My list is short

I have hit a bit of a writing lull over here at my little blog. It started off innocently enough – I was feeling down so I gave myself a break and focused on taking care of myself: reading for pleasure, going to the gym, eating yummy food, and lets be honest, vegging in front of the TV watching the backlog of Daily Shows and Colbert Reports we had built up on the DVR. But even once I started feeling more like myself, I was still trapped by all these precedents I had set like ‘I won’t write when I have a headache’ (which wipes out about 80% of my days in the last month). And ‘I shouldn’t write on sunny days because we will only have a handful more before five solid months of grey rain kick in.’ And ‘I shouldn’t write when I get home from work because then I neglect dinner and we end up eating pasta again.‘*

And once those precedents are set it becomes an uphill battle to break them.

One of our rare sunny fall days

So I’m easing back into my writing routine with someone else’s words, specifically this quote I just read as part of an interview on the Happiness Project from author Deborah Needleman (I’m also really behind on reading blogs obviously). It pinned down this vague concern I’ve had floating around in my head for the last little while as I’ve been reading about people’s life lists:

On a philosophical level I have always sought happiness above all else. I have not sought money or success or a career or a certain type of life, I have sought only happiness. I did not grow up having ambition or desire to do or be anything, nor did I have any particular skills or talents or passions. I had a hard time projecting myself into the future or imagining or desiring anything for the future. I just simply sought happiness… Now I am ambitious, but even still, I’m ambitious to be the best I can, make good things, not to reach any level or tick off any box.

This might sound strange to you, because it does to me, but I don’t recall having any specific long-term dreams or goals for my life when I was younger. I never dreamed about a wedding let alone a marriage. I didn’t picture my future children or my career. I never made a ‘things I want to accomplish by <insert milestone age here>’ list. I never had a list of places I want to visit, or activities I want to try. I still don’t.

This sounds like the makings of an aimless kind of life, or maybe a life an autopilot. When I realized how few specific dreams I could actually recall having I wondered what in the world was wrong with me. And that remains to be answered, but the fact is, if you plotted my life against someone who had a really ambitious life-list full of goals, I don’t actually think you’d be able to tell which was which (unless their goal was winning the Nobel Prize or American Idol or something).

I guess that makes me lucky** – thus far I have gotten a life I’m pretty content with along with good scenery on the way without ever drawing a map; I’ve just explored the paths in front of me to find the one that I like best and sometimes forged my own when the existing ones didn’t work. It sounds haphazard but it never felt like it. Reading this quote reminded me that I do always have a guiding force with me – the search for happiness and satisfaction in my life.

A few times now I have thought about trying to make some sort of life-list, even mentally, but each time I do I seem to hit on the realization that I still have no idea what to put on it. And maybe that’s ok. Some people have specific ideas of what they want to accomplish in their lives and that’s fantastic because recognizing those goals will bring them closer to reality, but for me – I might just have to tell you when I get there.

Do you have a life list (either a literal list or a mental one)? If so, was this something that came naturally to you or something that you pushed yourself to consider?

 *I’m typing this as the wonderful smell of pesto wafts from the kitchen where John is cooking it up with pasta and some shrimp. Tomorrow we’ll eat something not entirely composed of fat and white flour, but today I write.

**I should specify that I did always bust my ass along the way – the luck comes in it all working out.

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Posted on November 22, 2011, in Life and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I have no life list. I love reading other people’s, but it’s not something I feel is a missing piece for me, personally.

    Gosh, do I love this post. Never underestimate the drifters!

    • I think drifting can work out all right if you have enough free-floating ambition to make up for the lack of specific goals – cause you’ll find a way to apply it.

    • I don’t have a list, either. My life hasn’t exactly worked out according to plans, so I’m grateful for the freedom from a written list, which would make each left turn feel like yet another failure.

      Drifting is the only way I can function these days.

  2. How do you always hit on exactly what is floating around in my brain?

    I have a life list on my blog. I enjoyed writing it, letting my imagination run free, putting down fantastical, borderline ridiculous things. How often have I looked at it since then? Maybe a handful of times.

    I love making lists, and planning ahead, but the scale is too big. It’s too fuzzy, I can’t see myself achieving half of the things, so I’m kind of questioning the point of it.

    I also find myself mulling over words like “ambition”, “achievement”, “fulfilment” – there’s a post in there somewhere, fermenting. I’ll let you know when I find time to write it (totally feeling you there, too).

    • I do wonder if the simple process of asking yourself “what do I want to accomplish?” is actually really helpful – even if you don’t necessarily use that list later. It would at least force you think about it.
      Or if it’s just as fulfilling to just stumble onto the things you do. Like this blog – I never had an explicit goal to write, but now I do and I’m really proud of it.

  3. I was just having this conversation with Brian the other day – are there things we meant to do that we’ve forgotten? And when the answer is no, “oh crap, are we complacent and lazy!?”

    But the answer to that is no, also. We’re content because we’re happy, and having no set goal list makes us accessable to opportunities, and helps us consider all kinds of options. I feel you.

    • Yeah, it’s hard enough to think about your own individual goals but then there are goals you have as a couple too. But I think like with individual goals, having some overall guiding principles (like working to be the best you can be) and a common direction in your life are really the most important things though.

  4. This is so exactly what I’ve been thinking about lately. Growing up, especially as a teenager, I wasn’t big on setting goals or ambition. I wasn’t even planning to go to college, until circumstances intervened. Then, while pursuing my BA… I started to feel like I should know where I was heading–it seemed a large percentage of my college peers did (most of them wanted to win an Oscar award or an Emmy). So I made up some goals and future plans… only to find out later that they aren’t actually what I want. I’ve since let many of those go, and it’s a huge relief.

    “the fact is, if you plotted my life against someone who had a really ambitious life-list full of goals, I don’t actually think you’d be able to tell which was which”

    I was just thinking this the other day. I’ve sort of drifted into an amazing life. I feel very, very lucky (I busted my ass, too – but things also just had a way of just falling into place without me making elaborate plans… see: meeting my husband, getting into grad school w/out applying, being paid to vacation in Europe, etc.).

    “I might just have to tell you when I get there.”

    Same for me. And also– I already feel in many ways that I AM “here.” i.e. savoring the present is more important to me than striving for an uncertain future. I mean, I still save money, etc. but I have a low tolerance for enduring misery in order to gain a future reward. Life’s too short, IMHO.

    • I hear you on really not wishing to endure a lot of misery for future gain. I did this with my undergrad and have pretty much decided I’m not doing it again. I have friends who are just now (at or very near 30) starting entire new degrees and I just cringe at the thought.

  5. Well, I tend to be chaotic and disorganized, so I do not recall having specific lists, but there are things that I knew I wanted. I wanted (still want to ) travel and see as much of the world as I can, I want to have a family, I always wanted to marry (it was a whole process, ironically I met the boy when I reached a point in my life where I was OK with staying single), and I have always wanted to work in a field that can make a difference, change the world (still figuring out the last two). But then you discover that life is unpredictable and that no matter how hard you try, sometimes things do not go as planned. And that is when you realize those things you are writing about, and that I am just kind of learning. That happiness is just there, everyday, hidden in little places for us to find, that it is about learning to count our blessings, sharing, and enjoying every single moment, even the hard ones. You know , trying to learn something from it. It-s about going with the flow, not sure if I am making much sense here, but it is like somehow maybe “success” is not measured in the ways we were taught it was.

    • I’m definitely still learning to find the everyday happiness. As much as I’m not a long-term planner/dreamer, I’m also not great at staying in the moment. In fact I kind of suck at it. I think the conclusion is I spend way too much time worrying.

  6. I have been making life lists of things I dreamed about doing for probably about the last 18 years. But some people are list-makers and some people spend a lot of time thinking about/dreaming about the future. Other people don’t and that’s okay. My husband almost never thinks about the future and very much lives in the present. He has managed to do amazing things in his life without ever having set any of them as a goal or even trying to go after any of them. Wonderful opportunities just came to him, and I think it is fabulous. He and I are opposites though…my head always in the future, his firmly in the present, and he often reminds me to live in the moment and I am the one in charge of planning for anything in the future. We usually balance each other out well, and sometimes annoy each other with our different perspectives. But if one only looked at our careers, I don’t think anyone would be able to tell who “planned” and who who just lived in the moment and did what they enjoyed. I guess two very different ways of trying to seek a happy life?

    • I wish I could say I live in the moment but I don’t. My head is always somewhere else. In our relationship, I am also the one to make the lists (just not life lists) and the plans. But I guess they are just the practical things. The bread and butter things. It’s anything beyond that that I find hard to imagine too far into the future.

  7. I wrote one when I was in high school. Almost all of it has been accomplished by now- and not necessarily with intention. Some things are just bound to happen (receive a dozen roses!) others you need to push yourself to do (dye my hair platinum blonde!).

    Since adulthood, I’ve found my life to be very fluid. My aspirations change all the time, but the underlying roots stay the same.

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