Today I’m feeling inspired by a friend, and so I’d like to talk about something a little bit different than our usual fare; and the fact that I—Miss Practical—want to have this discussion should tell you something.
I am a details person. I like things to be orderly, and I like to have a plan, and I like for things to be logical. No, I’m not quite a Vulcan, but still… perhaps it’s a reaction against the fact that I often am too emotional that, in my business life, I am all about the well-reasoned decision and the concretely-measured benefits.
But today, let’s pretend none of that is true. Rather, let’s acknowledge that to be true, and simultaneously admit this: All practical and no pie-in-the-sky makes Mir a dull writer. There is intrinsic value in the regular exercising of “What if…” It’s something I’m often not very good at remembering, and so I’m feeling very grateful for the wise words I was just reading this morning. Because while it is true that Maggie Mason started a bold trend with the advent of her life list, I never really thought that sort of exercise was for someone like me. And today I realize that it’s for someone exactly like me.
Today my friend Karen Walrond shared something of a life list tutorial, addressing all of the reservations and objections she’s heard from others about why the life list just isn’t for them. I was reading along and sort of chuckling, because yes, I’ve had those same thoughts. I couldn’t possibly come up with 100 things! Karen shares some very smart, practical tips on making a life list a workable project for just about anyone (seriously, go read her entire post). But here’s the part I want to talk about with you:
6. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU PUT SOMETHING ON YOUR LIST THAT WILL MAKE YOU FEEL BAD ABOUT YOURSELF FOR NOT COMPLETING IT. For example, you will notice that “lose 20 pounds” is NOWHERE on my list. This is not because I don’t think I should lose weight; it’s because I didn’t want my list to be a constant reminder of me not losing weight, or not working out, or not foregoing a piece of chocolate, you know? I’ll deal with goals like that separately.
Your life list should be about adding moments of joy to your life, not about adding moments of guilt. Life can guilt you enough, I think. Your life list shouldn’t.
This one hit me like a ton of bricks. Whenever I think about life lists in the context of what I want out of my career, I find myself with a laundry list of projects that either require action on the part of others to complete, or take enormous amounts of time. (Publishing a book, for example, happens to straddle both of those rather formidable requirements. And who amongst those of us who write for a living don’t harbor a tiny little “I am not a real writer until I’ve published a book” thought in the back of our minds?) After reading Karen’s thoughts today, I realize I’ve been going at this all wrong. (And if this sounds related to the thoughts I recently shared on what my goals would look like without fear, it is and it isn’t. That was about dreaming; this is about figuring out what I can absolutely do no matter what that will build my skills, my confidence, or both.)
Now, a life list is an interesting tool for personal growth of any kind, I think. But when you start thinking about it in the context of a career, using the guidelines Karen discusses, I think it can take on enormous power there, as well.
To wit: I could put “publish a book” on my life list, and there’s nothing wrong with having that as a goal, but there’s also a decent chance it won’t happen, and furthermore, there is an almost certainty that if it doesn’t, I’ll feel badly about it. So that’s a really dumb thing for me to put on my list; rather than inspiring me, it will serve only to frustrate and discourage me, which is counterproductive.
My solution prior to now has been to just mentally leave anything career- and writing-related off any potential list. But that’s not right, either. Because there are plenty of things that will grow me as a writer, grow me as a business owner, and help me grow as a person that I could put on there without making myself crazy.
Like… I could put on my list that I will take a gig that interests me even though the pay is sub-par, purely for the experience. Or that I will come up with a list of ten possible book ideas. While the first one still depends on others, to some extent, the second one is all me and carries zero risk. Maybe I come up with ten ideas and never do anything with them. Or maybe I come up with ten ideas and then one day I think, “You know, I’m pretty sure number four there is something I want to pursue” and then I go from there. But even as an intellectual exercise, either of these get the creative juices flowing.
Once I started thinking about it, I realized that I set these sorts of doable little goals for myself all the time. I will find a new place to network. I will try a new idea on that blog. I will introduce myself to someone I’ve always wanted to talk to. How much more satisfying might it be if I keep track, check items off, and give myself a space to think about what I can really, truly do… and what I want to do?
I think Karen is really on to something.