Living an Iterative Life


I was out with a friend last night and she told me about her border-hopping childhood; she moved from country to country with her family from a very young age.

She told me that although it was tough to leave her friends behind, it was also liberating because when she arrived in a new location she could be ANYBODY.

If she was a geek before, she could be a popular girl.

If she was super-social before, she could become a bookworm.

If she was picked-on before, she could become a bully.

She had free-reign to experiment with herself and her life as she saw fit (as much as someone that young can, at least).

No matter how into personal development you are, no matter how many books you’ve read on the subject and seminars you’ve been to, it’s incredibly difficult to change your life in any real way when you’re surrounded by the relationships and artifacts of your past.

Your habits keep you walking a straight path…the path you were on when you started them.

Your friends and family – well-meaning as they might be – will subconsciously keep you from changing in any major way or with any frequency because it’s human nature to want to categorize and compartmentalize; your changes will make them uncomfortable once they feel they’ve got you all figured out.

Your home and the food you eat and the people you see and the route you take to work or the library or the post office and the journal you write in and the background image on your computer’s desktop and the phrases you say and the movies theaters you frequent and everything about your life is set up to keep things steady and linear, moving you forward quickly toward a destiny of sorts. A destiny that is tough to change.

A subtle and constant status quo can be a very comfortable prison.

But it’s possible to instigate change in your life, and iterative thinking helps.

Iterative thinking works like this: instead of viewing time as one long continuum, you see it as a series of segments. Each segment is modular and changeable, and happiness or sadness or frustration in one doesn’t mean the same will be true in another. A new segment means a new lifestyle completely; a new opportunity to try again with different tactics, and the knowledge that you accumulated the last time around.

This is how I see my life, and it’s been a huge advantage in my personal and professional lives.

My iterations were once quite long: when I was very young, for instance, it took me over a decade to dramatically change anything about myself. From birth to age 14 or so, I was pretty much the same ol’ Colin.

Then they got a little closer together: from high school to college I made a great big change, which was instigated by my move away from my home town for school. In those few years I made as much of a change to my lifestyle as I had in the previous 14.

When I moved to LA, my iterations shifted into overdrive.

The first year I was there (working for someone else) was one segment, and running my own studio was another. From that point on the changes became mine to control because I took responsibility for my personal well-being and financial stability. I chose to upend both to see what would happen.

The benefits were immediate. Now I move all the time and there is very little in my life that is structured, habitual or expected.

I’ve positioned myself to benefit from new iterations MUCH more frequently, and in doing so I’ve been able to set up a lifestyle that I’m thrilled to live and have become a person that I’m thrilled to be.

I’m increasingly more philosophically, intellectually, recreationally and physically fulfilled, and I credit this to the fact that I’m able to try out so many different lifestyles in a short amount of time.

Think of it in terms of biological evolution: nature gets great results and can accomplish really amazing things because it goes through millions of generations to see what works and what should be filtered out.

The more generations of YOU that you can go through, the more likely it is that you’ll find an ideal lifestyle that makes getting up every morning a pleasure, not a task.

If you’re stuck and don’t know how to make a positive change, opt for a new location, job, relationship status, whatever. Anything you can do to shake things up is the right move, because it will allow you to change yourself and move on to that next segment.

Iterations are only as useful as they are dynamic, and being yourself can lose its luster if you know exactly what to expect and there’s no end in sight.

Shake your life up and surprise yourself with what you know.


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  2. It’s also refreshing to enjoy the others iterations of themselves. My mother in law recently divorced and moved across country and started a whole new exciting life and I’m thrilled at how she is embracing new experiences and living a new happier version of herself. On the flip side her daughters became angry at the change and shut her out because they didn’t like that she had moved so far away failing to see how happy she is what a positive move this has been. They wanted to keep the version of her that they knew and refuse to see her in this new light.

    • I agree!

      Being willing to let others change – and actually encouraging it – is HUGE! This is what distinguishes friends from BEST friends. People who are best friends can generally keep their relationship going over the years because they are cool with each other’s evolution. Standard friends are not as certain, however, and are generally situational and only last a certain period of time.

  3. This is one of my favorite posts of yours to date. I never thought about life this way — as segments. It is such a liberating & exciting vantage point.

    Thank you for posting this. It is exactly what I needed today as I am on the precipice of great change & shaking in my boots.

  4. Interesting, because I’m in that process right now, travelling before moving to another place in order to live another lifestyle . Although some of my friends are supportive, as you said most of the people around me started feeling uncomfortable when I decided to be in complete charge of myself and change those things that didn’t make me happy. Maybe in my next location I can try and work as a journalist by day and be a superhero at night :P

  5. Interesting, because I’m in that process right now, travelling before moving to another place in order to live another lifestyle . Although some of my friends are supportive, as you said most of the people around me started feeling uncomfortable when I decided to be in complete charge of myself and change those things that didn’t make me happy. Maybe in my next location I can try and work as a journalist by day and be a superhero at night :P

    • I support anyone who decides to fight crime in their off hours, especially if there are fanciful costumes involved.

      Good luck with your continued evolution!

  6. Interesting, because I’m in that process right now, travelling before moving to another place in order to live another lifestyle . Although some of my friends are supportive, as you said most of the people around me started feeling uncomfortable when I decided to be in complete charge of myself and change those things that didn’t make me happy. Maybe in my next location I can try and work as a journalist by day and be a superhero at night :P

  7. One of the ways people enforce this idea starts in High School. You’re encouraged to be only one thing. You’re considered to be ‘fake’ or ‘putting on masks,’ as it were, if you try to break from who they assigned you to be. When I went with my dad to an old frat reunion he had one of his brothers looked at him and said that he wasn’t acting like himself. This guy only knew my father in his frat days, he only ever saw him as that. He was only comfortable comparing himself to the frat version of my father.You have to be willing to evolve. I call it constant renaissance but the language of iteration works just as

    • Ah yeah, I get that same vibe when I meet up with people from high school sometimes. It’s not as bad since we ALL have changed quite a bit, but there’s definitely a certain expectation that you’ll be the same old whatever that they knew and loved. Anything else is threatening and a little scary, though no one does it intentionally.

      Evolution is vital, and throwing your own Personal Renaissance (which is what I call it…great minds think alike!) is a fantastic way to keep evolving.

  8. I’d have to agree with Dena – this is definitely one of my favorite posts of yours. I did this without realizing it. As a child I moved every 3 to 4 years. It was horrible leaving friends behind and having to start from scratch over and over, but it was liberating to know that the things I didn’t like about myself (or rather, how people perceived me) didn’t have to haunt me forever. I was a new person each and every move. Awesome post!

    • Thanks Richard!

      It really is unbelievable how much of an impact regional shifts especially can have on your life. Suddenly it’s okay to readjust, which leaves you open to evolve.

      I wish I could bottle that feeling and sell it.

  9. I’ve been thinking of changing my name on my 22nd birthday in February; from a name I don’t like, to a name I do like. One of the main problems is that i’m surrounded by people who have known me for years, and so the change will may become problematique. It’s been a little off putting.

    But your post has helped Colin, thanks. I think I will definitely be changing it now.

    It’s never too late to be the person that you want to be. Thank you.

    • You should totally do it if you feel that strongly about it.

      Well said: it IS never too late to be the person that you want to be.

      Any hint as to what you’ll be changing it to?

      • Thanks for the reply Colin.

        Hurst is a name that goes back in my family tree, which i think is cool. And i like Edward for a first name, it’s traditional, English and can be shortened like my current name can.

        I just can’t wait for that ‘new start’ feeling. Like closing a door on the past me/life and opening a huge one for the future.

        • Two great options!

          Either way, I know what you mean about that new beginning feeling, and it’s amazing the kind of momentum it can give you. Make sure you take advantage of it!

  10. Please, please, please tell me this picture was taken in an airplane bathroom. For some reason, the idea strikes me as funny as hell.

    • Haha, it was!

      It’s something I did the first time I flew overseas, and I try to do it each time I cross borders just in case I can do something with the photos later (a photographic mile-high club of sorts?).

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  12. Great post, i love how you described things. It’s like being a chameleon , you can change your colour whenever you want. I’ve been doing that for the past 7 years, i dont stay in the same place more than 2 years, tho 2 years is way too long now, i have to make it like you do i think, 3/4 months max!

  13. I can identify with your friend. I also moved a lot when I was younger, the first 12 years of my life I moved once a year, after that is slowed to more manageable once every 3 years.

    It made me very aware of the various anchors for my personality. But I’ve evolved to the point where I can just decide to change regardless of where I am or who I am with.

    But for people not used to this I recommend travel in order to sever all those ties and anchors.

  14. I’ve been reading a book called “What should I do with my life” by Po Bronson. A major change was instrumental to most people’s quest to answer this question. Simply put, a big change needs a big change (if that makes sense).

  15. Look at that, blog post I’ve read #6 =) I fully agree with breaking up time into segments, not only does it allow you to reinvent yourself but it becomes a lot easier to deal with. Take the hamburger of life and cut it into little bite sized pieces… or if you’re like me toss the bun (its just filler anyways) and get to the good stuff. Time is but a construction of society that we agree upon, make of it as you will.

    This brings up an interesting conversation I had about space aliens inspired by the antiques place, but that’s a whoooole ‘nother conversation!

  16. Hey Colin.That’s a great read… an interesting way to look at it and you’re absolutely right – our lives are lived in stages, and each one allows us to reinvent who we are if we take the opportunity.Yesterday I posted up an article on my blog about life on the road and the challenge it presents with regards relationships/friendships… how do you think about that and the problem of always moving away from a place where you’re really just starting to create a social network and then you leave?Anyway, brilliant site. An inspiration.

    (and if you’re interested to read, the website is:

  17. I totally agree with this! A move or dramatic change in life can be paralysing or you can use it for the better. Then it becomes an incredible power you can do amazing stuff with. It takes a while to learn, it can be tiresome and you can feel a lot of homesickness. But in the end you will be a much richer person. Richer in the sense of life experience. Probably not in monetary terms :-)

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  20. love it, colin. i feel similarly – in fact, i often think of it this way: if i had one wish/one superpower I would want to have multiple lives because i want the opportunity of different life experiences first hand (and/or the ability to be in many places at once – sortof the same idea). but, i figure, i don’t have to wait around for a genie in a bottle. i CAN have multiple lives in my one lifetime. by evolving and iterating, as you put it. as caroline who commented below i’ve also not stayed in the same place longer than 2 years lately, and the last decade of my life has been so fascinating because of it.

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  23. I echo this sentiment completely. It is THE biggest pro of being a professional, digital nomad, and the one I share first with everyone who asks about my lifestyle.

    However, there are sacrifices. I know it’s more or less of a relative thing, based on who you ask, but it is possible to be less emotionally fulfilled, from a relationship point of view, with a life like this.

    Family and friends are only a flight away, and the worlds getting smaller every day, but if you if you’re not a truly independent individual, this could be tough.

    I have my bouts with loneliness here and there, to be honest. But, it’s all worth the ride right now.

    When (more like IF) I become satisfied with my travels and personal development, maybe I’ll slow down enough for someone to keep up.

    Also, as a note, I discovered you through the interview on Lis Carpenter’s blog. She sought me out through Couchsurfing when I was in Ft. Myers a few months ago for an interview, so I surfed her site and saw yours.

    This is my first time here, actually, andI like it. I’ll have to toss you on the blogroll!

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