Designing your life with intentionality

Nykkie Gibson is a people person. She’s worked in Learning & Organisational Development her entire career, with well known brands like Accor Hotels, Foodstuffs NZ and Paymark. Over this time, her focus has always been to help people in organisations grow and develop in their roles and career paths. 

But it was when she was knocked off track herself in 2020 that her focus shifted from just supporting people to grow in their jobs, to nurturing people to design their lives with intentionality.

Nykkie and her husband had the big plan to live overseas with their preschool daughter and experience life in a different country and culture before the advent of school routine grounded them in one place. It was 2018 when the plan was laid out, and Nykkie spent the next two years meticulously researching and planning itineraries for a six month hiatus in Europe.

But then, 2020 came and put paid to those travel plans, “it became very obvious that we weren’t going anywhere” Nykkie laments. Being the well planned type, Nykkie had already negotiated a finish date for her contract with Paymark – April 2020. “We weren’t going anywhere, my contract had finished and it was sort of like ‘oh my gosh, what now?!’”

Fortunately, Nykkie did have a back up plan. In late 2019 she’d seen an ad on LinkedIn looking for people with similar backgrounds to hers, to participate in an NZQA panel approval process for a new postgraduate certificate programme. That programme was the Tech Futures Lab Postgraduate Certificate in Human Potential for the Digital Economy.

“I was attracted to it because it felt like such a great mix for me – I had the human potential thing which had kind of been my career and then while working at Paymark I’d been exposed to all this digital technology and agile ways of working. Plus I was really interested in the future of work. It seemed to be something that married those things together really nicely.”

So when her working life was upended, she decided to plunge herself into studying the approved and available Human Potential for the Digital Economy postgraduate certificate.

The outcome of the programme is a strategically considered business proposal, one that synthesises the disruptions and shifts across technology, economies, societies and the environment and hones in on a place, and path, that feels right to the student. 

Sometimes that comes out as a proposal to share with a current workplace, and sometimes it turns into a crafted idea that can be pursued as a new business. And that is where Nykkie has landed.

Her project was about helping people to create and live more intentional lives. It’s obvious the energy Nykkie has for this idea as soon as she starts talking about it. “This is not a run of the mill HR programme. A lot of organisations offer talent and career development but it’s all geared towards ‘how do you grow and progress within our organisation’ and ‘how do you develop the competencies we need’. It doesn’t really take you into account.”

Designing with intentionality is not a new concept. Nykkie already had experience with Human Centered Design and Design Thinking methodologies. But it was a guest speaker session with Start Now founder Melissa Jenner that solidified Nykkie’s understanding of what designing with intentionality could mean, when applied to life.

Yet despite Nykkie’s outcome being about intentionality, the idea had come together rather serendipitously. She drew on recent experiences: things not going to plan with the family OE;  a Coursera course she’d done early on in the lockdown period about the ‘Science of Happiness’; and some contracting work she picked up with Right Management.

“As a career consultant I have a huge range of tools to leverage and there’s great thinking and objectives around helping people tap into who they really are and what’s important to them. But when people lose their jobs, it isn’t the right time to offer them that. What I found is that almost everybody in that position just wants another job, as quickly as possible.”

The role of work in our lives is identity shaping. We wrap ourselves up in what we do. And this can have its negative side, as Nykkie explains: “if we don’t have a clear idea of who we are, where we’re going and what’s important to us, when we get knocked off track by something like Covid or any of the many things that come along, we can go into a tailspin.”

This isn’t just career coaching. This is life design – looking at your whole life, from a career perspective, a family perspective, a purpose-driven perspective. “The idea is you go through a process of thinking ‘what could my life look like if I keep doing what I’m doing; if I take the next most obvious option or if I do what I really want to do. What would that actually look like across all parts of my life.” Now it sounds like personal development. But it’s not only that either.

The key game changer of Nykkie’s intentional life design is for this practice to be part of workplace learning and development, talent or wellbeing strategies. She’s calling on organisations to take charge of supporting intentional life design because “they really have a duty of care to their people to provide opportunity for learning and planning while they are employed. It’s too late when you lose your job, the ‘outplacement’ process is the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.” 

And in a rapidly changing business landscape, reorienting to gig work and agile practices, the future of work isn’t much about ‘careers for life’ any longer. “Organisations need to stop pretending that it is.”

Through a combination of her study, career and personal experience, Nykkie is developing and testing out a programme she calls  “Intentional Life Design. Through a webinar she presented for the Institute of Managers and Leaders in 2020, Nykkie was shoulder tapped by one of the attendees and is now trialling a 6-month prototype programme to coach a small group of women who work for the Department of Justice in Melbourne, Australia. She’s also exploring appetite in more corporate environments and potential alignment with a healthcare provider wellbeing programme. If a recent Workplace & Salary Trends report from People2People is indicative of organisational culture climate, businesses will place much more importance on the health and wellbeing and career pathways of their people. 

This is good ground for Nykkie’s Intentional Life Design programme. She’s aware of the need to remain agile in practice so plans to shift, reshape and adapt as needs arise. That’s in tune with what her venture is about – “finding a sweet spot, recognising where we naturally sit and having an awareness of where we need to stretch to move towards, or away from, to realise what we dream for ourselves”.

So how does Nykkie feel about the future now, as a graduate of the Human Potential for the Digital Economy postgraduate certificate and creator of a life-design programme?

“Relaxed is probably a good word for it. I feel like I’ve got the core skills around what I need and I guess I’m naturally optimistic. People are smart, humans are clever, we will figure it out. It’s going to be fine but the opportunity is to step up from fine to thriving, and that’s where I think I’d really like to make a difference.”

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