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Stories of Lives Well Designed: Melissa Corley Carter

What is your name, location and  job title?

I’m Melissa Corley Carter in Dumfries, Virginia (near Washington, D.C.)
Life Title: The Barefoot Dancing Rocket Scientist
Job Title(s): Visual & Audio Collage Artist / Mindful Life & Leadership Coach

Describe your work and/or life stage for us in 1-2 sentences:

As an engineer and rocket scientist turned writer, artist, and coach, I made the classic 180 in life.  After 20 years of working towards my childhood dream to become an astronaut, I was rejected for pre-LASIK eyesight; the resulting journey over the last seven years has liberated me to live a life of my choosing and to become the human being I was meant to be.

Give us the setting: where were you (literally or metaphorically) when you discovered Designing Your Life? 

Literally, it was September of 2016 when I attended the 1.5 hour DYL Mini-Workshop for Stanford Alumni in Washington, D.C.

Metaphorically, as I sat in the workshop I realized I’d actually already jumped from Life 1 to Life 2 in the Odyssey Plan!

Life 1 was the path of continuing my active duty Air Force career as expected by friends, family, coworkers, and bosses, to its likely conclusion in becoming a general and changing the world.  However, after the aforementioned astronaut rejection in 2012, I didn’t have a real plan for my life.  (Yes, I admit I didn’t have a backup plan for the astronaut dream.)  I’d had an amazing Air Force career, but I began to feel increasingly like I wasn’t living my life purpose.  I didn’t know what my life purpose was, but I knew it wasn’t what I was doing.  A combination of many factors including leadership courses, an introduction to mindfulness, my existing yoga and barefoot running practices, and meeting some incredible people who absolutely loved their work all inspired me to reflect deeply on my future.

In late 2015 I took the leap… I separated from active duty with vague ideas about life coaching but without a specific follow-on plan.  I intentionally took time off to explore, rest from a lifetime on overdrive, ease into the future by remaining in the Air Force Reserve, and prepare for and enjoy my upcoming wedding and the marriage journey.  In my Reserve job, I made the huge transition from engineering/satellite acquisitions program management to teaching those leadership courses I always loved so much.  In my civilian work, I enrolled in a coach certification program with iPEC, the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching, and I was about two months from starting that program when I heard about and signed up for the DYL workshop in D.C.

In the workshop, I really loved my Life 1 plan, and I realized it looked a lot like a Life 2 for my previous Life 1… I had already freed myself, as the saying goes, from living the life I had planned to live the life that was waiting for me.  I had some fun ideas for new Lives 2 and 3, but for me, a lot of the joy of the workshop was realizing I had been designing my life already, and I was eager to learn more about the process and continue to use it to change the world MY way.  🙂

Now for the impact: how has Designing Your Life helped you design a more joyful, well-lived one at home and/or work?

How hasn’t it?!

Reframing has been huge.  A technique I’ve also learned as a coach, reframing is probably the most powerful tool in my toolbox.  It literally helps me form new neural pathways and adopt a different “default” than I’ve had before.  I find myself quickly and naturally thinking differently, opening space for curiosity, opening my mind so I can imagine alternatives, and moving through both difficult and exciting times with the faith that I can choose my response to situations.  I am not at the mercy of circumstances when I have the power to choose who I’m being in every moment.

A specific example of how prototyping and testing have helped: I’ve developed and taught a mindfulness workshop in my Air Force job that brings me joy every time I teach it; I love seeing and hearing the ahas, sharing simple tools and concepts, and developing perspectives that can help the overwhelmed and overworked among us create some calm in the midst of chaos without heading for a monastery.  Recently I taught a mindfulness workshop in my civilian business, and it was very different.  Unbeknownst to me until they arrived, my students were all experienced mindfulness practitioners.  We had some phenomenal discussions, shared wisdom and philosophies, and supported each other tremendously; it was a wonderful experience.  At the same time, I came away realizing that I prefer working with beginners who are just starting their mindfulness journey, rather than with people who are already a good way down the path.  That was a simple, low cost “test” that’s zeroed me in on a key aspect of my often-elusive “ideal client/target audience.”

The most fundamental idea that I love about DYL is truly honoring and believing that ALL of us on this earth deserve to live lives we love.  Not only that, but that it’s POSSIBLE for us to do that.  Work and life can and should be rewarding and fulfilling.  We don’t have to do a complete 180 like I did either; there are small changes we can control that make life so much more joyful, if we only empower ourselves to notice, pause, and take action.

What now? How do you design your life on a regular basis?

I’m in a continuous design process in my business and my life.  Writing a book, designing team building experiences, creating workshops, coaching… my business is an evolving collage and I am the artist.  I’m also iterating on a wellness rhythm that will support and nourish me as I navigate the solo-preneur world.  I’ve prototyped and tested some different routines, and I’m learning my creative rhythm… bias to action is hugely informing my choices, particularly in the last couple of months.  I’ve also found incredible design partners in my husband and my sister as I learn and grow.  I’m noticing and writing down what works and what doesn’t, and slowly but surely making little changes in my physical, mental, social, emotional, spiritual, and environmental spaces that add up to peace, joy, and delight in my life.

Do you use DYL in your professional life? 

I’m not certified, but I do teach a workshop using the book in my Reserve job (100% credited to the book and worksheets from the website), and it’s amazing!  My students feel a huge sense of empowerment and freedom when they start to realize how much more control they have over their lives and their choices than they think they do.  I’m also contemplating teaching a workshop in my business and using some of the book’s concepts in upcoming speaking opportunities with high school and college students, but that’s still in the design mash-up.

Who do you recommend the book to?

Pretty much everyone… I’ve given copies to my step-daughters, my sister, coaching clients, and I have a stack on my shelves waiting to be given to more people.  I recommend it to friends, acquaintances, coworkers, clients, anyone who will listen.  🙂

Thank you, Melissa! Be sure and learn more about her work here.

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