A simple dare

So, every year in anticipation of my birthday, I write a list.  It started as a simple dare. Find something to do outside of your job, I told myself in that third year of teaching when my work hours stretched from 6 am until 10 pm, or you will end up celebrating your sixtieth birthday wondering where your life went. But when I sat down to consider what hobby I might take up, so much interested me that I had no idea where to start. I wanted to try it all, and so I invented a system that would let me, at the very least, try most of it. My first list was written in the days leading up to my 25th birthday. Scrawled across the pages of a journal, I listed the 25 things I wanted to do before I turned 26.

Back then, it was mostly a practical venture. I started to run, paid off student loans, saved money, increased my retirement savings. Each year, the list grew a little more daring, balancing the trivial with the important, the safe with the stretches. I learned to paint with watercolors, went kayaking, sang karaoke even though I have no business singing. I took other risks like submitting my poetry and non-fiction essays to literary magazines and performing in The Vagina Monologues. Each checkmark on the list made me feel more alive.

Indeed, I was living more fully—with both practical challenges and extraordinary experiences informing my growth. Learning to swim made me safer. Learning CPR helped me to keep others safe. Scale a 5.7c peak in rock climbing? Made me reach deep inside for the reservoirs of strength and endurance. When my father was diagnosed with cancer, I channeled my need to do even more than serve as his chemo companion by joining Team in Training and raising close to $10,000 for cancer research.  It is not just my athleticism that has changed. I have helped my family, traveled and experienced other cultures, made new friends, engaged in my community, developed artistic skills, invested in issues that are dear to me, become better read.

To be honest, some of my exploits have been at odds with my skills or personality.  Parasailing reminded me how scared I was of heights, but I stayed up there the whole time, singing quietly to myself. Competing in a duathlon against some of the area’s finest athletes (when I signed up, I noticed that it said Finest in the title of the event, but I thought they meant well-organized and not really competitive) forced me to get in touch with the reality that I was doing the event to impress myself and not anyone else. And while it would seem that these were failed experiments, I think it is impossible to fail at anything on the list. I have never completed all the tasks on any year’s list, but the fact that the list exists lures me to want to check things off, look it over, and make plans.

I live better and more dramatically because the list exists. At the end of each ‘birth’ year, I evaluate the past list. I recall each experience and think about its significance to me. I consider who I have been and who I am becoming, and I decide whether an unmet goal should go on the next year’s list or if its lure is no longer calling me. The list is not just a ritual. It is a formula for how I can make life happen in the midst of deadlines and duties. Regardless of what I come up with for the lists, each year is cloaked in adventure, compassion, self-improvement and satisfaction. It is a gift to myself, a celebration of life, a list that keeps me living out loud.

This week, I turn 42 so it is now time to start scratching things off a new list.  While I haven’t come up with the entire list yet, here is what is calling to me…

1.  Create a vision board.

2.  Write a manifesto for my new year.

3.  Do a deep purge of house clutter.

4.  Read 35 books .

5.  Go rock sliding.

6.  Finish deep clutter purge/organization of attic.

7.  Complete 50 works of art.

8.  Take Happy paddling.

9.  Take a workshop/training.

10.  Hear 2 authors speak.

11.  Make an audition tape for Wheel of Fortune.

12.  Open a 529 account for Happy.

13.  Spruce up backyard.

14.  Finish novel.

15.  Go to a hockey game.

16.  Set up a Little Free Library.

17.  Take Happy to see a musical.

18.  Throw a holiday cookie party.

19.  Update dining room.

20.  Plant a spring garden.

21.  Do a big wardrobe overhaul (getting rid of whatever I don’t love to wear).

22.  Go horseback riding.

23.  Go ice skating.

24.  Take dad on a vacation.

25.  Take a workshop/class.

26. Keep a monthly wellness chart.

27.  Enjoy a writer’s retreat/residency.

28.  Set up an emergency binder.

29.  Hear live music.

and more to come…

How about you?  What do you want to do before your next birthday?


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2 responses to “A simple dare”

  1. Anna Guest-Jelley

    I always love seeing your list. You’re inspiring me to make one! Happy early birthday!!

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