My birthday is approaching and so I am turning my attention to a ritual that I started at 25 when I was an obsessive high school teacher and coach. While my work was incredibly rewarding and fun, I didn’t have much fun outside of work. And then I got sick and laying around on the couch for weeks made me realize that there was more that I should be doing- and wanted to be doing- than just working all the time.
I wanted to learn how to surf and to change my own car tire. I wanted to start running and relearn CPR. I wanted to do something really special for my parents and learn how to swim. Those things weren’t just going to happen to me. I needed to make them happen. And while I waited for years for other people to invite me to those experiences, I didn’t have to wait any more. I was in charge of my life. Whether or not I had a good time or traveled or experienced new challenges was on me. I could budget my time, energy, and money to give myself the experiences I so admired from my friends’ stories or had dreamed about trying.
Rich experiences didn’t have to be a dream if I was willing to be intentional.
And so, because I have always been most motivated by capturing my dreams in writing, I sat down and wrote a list. Twenty-five things to do before turning twenty-six, I scrawled and then thoughtfully numbered different experiences I wanted to have or things I wanted to do. That first list was both practical- get re-certified in CPR and First Aid- and expansive- travel. I read twenty-five books and finally got my North Carolina’s driver’s license. As I tackled each item on the list, I scratched it off with great satisfaction. My life was expanding outside of work and it, ironically, made me better at my job because it made me a more well-rounded and happier person.
Fifteen years later, I still make a list every year. With those lists as my guide, I’ve traveled to other countries, learned how to surf and stand up paddle, run races, read scores of books, rescued a great dog, tried Rolfing, yoga, Pilates, rock climbing, snow shoeing and kickboxing, cycled numerous century rides, raised thousands of dollars for causes I believe in, worked with endangered leatherback turtles in Trinidad, treated my parents to a few adventures, paid off my student loans early, been to Major League baseball spring training in Florida and Panthers Training Camp in Spartanburg, seen whales in the ocean and more.
I have never completed any year’s list, and while that might seem like it would be a defeat for a former workaholic, it isn’t. My annual birthday list is a daring, inspiring suggestion and I know that whatever I accomplish from it is a gift. What’s not accomplished is given a quick review when I write the next year’s list to see if I want to try again but that’s all. The birthday list, put simply, is a gift to myself that has made every year richer and encouraged me to appreciate that the journey is the goal and that I am more in charge of my journey than I sometimes realize.
Want to write your own birthday list? Even if your birthday isn’t right around the corner, you can still do it now! Craft your own list with these steps and start living with greater intention.
- Decide how many items to include on your list. When’s your birthday? If it’s almost a year away (or happening shortly), craft a full birthday list. Otherwise, pro-rate your list. If your birthday is six months away, create a half-list or a quarter list if it’s just a few months away.
- Brainstorm all possibilities. Make a list of everything you have ever wanted to do or thought you should try and ask others for suggestions, too.
- Claim this year’s items. Make your final list and then pencil in a month next to each item when you might try to scratch it off your list.
- Whenever you plan your to dos, look over your birthday list, too, to make sure you are making the necessary plans to help your accomplish your dreams.
- Enjoy celebrating your life and growth over and over again!