At the beginning of 2016, I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish by this year. A 2-year plan. The idea came about after a coffee date with a friend. I used my catch-up update to complain about how stuck I felt. I couldn’t see any signs of forward motion in my life. My friend asked me what I’m working toward, to explain it simply, and when I couldn’t, they offered the list idea to help me get out of my funk. Dream big. Be specific. Write it down. Keep it safe.
I was resistant to the idea, which is often my reaction when faced with a possibility that will be good for me. I procrastinated and argued in my head for all the reasons it would be a waste of time. So when I decided to try it, I worked hard on it. I thought about what my part of the list looked like for days before I shared the idea with my husband. The opportunity presented itself one evening while we were drinking beers on a rare date night. When I explained it, my husband said he wanted to do it, maybe it’ll help, so we kept drinking and we had an honest, eye-opening talk. By the end of the night we had composed a rough sketch of our dream life on a beverage napkin. It was fun. We laughed and held nothing back. I remember feeling like a teenager. My whole life ahead of me. Anything was possible. Happy in love. When we got home, I found an envelope, rewrote the napkin scrawl into a legible list, and sealed it all inside. I wrote “2018” on the front with a little flourish underneath.
2018 is halfway over now, so a few weeks ago I decided to open the envelope and read the list. Correction. I opened the envelope after a friend pestered me to, after listening to me moan about how my life doesn’t seem to be going the direction I had hoped or planned. The same friend who had suggested the list over coffee in 2016. Again, I resisted the advice. I argued for its failure. I worked as hard on opening the envelope as I had creating the list in 2016. I was certain that when I opened it, I’d unleash a list of unaccomplished fantasies. I anticipated a swell of regret.
Instead of disappointment, I felt surprising and comforting relief. I have accomplished a few things on my list, and the things I haven’t completed, I’m making consistent progress toward. There are even a few things listed that I wonder why I haven’t done them. In hindsight, they’re relatively simple or small universal asks, and I still have time. I was astonished. Whatever sort of magic was activated the night we penned our dreams is still working.
I can see my consistent effort alive in the list, and I’m not so ready to give up. I see that I’m not stuck, I just don’t like the process. I want the process to be blatant: dreams + efforts = instant results. I want everything all the time and I want it now. In that hunger, I forget my expanded view. I get distracted by my limitations, my day to day reality, and the shiny objects of life. Momentary diversions that take hold for a time but don’t ultimately contribute to my bigger picture. This is the pattern of ersatz fulfillment. Then I have some sort of shakeup, like this list, and I see things with a broader awareness again.
When I opened up that envelope, I uncovered a list of lies I tell myself: lies of self-doubt, lies of memory, and the lies of not enough. I lie to myself that I don’t know what I’m doing, or how to do it. That I’ll never actually reach these goals, despite daily evidence to the contrary. The lie that my process is not enough to be proud of, or that there’s some sort of end game. That at some point I’ll run out of dreams or goals, or the teenage grandeur will fade. Or that I’ll forget what I’m fighting for.
The things on the list, the dreams and goals – I don’t think they’re even my destination. The achievements and experiences I’m asking for are not the point. Maybe they’re sign posts along the way – confirmations that my future is happening right now. That the future I know is possible is building right along with me. I’m not asking for tangible results. I’m asking for the persistent, palpable, rhythm of creation. The life spark. The elusive zest. I’m asking for everything all the time.