by Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, author of “Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life“
Each morning you struggle to wake up and try not to become too frazzled while wrangling the kids and getting ready for work. Eight or nine (or more) hours later, you come home, check as many chores as possible off your to-do list, and collapse into bed. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Even your hobbies and downtime are part of the same old routine: book club on Tuesday nights, TV on Thursday nights, dinner with your girlfriends every other Friday.
So what’s wrong with that? Well, a recent CNN article suggests that trying out new hobbies and discovering new interests might stave off memory loss. But also when we exist and endure instead of approaching life as an adventure, we not only miss out on lots of fun, but we squander our full potential.
I’ve been fortunate to meet and work with so many women who are amazing, successful, high-performing leaders in many different fields. And one thing they all have in common is their courage and their sense of adventure.
They’re not satisfied with the same old, same old. They’re out there setting goals, connecting, taking risks — not just professionally but personally too.
In other words, how we work and how we play are deeply connected. When we approach life with enthusiasm and intensity — whether we’re driving a collaborative project or learning how to surf — we grow, learn, gain new skills, and expand our sphere of influence. And when we see that taking risks pays off, we’re willing to take more.
That’s why I have a summer homework assignment for women: Be brave. Try something new and fun. Expand your world. Not only will you increase your joy in the moment, you’ll get practiced at boldness and adventure. With time this attitude will become your default setting, increasing the likelihood of success in all areas of your life.
The good news is, you don’t have to travel to Timbuktu. There are adventures waiting in your own backyard that you have probably never considered.
Here are seven tips to help you wring every drop of joy and excitement out of this summer:
1. Don’t waste the weekend.
How many times have you realized that it’s Sunday evening and you haven’t accomplished any of the things you meant to over the weekend (other than sleeping in and binge-watching a show on Netflix)? This summer, make the most of your weekends by rising early(ish) and spending your time purposefully.
Set a goal for every weekend to do something you’ve never done before, whether it’s visiting a new state park, learning a new sport, throwing a neighborhood block party, or even just cooking a new type of cuisine for dinner. And accept the fact that these types of activities almost never happen on the fly — you need to talk to your family and decide in advance how you want to spend each weekend.
2. Get out of your vacation rut.
Is your family going to a certain beach this summer because, well, that’s what you always do? Even if your family thoroughly enjoys a familiar destination, consider making plans to visit a new place this summer. For example, instead of experiencing the surf and sand, you might rent a mountain cabin or plan a road trip through several national parks.
Vacationing in a new place will be a treat for your brain, your eyes, your taste buds, and more. You’ll probably meet interesting new people as well. It’s fine to use some of your vacation time to rest and rejuvenate — but be sure to plan a few adventures too. Maybe this will be the year you finally take that surfing lesson or tour the landmark you’ve always wanted to visit.
3. Find creative new day-trip destinations.
Imagine a 100-mile radius around your home. Chances are, there are more fun places and events in that radius than you can cram into one summer: hiking trails, historic sites, lakes, new restaurants, museums, community theaters, festivals, and more. Whether your family is taking an out-of-town vacation or not, plan to visit some of them. (What better way to make the most of your weekends?)
Some friends of mine block out one weekend every month for a day trip. They keep a folder full of clippings and ideas, and they are slowly working their way through it. What a great idea! Remember, adventure isn’t something that can be found only hundreds of miles away. You may be surprised by what your area has to offer, and by how much it has grown and changed while you’ve been stuck in a rut.
4. Learn a fun new skill.
One of the great things about summer is that the pace of daily life does tend to slow down somewhat. Take advantage of longer days and more relaxed schedules by taking the time to learn something new. Sign up for a class, join a club, or ask a friend to share her expertise.
Your new skill could be kayaking, target shooting, water skiing, mountain biking, yoga, woodworking, or even skydiving,. If you’re not at least a little nervous about what you’ve chosen to do, move on to something else. Remember, the idea is to challenge and exhilarate yourself — and that won’t happen if you’re not stretching beyond the boundaries of what feels comfortable.
5. Do at least one thing to give back to your community.
Men and women who care enough about others to volunteer their time, talents, and treasure are the kinds of people you want to meet. And on a personal level, giving back enhances gratitude and contentment, and can even reduce stress levels. So whether your “cause” is homeless animals, adult literacy, or clean oceans, get involved this summer.
I want to be clear that giving back doesn’t have to mean writing a big check. Your time and talents are just as impactful. If you can’t find a preexisting organization in your community that speaks to your heart, pull together a group of likeminded folks and start your own project, like a community vegetable garden.”
6. Make a point to meet new people.
Your kids will meet new friends during summer sports and day camp — and you should try to do the same! If you’re putting my previous tips into practice, you’ll already have dozens of new people in your orbit. You might also attend networking events, get on a new team at work, introduce yourself to familiar faces at the gym, and respond “yes” to more social invitations.
I would especially encourage you to seek out other women. Women inherently know how to make satisfying, mutually fulfilling connections. In fact, I am seeing the growth of a true women-helping-women movement in which we are creating an ever-expanding network that offers expertise and support to women in business, government, education, philanthropy, and other fields.
Most of us are so busy and overwhelmed that we just don’t make it a priority to connect with other women. But when you’re purposeful about doing this, your life will become richer, more exciting, and more creative. When we join hands, we can accomplish so much.
7. Do all of these things in the spirit of joy and gratitude.
There’s one important caveat when it comes to stretching your boundaries and planning an exciting, adventurous summer: You have to approach this goal with a positive, open attitude. Otherwise, your plans won’t feel any different from the other uninspiring items on your to-do list, and they definitely won’t help you to take your power and reach your potential.
That said, when you’re in the midst of the daily grind, summoning up positivity can be easier said than done. The good news is, a significant amount of our happiness comes from the ways we perceive our world — and we can choose to have an attitude of gratitude. Instead of thinking of what you have to do, focus on what you get to do. Every time you learn something new, receive a new opportunity, or learn a new skill this summer, allow yourself to savor the moment and say thanks. You’ll find that your joy levels steadily rise — and that you are more and more excited to expand your world.
As an adult you may not get a summer vacation — but it’s time to recapture the excitement and anticipation you felt as a child at the beginning of each summer season. Start with one or two ‘adventures’ from the list above and notice the changes in your mood, creativity, motivation, and maybe even energy levels. Here’s to the most exciting summer you’ve had in years — and to expanding your potential!
Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, is an author of “Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life” and urges women to connect to help each other create a better world. She is a clinical psychologist, motivational speaker, and women-empowerment expert who devotes her energies to helping women achieve the lives they want. O’Reilly is the founder of Women Connect4Good, Inc., and for seven years she has interviewed inspiring women for online podcasts available on her website.