervan rental to experiment. But, we enjoyed the experience so much that within two months of returning home, we decided to buy our van. I’ve experimented with so many things in my business, such as the types of programs I offer, when I offer them, how I promote them, how often I wrote on the blog, and more. I try to look at everything I do in my business as an experiment that I can learn from.
4. Pay attention, reflect on your learnings, and adjust course.
It’s been important for us to pay attention and reflect on our learnings. When we did our campervan experiment, we absolutely LOVED the experience. We had originally planned to do another longer campervan experiment, but we realized that we were sold after the first experiment.
This allowed us to buy and build out a campervan a few years earlier than we expected we would. This paved the way for Corey to quit his job earlier than expected because he could more easily envision what life without work would look like.
Beyond paying attention to the moment, I also do monthly, quarterly, and annual reflections about my life and my business. This allows me to consider what I enjoy most, what I want to do less of, what’s working, and how I can adjust to make this work even better.
Right now, as a new vanlifer, I’m experimenting with what my new work cadence will be while we travel. My current hypothesis is that I don’t want to work on days when we are traveling or doing day-long activities. But, on the other days, we can explore in the morning, and I’ll work in the afternoon. We’re just over 3 weeks in, and I’m realizing that this schedule works for the most part, but it doesn’t work for writing blog posts. Working a few hours here and there doesn’t allow me to get into the flow I need to write long-form content. So, we’re adjusting. To write long-form content, I’ll make sure I have blocks of at least 4 hours to get into the groove.
Most Importantly, Cultivate an Experimentation Mindset
As you brainstorm experiments and carry them out, you’ll start to cultivate an experimentation mindset.
With experimentation, success means that you learn something valuable from the experience. It doesn’t matter as much if something is conventionally successful. You can simply learn and pivot.
Experimentation also means that you can try something out with no strings attached. Sometimes, we are afraid that if we make a particular choice it will set us on a new path forever, and there’s no going back. This is false. You always have a choice. You can take this one action and then decide how you want to pivot and adjust. You are never locked in. If you don’t like it, you get to change your mind.
It’s time to move from ideas to action through experimentation. As you take small steps, you’ll learn valuable lessons that will allow you to take the next bigger step to build the life you want.