About two months ago, on a rainy Saturday, my seven year-old son (who is enjoying his budding ability to write) came to me with a small, yellow pad of paper and said, “Daddy, I want to write a list. What should I make a list of?” Suddenly, I recalled reading about John Goddard and the life list he wrote at age 15. His list consisted of 127 things he would like to do or see during his lifetime (for example: Climb Mt. Everest, run a mile in under five minutes, land on and take off from an aircraft carrier, and circumnavigate the globe). Goddard is now 75 years old and, at last count, has accomplished 109 of the goals he wrote as a teenager.
I hadn’t heard of John Goddard or his life list, at least that I can recall, but I was impressed with the idea that he even started one at age 15, let alone knew what he wanted to do. I can’t imagine doing that at 15 or at seven.
Well, maybe at seven. That was when I still daydreamed about things I wanted to do or what I wanted to be, and even still believed many of them could come true. Before I started a long period of struggling to keep my head above water, in my twenties, and had little time for dreams. Before I found myself staring my 38th birthday in the face in a couple of weeks, and wondering if there’s still time to retrieve at least a few of those dreams, dust them off and do something with them. Or reevaluate what I have managed to accomplish (which might even include things I couldn’t have dreamed of back then.)
I’ve heard of people who have “five year plans” or “three year plans” for their lives and/or careers. Whenever someone’s asked me about mine, or whether I have one, my eyes usually glaze over and I can only mumble “I’ll have to think about that,” in response. I continue to be mystified by people who actually know what they want to do (especially people who’ve always known what they wanted to do), and can actually manage to chart a course to get them there, and follow it. I never even saw a path, so much as I seemed to be perpetually at a junction of many paths, and unable to decide which one to take, because my mind wandered won each of them, again and again.
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.
… Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.
Hey, I’ll take comfort where ever I can find it, especially if it means it’s not to late to start thinking about my own life list. Even my list at 43 Things is pretty bare (I managed 6 before I got distracted), but perhaps it’s a good place to start.
So that’s what I’ll do. Here’s the beginning of my “life list,” with things crossed off that I’ve already accomplished (included if only because it makes me feel better about the list). And I’m not censoring myself from imagining “wild success.”
Never stop learning
Learn to play the piano
Become a better singer
Find my purpose
Meditate more often
Have a job that uses my talents and that I enjoy going to
Be the best father I can be
See my kids grow up to live happy, successful, productive lives
Write a novel
Become a published author
Become a published poet
Give a reading of my own poetry
Sing with a jazz trio
Make a record (i.e. musical recording)
Start acting again
Perform on stage
Appear in a movie
Win an Oscar
Win a Grammy
Travel to Paris
Travel to London
Travel to Egypt
See the Pyramids
Participate in an archaeological dig
Learn to hand-glide
Go to law school
Get a graduate degree in history
Get an MFA
Write a mystery novel
Win a literary prize
Live in New York City
Live in San Francisco
Live in Europe
Learn to swim
Be on National television
Live to be at least 99
Help make marriage equality a reality
Get legally married to my husband
Take a real, two-week vacation
Learn another language
VIsit a writers’ colony
Go on a meditation retreat
Organize my desk
Not worry about money
Experience a past-life regression
Learn graphic design
Help design a computer game
Learn to ski
Learn to play guitar
Be an expert in something
Die with no regrets
I could go on, and I suppose I will. But there’s one more thing I want to add to that list, based on the questions in the post that inspired it.
1. To what degree do you think a young person increases his chances of a fulfilling life by seizing the freedom to dream big, imagining what he wants to achieve, and writing it down?
2. Which habit would you wish for your child more than that of creating exciting mental pictures of the future with a spirit of expectancy?
I think dreaming big, and being encouraged to reach for and work for those dreams increases the chance for a fulfilling life immensely. And the only habit I would want my child to develop, other than dreaming big and believing in his ability to accomplish his dreams, is the habit of seizing opportunities to do so when presented with them, and seeking or creating opportunities where none are apparent. Oh, and judging himself by his own standards, rather than what I or anyone else thinks he should be or should want.
So, the other item on my list is to sit down with Parker and our next kid when they’re old enough, and encourage them to think about their own “life lists,” and start filling them up.
That’s my list for now. What’s yours? Got one? I didn’t when I started writing this, but I do now.
If you started writing yours today, what would you put on it? What have you put on it and immediately cross off? What have you already done that you never dreamed you would?